Dave Nielsen is the author of a new book that is titled "Toppo Seitou Ryukyu Karate: Breaking through Traditional Okinawan Karate" that will be released soon. He has authored several articles for various karate web-sites and Traditional Karate Magazine. He is the founder and chief instructor of the United States of America Traditional Karate Association (USATKA) and has members not only in the United States, but around the world do to his International section of the association. He holds seminars around the world upon request. He is also the founder of Nahashu Ryu Karate Do; a system which blends Naha-te and Shuri-te karate. This article covers the fundamental information that instructors must ensure they teach to their students.
What they Should Know
by Dave Nielsen
If you're an instructor in the martial arts then you will have an organized system that you use to instruct your class. You also may have a very strict way of instructing your beginning students. It is more than probable that you learned this from your observance of your instructor and various teachers along your training path in whatever style of the martial arts that you study and are now teaching. You teach according to the "way" of your style. Teaching the beginner is the most important instruction that you will give. In this article we will take a look at what should be commonly taught to all beginning students in all styles of the martial arts. Your students and what they should know is of vital importance in maintaining a strong martial arts curriculum and strong martial artists.
The information given in this article may surprise many of the readers. It is meant to cover the foundation of beginner's training, but may seem to be more than most teach to beginners. From my travels and observations of many different styles of martial arts, I have noticed neglect in the training of beginning students. This is not to suggest that martial arts instructors lack in the knowledge of the things mentioned in this article. Rather, they are not totally encompassing the subjects covered in their instruction of the beginner.
Teaching beginners is a very age specific idiom. It should go without saying that what can be accomplished mentally and physically for one age group may not be right for another. You would not ask a twelve year old to learn the same way that a twenty year old learns. It is mentally impossible. Herein lies point number one:
What cannot be understood mentally should not be taught physically.
This is a very important point. It most definitely deals with age, but to a broader degree it also deals with a students' capacity to understand what is being taught. Without a thorough mental knowledge of the material the student will suffer the negative consequences of what is being taught. Therefore, make sure that your students know and understand the material that you wish to teach them. It is our job as instructors to break it down and to find the terms to use either verbally or by written word, to make sure that our students understand the "why" and "how" we are doing something. Just showing a technique and making the student perform it over and over leads to false security and ultimately failure and danger in the martial arts. This is why it is important to group your beginners by age. If you cannot do this then you must adapt a curriculum for age specific students.
Say you have three new students; one age 12, and two age 21. Have a list of specific techniques that are easy to understand for the 12 year old. An upper cut to the jaw area utilizing bended knees and hip rotation to generate the power needed may be sufficient. This is an appropriate technique for a twelve year old to understand. The twenty-one year olds need to understand this technique too, but they may already have a mental grasp of it. They may need work on understanding the principles of balance in a stance to help them fully grasp a technique. That's something that's going to be harder for a twelve year old to grasp. Each student can work their techniques under your watchful eyes. Both of the techniques may appear easy to grasp and understand, but they are not in reality. You will also find that people learn at different rates of speed and also with different explanations. Aside from age you must consider several ways of explaining a technique because of this very fact.
An explanation that works for one person does not necessarily work for another. Even though the end result is the same, there must be more than one way of getting there. If there is not then frustration will ensue and the lack of understanding will hinder your student and your ability to teach them. So before you even begin to have any beginner learn something that you have demonstrated, be sure that each understands the technique in their mind's eye first. Then you are ready to teach it to them physically. This brings us to our second point.
Teach physical techniques that work for the student.
People are all shapes and sizes. They all have different backgrounds. Some are very well built while others can't walk 20 yards without getting out of breath. Students come to us at all stages of physical ability. Some are not as coordinated as others. What is hard for some to do physically is easy for others. It is our job as instructors to figure out what they can do physically. With a beginner it is important to start them on a successful road. Let's face it, karate training is about civilian self-defense. This is what it was developed for. So showing an interpretation of a technique from a kata that addresses a common act of violence to a beginner will put them on the road to correct training right away. That is if they first mentally understand the technique. As an example let's look at a punch to the face. There are many bunkai techniques from many different kata that address this act of violence. One of them will surely fit the physical abilities of your student. Finding the right one for your white belt will not take as long as you think. Spending a little time now will pay off for both you and your student later in their training.
By drawing techniques from kata that work physically for your white belts, you are in effect preparing them for kata training. Additionally, bunkai analysis will not be foreign to them but rather, it will become natural. You are planting the seeds for more intricate techniques later on without building a wall of secrecy that so many martial artists believe exists. Selecting techniques that are natural for each individual beginner introduces them to an open learning atmosphere. They feel comfortable learning them because they first mentally understand them and they can naturally execute them. Further, by practicing a technique that is natural to them their body and subconscious mind learns it quicker. Therefore it can be utilized earlier in a self defense situation because it is reflexive in its nature.
Martial arts are not just for the young and the most physically fit. They serve as a form of civilian self-defense. No matter the size or physical condition, or even the age, anyone can learn simple physical self defense that works for their body type. It is there in many ways in all kata, forms, or hyungs practiced. By teaching techniques designed for the individual the instructor can witness the student's progress by their skill level and not by how much they know. It is in the skill level that a student should be promoted. It is by how well they can protect themselves. This is where the emphasis on training should be put. The ability to utilize the techniques given to protect themselves is a sure sign of progress. This helps the white belt to build a strong foundation for further training.
Once the white belt has some confidence in a few techniques of self-defense then it is appropriate to move onto some of the more "standard" training methods from the style that you teach; for instance, the introduction of stances and their movement, as well as the punches, blocks, and kicks from your style that need ongoing practice. Do not measure your students on the amount of material they know. Make sure they understand the material first and then execute it second. To many of you this may be a new way of instructing new students. However, if you give it a try I'm confident that you will see great improvement in your students' abilities. After your new students feel comfortable and have learned some of these new techniques then they can begin training their bodies for physical fitness. You have given them valuable knowledge and have gained their trust. That overweight student is ready for the rigors of exercise to help him/her slim down. Once you are up and running with these new ideas for your new students then you are ready to introduce the next point.
Make sure to introduce the common acts of violence that people can expect to encounter in a confrontation.
Many authors before me have listed these in their fine books. Patrick McCarthy is probably the most recognized amongst these talented martial artists. He took the time to list them and bring them to the karate world through his Karate Research Society. Not that others haven't studied these common attacks either, just that Mr. McCarthy is probably the most published and read author. He is probably one of the leading authorities on the subject of common attacks, kata, and bunkai analysis if not the leading authority. He is also a valuable historian to the martial arts world. The ones listed below are my take on the common attacks that all human beings may encounter:
Straight punch to the face, Hook punch to the head, Grabbing the shirt with one hand., Grabbing the shirt with two hands, Grabbing the wrist with same side hand, Grabbing the wrist with opposite side hand, Grabbing both wrists at the same time, Pushing with one hand, Pushing with two hands, Pointing the finger at you, Kick to the groin, Grabbing and pulling of the hair, Kicking the shin or the knee, Frontal choke, Side choke, Rear choke, The body tackle, Slapping to the head or face, Biting, Scratching, Pulling, and Unwanted hugging or physical touching.
I have listed twenty-two of these common acts of violence. You can think of many more for yourself. The idea is to introduce these along with the mental and physical points listed above to get your new white belts in the right frame of mind for learning a martial art. By exploring a few of these acts the new student will quickly see how much he has to learn. Further, your students will correctly learn that the martial arts are a civilian self-defense system originally devised to protect ones self from the unwanted violence of others. Martial arts developed through the years into various schools of thought called "styles" and then eventually found the sporting world. Your students should learn the difference and the places for both the self-defense and sporting aspects of the particular martial art that you teach. The common acts of violence will put your white belts on that road.
Now that both the mental and physical aspects and how they should be taught to new students have been discussed; we move onto more of the book work that a new student should have when first starting a martial art. So the next point is:
Make sure the new student is aware of what Self-Defense is and the laws concerning it where they live.
Without this knowledge you could be training a powder keg waiting to be lit simply by someone making fun of them. This important information must be taught up front and reviewed regularly in your class. The "right" reasons for training and the appropriate attitude is a must for new students. Learning when to use techniques to protect themselves and how much force to use is an ongoing study in the martial arts. The laws wherever you're from will dictate what exactly constitutes "appropriate self defense" and when it can be used. You should be well aware of them and make your students well aware of them.
Teaching your white belts safety awareness and trouble avoidance is extremely important as they are the first lines of self-defense. White belts should learn right away to walk away and to stay away from known hazardous areas; i.e. a dark alley, alone in a parking lot, rough neighborhood bars or pubs. Sometimes good verbal communication can disarm a situation; other times, simply keeping ones mouth shut will do the trick.
This particular aspect of the martial arts is not usually taught. It's a shame because these skills will save students of all levels many troubles. If beginner students are made aware and taught the above knowledge then they will again have a strong foundation to build upon.
Exploring these many situations that arise in the "real world" by play acting can help the beginner student with self-defense and how to act appropriately. Believe me, everyone has a story they can share. We have all heard of confrontations of all sorts and may have been part of some of them. Acting them out also gives you, the instructor a feel for where your new students are mentally. It helps you to form a way of "reaching" them individually.
So by writing the information down, having new students read it and by acting scenarios out physically the beginner students again are learning well rounded martial arts right from the beginning. They are now ready for the last point a new white belt should learn.
Some history of your martial art and others should be taught right away at the beginning level as part of the requirements for the next advancement level.
There are millions of books on the market about the many different martial arts. They fall into basically two categories. They are instruction and history. A few deal with the philosophy of the martial arts in general. You should require a certain amount of background investigation from your new students while providing them with some kind of written literature as well as a lecture or two on your own style and where it comes from. Having a general knowledge of the martial arts and a more thorough knowledge of the one that you teach will give the new students a sense of belonging. Everyone wants to belong. They don't have to read volumes on the subject. They should have general knowledge about the arts and specific knowledge about the art they are learning from you.
Everyone wants to know where they came from. It is important for many reasons. One of the biggest is to keep the traditions of the old martial arts alive while developing new traditions for today.
The five points listed above seem like a lot of information and work for a beginner student of any style. They are not. They together form a very strong foundation for any beginner student and allow them to move along in the style that you teach them in a more efficient and productive way. If we look at them grouped together a white belt's requirements' for advancement to the next level might look as follows.
White Belt Requirements for 10th Kyu
1 - Exhibit knowledge of what Self Defense is and the basic laws concerning it in your living area.
2 - Explain and demonstrate a few situations that can be diffused with verbal and non verbal communication.
3 - Demonstrate at least 3 self-defense techniques first through explanation and then through physical performance alone and with a partner.
4 - Utilizing the self defense techniques that you know, show how you can defend against more than one of the common acts of human violence that you have learned.
5 - Demonstrate orally a brief history of the martial arts. Where they originated, how they were formed, what styles are, etc. Explain in more depth the style of martial art that you are studying.
6 - Perform basics as described by your instructor.
As you can see the requirements listed above are not too difficult but not too easy either. They are well balanced however and provide a strong foundation for further study of the martial arts.
After the beginner student has shown the knowledge required for the requirements then it is time to introduce them to their first kata. The reason that I personally introduce a student's first kata at the second level is that they are now trained in a manner of study from the first set of requirements. They will find it easier to attempt the pattern of the given kata and realize that each technique works for a purpose and that it is not just a performance. By laying the foundation above they have developed a method described by many of the great masters of the past. That is, the training of the mind, body, and spirit. It is essential that each element is carefully instructed and nurtured by the instructor, and it begins at the beginning. Physical movements and throwing punches, blocks, and kicks without the things mentioned above is not proper training. A little goes a long way when it is known well. That is the proper way to train and advance a beginner student.
Train hard. Train Often.
Dave Nielsen© 2004