Inspired by the recent article about Karate in the public school system, I began thinking about ways I could make this a reality in the near future at my school. However, I begin thinking about logistics of what is required equipment-wise for a good quality martial arts program and contrasting that with the likely limited funding available in a lower-income school district.
I thought that this would make for a fun thought experiment: You teach a martial arts club for 15-18 year olds. You will never have to worry about bills, student enrollment, or making enough money to stay in business, because this is part of a public education institution and kids love this stuff. You have the freedom to teach these students in any way you please. The downside is that you have only have an empty basketball gym and no equipment whatsoever. The school has no budget for your program so any equipment you want you must purchase yourself, which you cannot afford because you are a school teacher in America (:p).
First: How would you structure a program around having absolutely zero equipment? What kinds of drills and exercises would you emphasize? How would you modify things that require equipment do be done without (sparring, throwing, etc), or could they be removed entirely without compromising the integrity of your practice? Can you have a proper martial arts program that teaches striking without having anything for students to actually strike?
Second: Let's say you have some funding from the school or scraped a minor amount together to pay for equipment out of your own pocket. If you could choose only one type of equipment, what would you prioritize to add the most value while being cost-effective? Focus mitts? Heavy bags? Tatami? Kicking shields?
Flooring would allow you to safely practice throwing and ground work and would be literally everything you need for a Judo- or BJJ-based club, but would be very expensive and add little to no value for striking on its own. Could you get away with a handful of folding mats? Heavy bags would allow students to actually hit things and not simply punch and kick the air, but are mostly good for practicing static techniques in isolation. Focus mitts are versatile and inexpensive but do not allow for full-force striking practice, plus we now have the terrifying prospect of teaching 14 year olds to hold focus mitts for one another.
Now obviously younger students wouldn't be doing the same drills that I practice with adults, but around 16/17/18 years old they're capable of more and likely require more than kata to stay interested and motivated. This has got me thinking about the importance of training equipment to facilitating good quality practice and which pieces of equipment are truly essential for that. How would you approach this?