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dhogsette's picture
Teaching and Class Management Question

I have a relatively small club, and all the students are beginners (some have achieved the first two ranks, but that is still very much beginner stage). I'm finding that we are hitting a bit of content saturation and progress is slowing down significantly. I strive to train kihon, applications of kihon on pads, practical combination pad drills, kata, bunkai partner drills, bunkai pad drills, and kata based sparring. Some students are starting the fourth kata in our system, and they are becoming overwhelmed. As we work on new material, they are not necessarily reviewing the previous material on their own, and when I have a quick review class, they seem lost, as if learning it for the first time. As a result, progress is slowing down significantly, and we are not getting to other elements of training (like kata based sparring, which we haven't done in a long time...). And to complicate matters, I have a few children in the class (10-12 yrs old), and so I have to split time between having them to "fun stuff" while the adults do the application stuff. 

So, my question is, are there better ways I could be managing my classes? How do others structure their classes? How do you introduce new material while not forgetting about training the previous material? How to keep the class progressing in meaningful ways? (I don't want to progress just for the sake of progressing, but I also want the students to feel positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment, which is part of Western culture. I can't expect them to have a Eastern perspective when learning this Eastern martial art and train one kata for 10 yrs...LOL, because we are Westerners and don't have that same mindset. Actually, the younger generations in the East also don't seem to have that same perspective as in the past, but that's a whole other discussion.) 

Any recommendations would be much appreciated. 



AllyWhytock's picture

Hi David,

I experienced similar. Little steps. I decided to simplfy my syllabus as thus:

  1. Reduced the number of gradings per year from 4 to 3, thereby giving folks more time to absorb new things.
  2. Introduced just one or two new things per grade and repeated the previous grades.
  3. Reduced the complexity of combinations to just "receive & one counter".
  4. Warm up is quick and involves playing "elbow tag" sparring.
  5. Revise previous kata at least once per 3 weeks,  prior to focusing on their new kata.
  6. When teaching a new kata, only do a couple of moves per night and move on only if they've got it and remembered the previous week. Once you've shown them the new moves then let them do it themselves, on repeat from the start. Each grade will be doing their new kata up to the point of knowledge. Go around each person and correct one thing. Do this for about 15 minutes. They only get new moves if they can do the previous moves correctly. If they start messing about, or being sloppy then pick them up on that. 
  7. (A new one I learned recently). Once you see them hitting an impasse then as a whole give them something different - padwork or tennis ball work i.e. catch & grab a tennis ball when they are punching the air i.e relax then tension on the point of kime More Soon.

Regards Ally

Marc's picture

Hi David,

it is, I believe, a common problem to fit all the training methods and content into a class. It gets worse with the number of "belt colours" you have to teach simultaneously.

From my experience, the most important factor contributing to how fast a student progresses is how often they show up in class.

We all have family, jobs, school and other things in life that prohibit us from going to the dojo as often as we'd like to. In the two dojos where I teach people show up from once a year to 100% of all sessions. Those who can be there most of the time do progress steadily without much struggle. Those can come only every few weeks take much longer.

Now, how can we structure our training sessions so that they all can benefit?

Should we put a little bit of everything into each session? Or should we single out specific aspects/methods/content per each session?

The answer might depend on the following constraints:

1) Do we/the students measure progress in gradings or skill or knowledge of yet another kata?

2) Do we want to concentrate on those who can show up frequently? How much do we want to account for those who can come only rarely?

3) Do we have a grading syllabus that matches how we would like to teach, or do we have to prepare our students for additional stuff?

What is the situation in your dojo?  

Jr cook
Jr cook's picture

It is difficult to diagnose without knowing more about your classes. For example, how long is the average period? How much time is spent on each category(warmup, kihon, kata, etc)? And so on. Without being there, it's tough to give much direction. We can share what we do and how but in the end you will have to find a way to make it fit your group best.

Goals and motivation levels of the students will always vary. This has a big effect on the speed at which they learn. Even in our advanced classes, there are some who practice on their own and some who just show up for class. I like to talk to new students up-front about my expectations when they join and help them to decide if our goals are the same. It avoids wasting everyone's time (hopefully).

Below is a general class format that I like. It seems to work for me but, may vary for you. Our scheduled sessions are for 2 hours. Our classes are aduts only. (This may not be an option for you but I recommend teaching children seperately from adults whenever possible. I believe this benefits both audiences.)

Opening/Bow in

Warmup/kihon practice  This is usually based on impact techniques they are already familiar with. Typically pad work with hand strikes, knees, elbows and kicks. Sometimes I use kata practice for warmups as well.

Partner practice and review of previous lesson. This usually includes applications with partners and/or kata training. May include kata drills if they know them.

New stuff. This portion is dedicated to advancing the syllabus.

Finish with something active, such as kata based sparring, judo, or other live training. This is the part where we would pad up and experiment with the lessons learned. Basic sparring, multiple attackers, defending random HAOVs and so on.

Summary/Closing/Bow out

Then end up staying after class for individual or personal practice. I just expect it these days.

tubbydrawers's picture


AllyWhytock wrote:

Warm up is quick and involves playing "elbow tag" sparring

Jr cook wrote:

Warmup/kihon practice  This is usually based on impact techniques they are already familiar with. Typically pad work with hand strikes, knees, elbows and kicks. Sometimes I use kata practice for warmups as well

as the above have said, this is something I will be doing from this term. I have found that spending too much time on a warmup limits what I can do in class so therfore, I will be incorporating more of a practical warmup. This is only because I have 60 mins to try and get the once a week students to a good standard whilst helping the more dedicated students to refine their techniques.

Within my 60 mins - I always teach Juniors - age 7 to 14. I do teach 4 -7 years olds but I teach them as a little ninja class.

1. Always some Kata - whether its just the first 5-6 moves if we have come back from a grading and learning their new kata or just going over a particular section that night, that needs working on.

2. Always a Bunkai / practical drill. Depending on the kyu grade, it could just be going over a 'block' type drill from being attacked say from a hook punch / grab etc. or if they are higher - as in this term we will be going over Heian Nidan for 1 class and the advanced juniors will be going over Heian Sandan.

3. I do know some on my fellow Instructors at the other Dojo's will play a game - dodgeball - etc to finish off the class, but I have only ever doen that at the end of the school term. I personally prefer doing more hands on karate at the end of class.

4. I always or usually have a theme for the whole school term - I can only teach during school term. We have to close during the holdiays. So this term, it will be covering Nidan and hopefully putting it all together in sparring by the end of term. With the beginners , the theme is to go cover ague uke / uchi / soto / gedan bari from various attacks etc.

5. and i might switch it up from either basics to kicking with padwork. This will be alternated each week. So for instance, although I want to do Kata each class, if I find the basics in that kata need working on, we will do a good intense session of basics with correction. I will also add in sparring so we we migth not do Kata or padwork one week and we will do an intense sparring class of about 30 mins. This includes line work, circle work, 2 on 1 sparring etc. Some sparring sessions with the advanced class will have weapons introduced - students dont know who has them unless they are switched on!!

Hope that gives some ideas.


tubbydrawers's picture

dhogsette wrote:

 I can't expect them to have a Eastern perspective when learning this Eastern martial art and train one kata for 10 yrs...LOL, because we are Westerners and don't have that same mindset.

I know what you mean, I have many students who only train once a week. They will not train at other Dojo's when mine is closed for shcool holidays, its just a 60 min hobby to them.

What I have done is to print off Kata sheets to hand out so they can keep them in their bag and hopefully they will look at them at home. I also have a closed Facebook group where i post, kata, bunkai and practical karate on there in the hope that the once a week students and the others will practise this at home.

I also put the emphasis on the student that it is their responsiblity to train at home - I know they dont do as much as I would like - it shows when they come back each week and have forgotten what I have shown them!

The people who only only train once a week know they will only grade twice a year but they still come to class so I am happy in that case. Now that some of them are in the brown belt kyu area, they will only grade once every 7-8 months now. We have class amounts that they have to reach before they are eligible to grade. So by the time they are ready for Black Belt they will have been training nearly double the normal amount. But it is what it is and it shows dedication on their part to come.


dhogsette's picture

Thank you, everyone, for your comments and feedback. These observations and suggestions are extremely helpful. A major challenge for me is that I have a small club, and half come only once a week. So, that group falls further and further behind. I think I need to sequence and review a bit more effectively, and then just accept that those who come once a week will not progress like the others. I also have to not hold the others back. I think I'm doing a good job of that, but sometimes, I do think that the others don't get new material sometimes because we are spending class time catching the others up. 

Again, thank you all for sharing your knowledge and experience.