Teaching the Squeamish

My grandfather was a picky teacher… so I’m told. I can certainly understand his refusal to teach people if he thought he was the wrong type of student; I have this reservation myself. But I also have mixed feelings on whether or not to refuse students based on judging books by their covers as well as whether I actually believe my Lolo was as picky in his youth.

Here’s why I say that.

Years ago, I went to work for a commercial Karate chain and would come home complaining about the weak students I had inherited when I was hired. Originally, I did not work at any one location for this school–instead, I went from location to location teaching sparring classes. After about 4 months or so of this bouncing around, one of the managers who had a TKD Black Belt liked my teaching style (mind you, I was 20) and requested me to work at his location full-time. The owner offered me a substantial raise, and the manager would assign an assistant to teach the forms, so that I could focus on the rest of the curriculum. In those days, I insisted on sparring with each member of the class while teaching and was a little heavy-handed with the students. Surprisingly, the children and teenagers liked it, but the adults did not. I was frustrated, because for the first time in my life, I witnessed entire classes of martial arts students who were both afraid to hit and be hit. I was starting to feel as if nothing I could do would make these students tough. My grandfather begged to differ.

He gave me some very simple advice, which is now a pillar in my martial arts philosophy:  just work on making them stronger and more skilled in performing the techniques, the courage will build on its own. Against my judgment, I stopped sparring with most of the adults and had them spar each other. We switched our focus to building their basics skills and developing their flexibility and power. We still closed off every session with sparring in short rounds (I used 5, 10 and 20 second rounds to eliminated wasted time) and strength training. And guess what happened? As the students began “smelling themselves”–that is, began realizing their improved strength and skill–they became agressive and less fearful. I saw this transformation before my own eyes, and the lesson I learned was a powerful one.

Back to my grandfather, he used to say that any teacher can impart fighting skills to a worthy student. But the Master-teacher–that is, the master of teaching the martial arts–is capable of turning a coward into a killer. Let this be your lesson today. Your job as a teacher is to find a way to take even the weakest, scariest students, and somehow develop his skills until not only can he handle himself, but do so and dominate his opponents. I am of the opinion that anyone with the desire and the discipline to learn properly can learn. Your job as teacher of the art is to bring that out in a student.

I would like to offer some basic advice in achieving this:

  • development of power is the quickest way for a martial arts student to have confidence in his or her own skills. a powerful punch, kick or strike is similar to having a sharp blade or a firearm; they know that once they unleash it, someone will get hurt. simple knowledge alone won’t do it. the student must know and realize that he has the physical ability to inflict damage. spend ample time developing this in your students, and you will do them a great service.
  • hand condition should be introduced as soon as the student has learned power mechanics. it would be irresponsible to teach power without equipping students with the ability to withstand inflicting a powerful blow. hand conditioning protects the student and takes away his fear from using his fist, and it prevents false confidence in what he can do with that fist.
  • sparring should be introduced slowly for cowardly students. if you throw them into it, they will quit or may be so afraid of the experience they won’t benefit from it. my suggestion is to disguise sparring in the form of “timing drills”. for example, their goal is to touch my chest in sparring and my goal is to touch their chest. we are learning how to time a block and time a chest touch. after a few sessions of this training, they will have the ability to land a hit and to stop one. now, let’s put on the chest protector and go from touching to “touching” with the fist. in other words… boxing. get it?
  • give students a good variety of opponents/training partners to “try” new techniques on. one guy is to try the technique, the other one is to prevent. this is a fast track to developing confidence.

I would like to save some info for the book, so I will stop here. Hopefully you have enough to think about when teaching your classes. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Make sure to check out my book on the “Offerings” page… Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months!

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

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