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John Graden

John Graden

Executive Director

John Graden led the martial arts into the modern era by creating the first professional association, trade journal & instructors certification program.

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Okay, here we go….

Especially during this COVID reboot, one thing is absolutely clear for martial arts school owners. The more complex you make the process of learning at your school the more difficulty you’ll have retaining your students. You have to decide what is really important.

This is an actual email delivered to a MATA Certification Graduate.

I want you to read the short note first, right now.

[“We are very new to any form of martial arts in our family so this is a fun new experience for us, that being said we don’t know how to help Sally prepare/practice her forms for testing. 

She’s invited to test for her yellow belt in a few weeks and we want her to do well with testing. She recorded a video of an older student doing the form and tries to practice using it but she seems to get confused because the motions would be mirrored. 

Last Saturday’s class seemed to help a lot, is she allowed to continue going to Saturday classes? In the beginning, we were told white belts aren’t advanced enough for Saturdays. 

Also can you please explain what she needs to know as far as Korean words? We have the sheet of paper. She’s been practicing numbers. 

Does she need to know all the meanings of the words etc?”]

She is just a white belt and already confused about kata.

She wants to attend on Saturday, but she’s not “advanced enough.” Why do you need advanced classes?

She is spending time learning how to count in Korean and no doubt various historic Korean emperors and kingdoms.

I used to require the same material because my instructor required it. I then realized that the value of learning who the 16 King a Korean Dynasty is more like a trivia question for Jeopardy than helpful knowledge. So, I dropped them all.

Guess what? No one missed them. 

Can you see how this enthusiastic family is already running into unnecessary roadblocks on material that has nothing to do with skill? These are roadblocks by design.

Why in 2021 would anyone require students to pretend they are Korean?

Let’s do a hybrid cost/benefit analysis. 

  1. If a student remembers the kata, but not the Korean translation, does that constitute a failed best exam?
  2. If a child still learning to count in English, fails to remember the Koran numbers in order,  does that constitute a failed best exam?
  3. If a student has to defend herself on the playground against a kid who tries to punch her in the face, does tae kwon do prepare her for that?

Remember, in sport TKD there is no punching the face.

Yet, what do attackers typically attack with? A right haymaker to the left side of the face. There is no TKD block for that.

Are you really preparing students for self-defense?

This is a classic style-centered school vs a student-centered school. Here is a two-minute video to help you see the difference. 

Notice Tyson’s hand is by his face, not his hip.

His chin is down instead of up.

His shoulder is up instead of pulled back.

His body is sideways to his opponent instead of squared off.

His legs are under his body not spread apart like he was riding a horse.

With this kind of form, he would fail his orange belt exam in most schools. 

How does that make any sense?

Sensei Tyson?

If Mike Tyson or a world champion kickboxer came to your school to teach your black belts. What do you think he would work on? Double punches, square blocks, and keeping your chin up?

I’m pretty sure he would emphasize head movement, how to snap your punches and a defense that does NOT include pulling your punch back to your hip.

I’m sure the students would learn advanced applications to adjust for different fighters. Notice I said advanced applications, not advanced strikes.

When you focus on application, you can apply that to almost any technique.

For instance, if the drill is about how to fight a taller fighter, the answer is more about footwork to stay on the outside until you can secure quick access. My brothers are 6′ 3″ and 6′ 4″ so I know something about fighting a taller opponent.

Drills that teach that application do not require complexity. They require simplicity.

The more complex a skill becomes, the less chance it can be used. Have you ever seen a double punch? Only in kata and here:

If you eliminated all kata and traditional skills, you could devote that time to drills and conditioning that would give your students a true advantage in sparring or self-defense.

Imagine teaching fewer skills that are easy to teach and learn than traditional skills and kata.

You could spend more time on the application of those skills rather than stepping up and down the classroom and holding blocks and punches out in the air, which leaves you wide open for a counterattack.

Rather than spending student’s time with the complexity and frustration of spending years perfecting the bad habits of pulling their hand back to their hip, keeping their chin up, aiming and holding a punch in the air, and blocking with power while stepping forward, your retention will improve. Your student quality will improve. Your curriculum consistency will improve.

This is the core of our white to black belt curriculum Empower Kickboxing.

It’s an old saying, but true. “Less is best.”

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  1. Boon Brown

    In college, getting my education degree, we were taught that you aren’t teaching the subject, you are teaching the student. I can teach TKD all day long to an empty room, but it isn’t going to do anyone any good. Every student has different needs, methods they learn and desires for their practice in the art. Teach the martial art and you’ll fail on all counts. Teach the student and you’ll have a student for life.

  2. F. Mac McNeil

    As a young student, I was taught basic Japanese for use in the dojo, which I still use – its a motivator for me, but now the traditional methods are being adapted..