When I was coming up the ranks, it was not unusual to witness a student being executed. This typically was a case where a student showed a bad attitude at a tournament or while visiting another school. Somehow the word got back to my instructor, Walt Bone. Mr. Bone would pair the student with a talented black belt who would beat the student into the ground. Most would quit. A few stayed on. This article does not suggest that as a course of action.
It’s a common misconception that ignoring misbehavior by praising students who are behaving—is the best form of intervention. But ignoring misbehavior makes it more likely that the behavior will persist and expand. Like a small fire in the classroom, your goal is to address misbehavior quickly—the first time it appears—to keep it from growing.
The Six Levels of Intervention
NOTE: This are not in order, but the first two is the sweet spot to start in. However, some cases require skipping down the list.
1. Nonverbal intervention. Gesture to or eye contact with off-task students while teaching the others.
2. Positive group correction. Quick verbal reminder to the group about what students should be doing and not what they shouldn’t be doing: “We’re practicing our forms”; “Everyone is practicing their forms.” This is used just as student attention appears on the brink of wandering.
3. Anonymous individual correction. Quick verbal reminder to the group, similar to positive group correction, except that the anonymous individual correction makes it explicit that not everyone is where they need to be: “We need to focus.” “Please check yourself to make sure you’ve got your eyes on your partner.”
4. Private individual correction. When and if you have to name names (you will have to, especially when you are setting expectations for under-ranks), seek to correct privately and quietly. Walk by the off-task student. Lean down confidently to get as near to him as possible and, using a voice that preserves as much privacy as is possible, tell the student what to do quickly and calmly. Something like, “John, I’ve asked everyone to focus on forms, and I need to see you doing it too,” will usually be enough. If you need to return, it’s time to put the student on notice about consequences. Again you want to do this privately: “John, I need you to focus so you can learn. If you do not focus, you will have to do 10 burpees and say “focus” every time you come up. Do you want that? I don’t, so please show me your best so you can learn this faster.”
Keep the focus on purpose not power. You’re not exerting your authority as much as helping John to succeed.
5. Quick public correction. You will be forced at times to make corrections of individual students during public moments during class or in exams. Your goal is to limit the amount of time a student is “onstage” for something negative and focus on telling the student what to do right rather than scolding what he did wrong. This also helps remind the class of your expectations as the instructor. Saying something like, “John, I need your eyes. Thank you, John. Much better,” is quick, confident, and more effective than a five minute speech to the class on the importance of eye contact and focus.
6. Consequences. The goal is to solve a case of noncompliance quickly and with the least disruption to the class. In the long run, it makes an instructor stronger when he or she only occasionally uses external consequences. Solving issues without external consequences reinforces the instructor’s position power and control of the class. However, if a situation cannot be addressed quickly and successfully without a consequence, the consequence must be given so that class is not interrupted.
Ideally an instructor has a scaled series of consequences from which to choose, so he can match the significance of the response to the disruption and ensure his own ability to administer it quickly, decisively, and without wavering. Minimum consequences include sitting out a drill or game to more serious consequences like being held back from testing or expulsion. Holding students back from testing doesn’t have to be an entire testing cycle. It could be just a few days or a week. The following week, as the just passed blue belts are learning something new, the held back child can’t participate. This can create more work for you to finally catch the child up, so take these measures judiciously. It much easier to manage holding a child out of fun end-of-the-class game than a belt exam.
As professional instructors, we’re in a delicate place where the parent of a student may object to our consequences and pull the child out. Parents do not like to pay for their child to sit in the corner so make time out short. Many instructors resort to push ups or some kind of physical consequence. The danger is in making exercising a bad thing rather than something fun and healthy. However, there are some exercises like a plank or burpees that are simply not fun for even the most enthusiastic people. Burpees and planks seem like they were designed to be punishment, so use them in small doses.