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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.

From the MATA Professional Martial Arts Instructor Certification Course

Module 1-Lesson 1: Four Keys to Giving Clear Directions

1. Specific. Effective directions are specific. They focus on manageable and precisely describe actions that martial arts students can take.

2. Concrete. Effective directions are not just specific; they involve clear actions that any student knows how to do. When directing a student to pay attention, he/she may or may not know how to do that. But if the instruction is to, “Turn your body to face me. Look at me with your eyes. Listen to me with your ears. If you have a question, raise your hand.”

These are real things: physical, simple, commonplace. There is no gray area or prior knowledge required to comply.

3. Sequential. Effective directions should describe a sequence of concrete specific actions. In the case of the student who needs help paying attention, the martial arts instructor might advise him, “John, turn your body to face me. Look at me with your eyes. Listen to me with your ears.”

4. Observable. The instructions give John actions that the martial arts instructor could plainly see him do. This is important. The instructor provided him with a series of steps that were specific and simple enough that any student could reasonably be expected to do them. That leaves John with little wiggle room to stray.

What to Do allows you to distinguish between incompetence and defiance by making your commands specific enough that they can’t be deliberately misinterpreted and helpful enough that they explain away any gray areas.

However, it’s important to distinguish between incompetence and defiance. If I ask John to pay attention or sit up or get on task and he doesn’t, knowing whether he will not or cannot matters.

If he cannot, the problem is incompetence. If he will not, the problem is defiance. I respond to these situations differently.

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Written by John Graden

John Graden is widely credited with leading the martial arts school business into the modern age. He is the founder of the first successful professional association and trade journal. MA Success editor John Corcoran first called him a “visionary” in 1995. Martial Arts World magazine dubbed him, The Teacher of Teachers. Mr. Graden’s leadership was recognized in many mainstream media outlets including a cover story on the Wall Street Journal, documentaries on A&E Network, and as a guest on the Dr. Oz Show and many others.

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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