Martial Arts Instructor News and Articles

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.

How To Get The Best Images For Your Martial Arts School

I was in Munich at the WAKO World Championships in 1987 as a coach and official. I had a slide from a photoshoot I just did. I showed it to the publisher of Banzai magazine from Italy. He said, “If you let me use this image, I will put you on the cover of the next issue. He didn’t write a word about me in the issue, but I scored the cover.


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Step one is to get a pro-photographer. Use Groupon, Thumbtack or some deal site because photographers need business right now because everyone has a high-grade camera on their phone.

You will get much better results with a professional, so spend the extra money. You’ll be glad you did.

Step two is to pose your students. Joe Lewis learned this when he was a model and actor in Hollywood and he taught it to me for dozens of photoshoots we did together.

Look at the BW high block shot of Joe Lewis above. This was shot by a local newspaper photographer at my school in 1984. To this day, it’s one of my favorite shots.

Why this is a great shot:

  1. He drops his chin down and locks eyes on the viewer with intensity.
  2. Pooched lips draw his cheeks into peaks.
  3. His face elicits energy and intensity. That’s not by accident.
  4. The high block frames his face.
  5. Turning his shoulders slims his body.
  6. Key point. In the Joe Lewis punch, the fist is out of focus. That is a HUGE factor. Depth of field controls where the focus starts and ends. If the punch was in focus, it would be huge and distracting. Ask the photographer where the focus is and isn’t. 

Contrast that shot with this. Totally different effect due to depth of field and focus.


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This depth of focus is the opposite of the Joe Lewis shot at the top of the page.

martial arts curriculum comparison illustration
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Both of these images are shot at extension, but what a difference. The lines of the cat stance woman are artistic while the combination of the eye contact and half-smile from my student on the left is engaging.

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This is one of my favorite shots with Joe Lewis. This was in Pat Purdue’s photo studio in Largo, FL in 1985. I was reminded that his flooring was cement for several dozen shots like this. Joe elicits rage. I show terror.

karate champions Joe Lewis and John Graden
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Energy, fake pain, contrasting uniform colors and blurred effect all add up to a great shot of me being killed by Joe Lewis…again. Credit again to Pat Purdue.

Below is a link to 7 images of my son Alexander in our backyard. We shot these in less than 3-minutes with my phone. On each image, you’ll see my instruction to him for each pose.

  1. Think of the lines of the technique. Typically, the best shots are on full extension like Joe’s punch above.
  2. Eye contact. Where are you looking?
  3. Emotion.
  4. Expression. John Corcoran used to call the extreme expressions, “Fake pain posing.” Look at the cover of any martial arts magazine to see an example.

I could spend an hour at least demonstrating all of this for images and video. Let me know if you’d like to learn more about this.

Link to Images with Instructions

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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