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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.

How to Teach a Martial Arts Skill

by | Sep 21, 2022 | Curriculum-Teaching-Tests, Instructor Certification and Training | 0 comments

Martial Arts Teaching Strategies

I noticed back in the early 1990s that martial arts school owners/instructors have a wide spectrum of education and background. 

You could graduate with an MBA from a University and open a school or your could get released from prison and open a school.

Still, neither background teaches an instructor “How to Teach Martial Arts.” That’s when I, with the help of my mentor John Corcoran, created the first widely respected Instructor Certification Program.

We recruited 18 experts in their professional and academic fields such as pedagogy, motivation, communication, kinesiology, child psychology etc. to contribute their expertise to the program. 

The key was that they were all veteran black belts so they were able to calibrate their professional expertise to the needs of modern day instructors.

The course has been a great success with Jhoon Rhee, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis and Bill Wallace endorsed it. Rhee, Lewis, and Superfood actually flew to Dallas to complete the course.

Chuck Norris surprised one of the first classes with a visit and shared some fun war stories and his support of the program.

Here is one of my favorite lessons from the Martial Arts Teachers’ Association (MATA) Instructor Certification Program.

How to Introduce a New Skill

1. Introduce the Technique with a Strong Benefit Statement 

Make it clear why the students want to learn this.

“This is one of the most powerful and devastating kicks in all martial arts. It’s called the side kick because it cuts down your opponent and is really hard to block.” 

2. Use a “War Story” to Create an Emotional Connection with the Students 

Joe Lewis would introduce a sidekick by sharing this story, “One of my instructors in Okinawa got jumped by five guys. He killed 1 and put 2 others in the hospital using only his sidekick.” 

3. Show the Application of the Technique with an Opponent (Visual and Auditory Learners) 

“The cut kick uses the inner area of the shin to strike and cut into the outside of the thigh or knee just like this…” 

4. Clarify What You Are Striking with and the Target 

(Kinesthetic Learner) 

“Everyone reach down and feel the inner part of your shin bone. Do you feel how sharp that is? That’s what you are striking with. Now, take your fist and lightly tap this area outside your thigh. That’s the target zone.” 

5. Face the Mirror and Preview What You Are Going To Have Them Do (Visual Learners) 

“From your fighting stance, bring your knee outside and around while pivoting the supporting foot all the way around 360-degrees like this. When I say, ‘Out’ pull the knee to this position. When I say, ‘Kick!’ complete the kick like this.” 

6. Create a Sound Pattern (Auditory learners) 

“We’ll do this in four parts. 1-Fold! – 2-Kick! – 3-Refold! 4-Recover.” Repeat that with every rep. 

7. Demonstrate the Steps Every Few Reps 

“It will look like this. ‘Knee out’ and ‘Kick!’ 

8. Cite One or Two Common Errors 

“Common error is to bring the knee inside and through. That makes the kick weaker. We want the full force of this big thigh coming out and then tearing through our opponents leg.” 

9. Lead Them Through a Few on Each Leg 

On the first few you will lead and demonstrate. Then you will wander and make corrections.

10. Have Them Do the Entire Technique While You Wander And Correct 

Make no more than one correction per repetition and say it loud enough for everyone to hear. 

“Let’s put it together now. When I say Kick I want to see this (demonstrate the kick all the way through) Ready…Kick! 

Keep that knee outside. Kick! 

Land in good balance. Kick! 

Pivot all the way around. Kick! 

Keep those hands up..Kick” 

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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