martial arts instructor certificationThis is an excerpt from the MATA Professional Instructor Certification program now available at MATACertification.com

How to Ask Questions in Your Martial Arts Class: Name/Question or Question/Name?

Do you call out a question to your class and wait for hands to go up? Or, do you pick out a student and ask that student the question?

Both are common techniques and have their place, but each has a different strategic significance. When you call out a student to answer, the rest of the class will often relax because they think they are off the hook. For instance, “Chad, why do we pivot on a sidekick?” Some of the students will be relieved that Chad was called and not them.

However, when you ask a question to the class, “Who can tell me why we pivot on a sidekick?” Every student will be thinking of the answer. The key here is to pause after asking the question. The longer the pause, more importance is placed on the question and answer and the more time students think it through. Pause and look in the eyes of each student. Sure, the smart girl will have her hands up, but you want the entire class to know any of them could be called upon at any time.

Cold Calling

You also do not have to wait for a student to raise her hand (smart girl again) when you ask a question. This allows other students to quietly wait for the smart girl to answer. Don’t let them get away with that. Instead, make a cold call. “Chad, why do we pivot on a sidekick?” If Chad knows, he answers. If he doesn’t, it gives you an indication that you may have some work to do.

One of the goals of cold calling is to make it normal for all the students to answer questions. Another is that it speeds the pace of the class up. Rather than asking the class the question and getting the same hands raised as always, you target a student and ask them directly with a cold call.

You want to create a balance between raising hands for questions and no hands cold calling. Both have their place, but cold calling speeds the pace and engages all of the students.

Cold calling also puts all the students on alert that they be called at any time. You care about their understanding of what you teach and you want to confirm that they get it.

The key is to not embarrass the student. If the student is unsure, just say, “Chad is not quite sure, Joey, why do we pivot on sidekicks?” When/if Joey answers, go back to Chad and repeat the question, “Chad, why do we pivot on side kick?” This is a powerful and positive way to pull students into the lesson and lessons. It’s a way of you letting them know that you are always holding them accountable.

Cold calling puts you in charge of the classroom. It promotes engagement in your class. It helps students that are shy or unsure realize that they are as on track as anyone in the class. 

Students know that what you are saying may come back to them in front of their peers so it helps them they stay focused. Just resist the urge to fall back on the old sensei role and play “Gotcha! Give me 20.”


John Graden
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.