Curriculum Design

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Curriculum Design: The Recipe Book for Your Martial Arts School

I had lunch recently with a fourth dan in Uechi Ryu. We talked about how the Eastern mind-set is so different from the Western, and the confusion that creates for many instructors. Culturally, the East is more about conformity, or as I call it, cloning, than the West, where rugged individualism and innovation are instilled.

This prompted him to tell me a story of the greatest fighter in his system. This was a Japanese fellow who, as a young man, went to his uncle to learn karate. The uncle turned him away, but the guy kept returning. Finally, the uncle took him but made him clean the school, wash the toilets, and generally play the role of school janitor for a year or so before teaching him any karate.

When he felt the student was ready, he took him to other schools where he would get the heck beat out of him. Sometimes American GIs would come into the school to spar, and the uncle would have them fight his nephew, who got pounded. This lasted years, until finally the nephew began to win some of the fights. Eventually, he won them all.

The guy told me this with pride and added you just don’t see that level of dedication anymore. I said, “Of course not. That’s a stupid way to teach.” He was shocked. That is one of those stories instructors tell students to inspire them. And, as usual, the student doesn’t question it. I can’t help but be curious as to why someone would teach that way.

My comment to him was here you had someone with this kind of talent and potential, and you risked losing him by making him clean toilets for a year and then have him get beat up. That’s just dumb. That guy could have been a great martial artist years before he finally reached his potential. Luckily, he stuck it out, but who knows how many others with similar potential dropped out due to such an insane program? The instructor may have been a great master, but his curriculum was nuts, even if it does make a nice story.

If there is any area of your program you will want to scrutinize mercilessly, it should be your curriculum. Your curriculum is like a restaurants’ recipe book. Do your recipes have your students asking for more? Or are they choking down your offerings for a few months before giving it up and excusing themselves from the table?

Most of us either inherit the curriculum we came up in or we join an organization and adopt their curriculum. Because of our Eastern roots, there is an inherent bias towards conforming to existing methods. This, in time, leads to a one-size-fits-all approach to martial arts.