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.

The Benevolent Instructor

This is a common story. Maybe it’s happened to you. You take in a new student. You let him train for free because of his situation. You even counsel him while he cries on your shoulder about his life.

He trains hard and advances through the ranks and earns his black belt. With his skill and dedication, you decide he would be a great addition to your staff, so you hire him.

Things are going great, and he has become an asset to your school. You’re proud that you’ve been able to save this young man and help him move from a negative to a positive path in life.

In time, however, the luster begins to fade. He shows up late or calls in with questionable excuses. He is also not treating the students and their families they way you want them treated.

At this point, you are faced with a tough decision. You know his background, and you fear that your school is all that he has.

If you let him go, you think he’ll spiral out of control, so you keep him on and hope he improves. Still, you find yourself cleaning up after his mess more and more each week.

All you ever did for this kid was help him. You taught him all that you know and gave him a great opportunity. How did this happen?

It happens all of the time when your assets become liabilities. In this case, we’re talking human assets. You may be thinking that the kid is the asset that became a liability, and you’re right.

But, as the old saying goes, when you point a finger, three fingers are pointing back at you. You’ve become a liability too.

When you make the decision to keep staff because the consequences of firing them would disrupt their life, you have become as big a liability as the staff member.

The damage created by the staff member is only happening because you’re allowing it.

You are giving permission for this person to damage your business, stress you out, and reduce the reward to you and your family for your risk and hard work in opening a business.

One way to deal with this is to create an agreement with each staff member. While it may differ from school to school, here is an example of a staff agreement.

Standards of Performance Agreement


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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