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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.

A common topic which parents bring to instructors is their child’s progress through the belt ranks. Parents want to see their children succeed, and belt promotions can be an indicator of success to them. As with many conversations, this is one best held in the privacy of your office, away from other parents and children.

If this is a point of contention, it is best that you and the parent reach an agreement as adults, before discussing this with the child. In this regard, circumstances may or may not necessitate this discussion with the child. Typically, it is best that you talk with the child about his/her progress through the belt ranks in the same manner as you would with any other child of his/her age and skill level.

Meeting requirements to test and be promoted is not a foreign concept to parents. They understand that their child must meet certain requirements in academic settings to be passed from one grade to the next. Just as it would be a mistake to promote a child in school to the next grade if he/she has not met the academic standards, it would also be a mistake to do so in his/her martial arts training. This sends the wrong message to kids about their own responsibility, and sets them up for future difficulties. The better the working relationship which you have with parents, the easier it is to get this point across to them.

In these belt-rank discussions, it is important for you to understand that the parents are concerned about the best interest of their child. You can acknowledge this by telling them that you appreciate their interest and this opportunity to discuss their child’s training. By doing so, you have opened the door for communication, and expanded this from a discussion about when their child will be promoted, to a conversation about their child’s training in the martial arts.

This is how to handle the situation:

– Make the parents aware that all of you are working toward the same goal, making martial arts training a successful and rewarding experience for the child.

– Emphasize the child’s current successes in training.

– Explain the elements which you look for, as a professional instructor in the martial arts, which would indicate that a child is ready to test.

– It is important to tell them specifically what you are doing with their child in training to assist him or her in meeting the requirements for their next promotion.

– If they press for a date, and you are not certain when the child will be ready to test, set a date for your next conversation with them to discuss the child’s progress.

– Do not make promises which you are not sure you can keep.

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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