By Rochelle Brenner
Anyone can kick and count to 10. To be a truly good martial arts instructor requires breaking down the barriers between a student’s insecurity and success. Between their ability and potential. A really good martial arts instructor is always looking for ways to improve a student’s experience -- even if the student is annoying or disruptive or broke the rules. Here are 7 annoying things students do in every martial arts school in the country and how a good martial arts teacher can roll with the punches:
1) Arrives to class disheveled. If the pants are too long, the student will trip over a pant leg and won’t be able to see foot position. An instructor shows true servant mentality when he or she bends down and rolls up the cuffs on pants or rolls up sleeves.
2) Takes a bad day out on you. Allow a bad day. Everyone has bad days. When a good student is disruptive, look them in the eye and ask if they are having a bad day. That gives them an immediate out, an excuse, and puts them on the defensive. It gives them a chance to get a “Get out of Jail Free” card and improve their behavior for next time rather than keep up the attitude.
3) Acts like they are too cool for karate. Assume each child is strong and determined to do their best. Start each class with a clean slate. We all know who the unenthusiastic, eye-rolling students are, but we don’t have to accept that identity. We can treat them as if every class is going to be their best class ever.
4) Gets the same simple thing wrong over and over. Praise in public. Correct in private. Do this: Walk up to a student and quietly say switch legs. Don’t do this: Wrong side! You’re using the wrong leg again! If a kid doesn’t understand, give up on it and focus on improving something else. If they aren’t getting right from left, let it go and focus on foot position instead. If they aren’t getting into the right stance, focus on hand position. Getting something else right will get them closer to their goal and you can circle back to the other ability later.
5) Shows up late. Let them into class. This is likely the most controversial of recommendations. Yes, being late is a bad habit, disrespectful and disruptive. But a good instructor can integrate a late student into class without sinking the whole class or calling too much attention to it. The student is better off getting part of a class than none of it and oftentimes lateness is not their fault. They are already embarrassed the same way an adult is when they’re late to a work meeting. Make them feel like they belong there, that they can make a mistake without getting reprimanded. It is something they need to improve if it’s repetitive, but it shouldn’t be the death knell of their training.
6) Volunteers to demonstrate then gets it completely wrong. Sometimes you can’t correct a student in private. They raised their hand high to show something they should know and clearly don’t. An instructor’s intuition might be to gloss over it with a “Uh, that wasn’t right. Can someone else demonstrate?” or kinder, “Let’s work on that after class.” But another option is to call attention to the mistake and allow the whole class to learn from it, apply it and show how it would work. “See how he used his right arm and chopped. That was a great move and would work on the other side. That would work at another angle in a different technique like this.” And demonstrate the correct way with the same student.
7) Brags about their former karate school. No one likes a student bragging about their last sensei, or the sentence, “That’s not how I learned to do it.” Rather than get flustered and offended, politely remind the student that there are many different styles -- that’s why it’s an art. Set a culture of learning where another perspective isn’t a conflict, but an additional learning opportunity. If I know a student has prior experience, I tell them they are here to learn and to attempt to do everything the way we do it. However, I will also pull them aside and ask them if they’d like to share something with the class and let them run a drill sharing their additional knowledge.