Tips & Advice on What Makes A Good Martial Art Instructor.
“The aim of an Instructor is get the maximum potential out of every single student they teach and to produce better students than themselves.”
WHAT IS AN INSTRUCTOR? A good instructor is there to encourage and guide you, pass on their knowledge and help you progress correctly in the martial art. They are there to correct your mistakes, encourage you when you are down, humble you when you have forgotten the tenet humility and ask for nothing in return. Being an Instructor is extremely difficult but one of the most worthwhile things you will ever do.
It is very easy in Taekwondo to intentionally or unintentionally abuse your position. What you need to acknowledge immediately is that whatever you say to a student they will take onboard. A few simple words, even meant in humour, can make or break someone in the martial arts. As an Instructor your job is to teach the true martial art and produce well balanced and mentally strong students so they can cope with anything life throws at them. To do this the first thing you need to learn is that everyone is an individual and they have to be taught that way.
CHARACTER TRAITS YOU NEED TO HAVE AS AN INSTRUCTOR
Communication Skills: You need to be able to get your message across to your students. You don’t have to be a great public speaker but you need to be able to tell your students clearly what you want them to do. Taekwondo is a universal language, you don’t even have to talk to get your students to understand. I have taught students before that haven’t spoken any English so I’ve had to show them with movements and they understand fine. Students pick up advice and tips a lot easier visually, so demonstrate what you mean, or if you cannot do the movement pick a student who is excellent at the technique to demonstrate.
Your students will always copy you, so if you show them wrong they will learn wrong. When demonstrating in front of the class, pick the person who is technically the best at that technique, whatever their grade, and use them as an example.
Discipline: If you do not enforce discipline into your lessons students will not have respect for you. Remember respecting someone and liking someone are totally different things. As a martial arts instructor your job is to instruct in a safe environment and get the best out of every single student you teach. Discipline does not have to be gained by raising your voice or being dominant it is simply a matter of educating your students how to behave.
Lack of respect means the majority of students will not listen and will definitely not grasp the concept of learning the martial arts in a solemn and respectful environment. Remember being strict does not mean that you lose any humour, shout at people and have the right to talk to people as you please. You should treat people how you would expect to be treated with courtesy and respect. By acting like this and setting an example your students will follow.
Patience: As long as a student is putting effort and concentration into trying to correct a technique or learn a new movement then you have to be patient. If they do it wrong a hundred times but are still trying encourage them.
Really you shouldn’t have to raise your voice to anyone in the Dojang because of lack of effort, children are the worst culprits of this but again you need to be careful that you are taking the right approach. Raising your voice or shouting can have the opposite effect and generally sets a bad atmosphere for the rest of the class.
People, depending on age, ability and aptitude, learn things at different rates so every student should be treated as an individual. Try and stress to all students that progression in the martial arts is not a race and because of the above factors you should never compare yourself to anyone else.
As an instructor you need to learn the difference between giving gentle encouragement to those students who are trying their best and harder methods of motivation for those students who may be lazy. It’s a matter of finding a balance between the two and knowing when and which method to use. It is all down to experience.
Martial arts are all about building up self confidence and controlling your ego. Remember how much influence you have as a black belt or instructor. One wrong word from you, even if meant in humour, could totally destroy someone’s confidence if taken the wrong way. Similarly building up someone’s ego with constant undeserved praise will cause them to have a big head. You must find a balance when teaching.
Flexibility In Thinking: One of the main characteristics is being flexible in thought when teaching and being able to see what methods are working and which ones are not. Every lesson I teach I learn different methods to try and get students to apply their technique. Analysing the technique and getting students to practice different approaches to get the same end result simply takes practice and is trial and error.
Eg When teaching a basic front snap kick you have so many things that could be improved. Breathing, preparation position, arm movement, execution,hip position, recovery and multiple techniques. Each one of these elements of the broken down technique has endless methods you can teach. Practising a front snap kick doesn’t mean you have to train the same exercise every time you teach. Look at what the students are struggling with and work on that element before moving on.
Critical Eye: A good instructor should point out both good and bad technique so that students understand what they need to improve on and also build up their confidence. Too much praise can lead to a big head whereas too much criticism can lead to lack of confidence. It is important that you learn to balance the two.
Instructors should NEVER let bad technique go unnoticed. Once students, regardless of grade, have acquired a bad habit it is extremely difficult to correct. The longer it is practiced wrong the longer it takes to put right, which means you end up with higher grades having sloppy and incorrect technique. The more basics students practice the better their martial art foundation to build on. Simple exercises like a tight fist formed at the hip and correct stances are fundamental in any martial art.
When you first start teaching it's important to have a lesson plan. Something there as a back up plan. When you become more experienced you'll find that you rarely look at your plan as you can naturally see the mistakes and have the experience to know how to correct them.
An instructors job is to teach every element of martial art to their students not just what they like to do. A lot of sports coaches just teach 90% kicking pads and 10% poomsae but that is wrong. Planning varied lessons allows the student to see their strengths and gives them a lot better foundation to learn. To get a student to grade they must know poomsae, basics, sparring, kicking techniques, one step sparring, self defence, possibly breaking, so there is always lots to work on from an Instructor angle.
Try to keep things fresh and find different ways to teach what you want the students to learn.
Eg A Simple exercise of keeping your knee up before kicking can be done individually, it can be done working with a partner, it can be done over a partner. There are several methods to achieve the same thing and as an Instructor you need to try as many as possible.
TIPS & ADVICE
Below, in no particular order, are tips and advice on how to make you become a good Instructor. Remember the most important thing is to care about your students and treat them with respect.
Talk to your students. It’s important that you explain to your students the reasons why they are doing techniques a certain way. If they grasp the concept of explanation they are more likely to do it correctly. Plus it makes them think more technically about the technique they are doing.
Different Abilities. Every student should be looked at as an individual. Every student has different strengths, weaknesses, abilities and mentality. A teaching method that works for one does not necessarily work for another. This makes a Taekwondo Instructors job very difficult! Try and keep students with similar abilities together, regardless of grade really. It’s important that students push each other to get the best out of each other.
Train with different partners. Sometimes it’s hard when class numbers are low but always try and swap partners about. Students tend to go with the same partner every lesson and very quickly get into a comfort zone. Swap and change them as much as possible. Get the higher grades to work hard and push the blue and red belts so they are instilled with that hard work ethic from a low grade.
Create an Energy. Getting that hard work ethic into your students is key to get a good class. Working hard, working together and supporting each other make a good club. Having a lax atmosphere leads to laziness and once this trait is in the class it’s very hard to get out. You need to teach your higher grades to set an example and work hard, get a sweat on and put 100% into their training. Ki calling is a great way to do this.
Commands. How you speak your commands affect how the students do a movement. Speaking in a soft quiet tone will probably see the students move slow and lethargic, increasing the speed and volume of the command will increase the speed of the student.
Break Techniques Down. Especially for white belts it’s important that you break down technique. Think back to when you first started even a low section block and a punch looked extremely complicated. Start extremely basic like forming fists, then move onto stances, then stepping, then standing still with blocking, before progressing onto moving and stepping. Break everything down to ensure they are doing it correctly and don’t rush. Basics are your foundation in the martial art.
Goals. To get the most of your students try and give each of them a target they have to reach, hopefully it will motivate them more. If they are weak on their left side, get them to use their left leg only for a month, most students will rise to a challenge.
Mix and match lessons. Try and keep lessons as fresh as possible, it’s fine to concentrate on certain things and repetition is good, but remember you can practice the same thing but in a different way.
Consistency. If you see something your class needs to work on long term such as stretching or stances or whatever it may be, make sure you follow it up. Don’t just concentrate on it for one lesson and then leave it, you get nothing done that way. Stay on the same theme for a few months and then gradually move onto something else that you see is wrong. This doesn’t mean you need to forget everything else you are teaching just take 10/20 minutes in each lesson to practice and reaffirm the technique.
Mirror Image. When demonstrating to the students always face the same direction as them otherwise you show them a mirror image and it gets confusing.
Good luck in your teaching. Hopefully some of these points will really help you along the way. Feel free to share and comment.