Many of us at some time may decide to teach children’s karate classes. In and of itself, this can be a daunting task. Children each come with unique learning abilities, attention span and physical capabilities. Not everyone wants to or for that matter should teach children. For those of you that do, I would like to share with you my experiences. This article is in no way an attempt to critique anyone else’s abilities, but rather to offer my own personal perspective and possibly encourage others to teach children.
First of all I am indebted to Hanshi Albert Mady and Sensei Susan Baldassi for their valuable input and for allowing me to “pick their brain”. Most importantly, I wish to recognize my Sensei, Brian Smout for his knowledge and experience in teaching children and sharing that knowledge with me! I would also like to thank Sensei Yvonne Riesmeyer for sharing my enthusiasm and for being there from day one. Also a thank you to Sensei Buzz Cox for seeing the light and joining us! I couldn’t do it without either of you.
How I got started.
For a number of years, I had been contacted by parents asking about children’s karate classes. I would refer them to a couple of martial arts schools that I knew taught children. I also recommended that they watch the classes and talk with the instructors to ensure that they agreed with the philosophy of the school. Then I started to get calls from parents who had their children in those groups and were not happy with what they were being taught. So there was my opportunity to offer something better in children’s martial arts.
My experience to this point was teaching children’s karate classes with Sensei Brian, eight years teaching children swimming and seven years coaching youth soccer. I also hold a Certificate in Adult Education and spent 12 years as a clinical instructor in The Radiological Technology program.
Do your research.
Since it had been some years since I taught children with Brian, I decided to do some current research. Century Martial Arts (Century) promotes the Lil’ Dragon martial arts program. Hanshi Mady and Sensei’s Baldassi and Smout had all used components of the Lil’ Dragon program, so talking with them was important. Each of them had valuable suggestions and comments on teaching this type of program. I also purchased Ernie Reyes Sr.’s DVD’s on the Little Dragon program. Century also offers Kimber Hill’s DVDs on the same program. I found that Master Reyes program was more to my liking. Obviously, we will each take what is valuable to us from either of these programs. Ultimately, I purchased the Little Dragon curriculum from Century. It is a great reference. There is more than enough information and ideas to keep you going. The important thing to remember is that you should ultimately design your own program. There will always be things you like and don’t like about other programs. Make the program yours!
Develop Your Curriculum.
I have two age groups, the Lil’ Dragons (4 - 6 years) and the Samurai (7 - 11 years). Many young children have difficulties with balance and coordination. The goal of the Little Dragon program is skill development. Attention span is limited, so activities must be dynamic and fun. Three to five minutes per activity is usually all the time you have. Developing balance, coordination and
listening skills are key components for this group. As they progress you will begin to incorporate
punching, kicking and blocking techniques. This is all done in a fun manner. Proper form is not an
immediate requirement. Building on their success is! Class time is kept to 30 minutes.
The Samurai being older are introduced to more karate skills. Basic kihon are taught. I like to incorporate many drills and skills to reinforce these techniques. Sensei Brian introduced me to the Kovar Brothers video called “The Art of Disguising Repetition”. The premise of this video is that you can do the same technique for a whole class and not bore your students simply by changing what you do with the technique. For example, you could be teaching a straight punch. For a few minutes the students will practice form in the air. Next, you can have them partner up and practice on hand targets. Then you might use x-ray film. And finally, you could have a relay using punches on aheavy shield or hand targets. You have done the same drill over and over again, but to the students it is all different.
The Samurai also learn the Isshinryu katas. Again the focus of the class should be fun. The students are a little older and therefore the expectation is higher than for the little dragons. Class time is 45 minutes.
Determine what it is you want to teach each age group. Plan how you will do that and over what time period. Continue to evaluate and readjust your goals and expectations based on your outcomes. Make it fun for you and your instructors as well!
We use a variety of tools to assist in our classes. Besides the use of hand targets, kicking shields and blockers, we have many other items at our disposal. Let your imagination guide your innovation. Century and other martial arts suppliers sell many different types of training equipment. Century sells obstacle course equipment, number circles, karate dice and many other items. Some of these you can make yourself. We also use activity cones, x-ray film, pool noodles and 50 feet of rope! Sometimes it’s a matter of trying something new and seeing how it works. In some cases it will work, some you will have to modify or you may reject it outright. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
The children, especially the Lil’ Dragons, look forward to the obstacle course that is set up every class. This activity requires them to jump over, crawl under, hop on one foot, hop on both feet, zig zag, punch, kick, somersault, jump-duck and many others. The obstacle course changes from class to class. Just use your imagination and decide what skills you are trying to develop. To the children it is fun, to you it is a development exercise that will lead to more advanced skills.
It is important to get feedback from the students, the parents and your other instructors. I do this in discussion with all the above and I also provide feedback forms of the parents can fill out (anonymously if they wish) at various points during the year. The students will definitely tell you what they like or dislike! When you are told repeatedly that the children cannot wait to come to class, you know you have a winner! This also means that you must continue to improve and develop your program to keep it interesting, and not just maintain the status quo.
We have a club advertisement in the phone book. To start the children’s classes, I advertised in the local paper and in the daily “coffee news”. Initial responses came from these sources. Since then I have mainly relied on “word-of-mouth”. When people are happy with what you are doing they tell others. We are now at maximum class size. I continue to get requests for children to join our classes. We either need additional instructors and/or to add other class times.
As mentioned at the start, not everyone is interested in teaching children. A definite prerequisite is to WANT to teach this age group. Sensei Yvonne has a different set of abilities and experiences in working with children than myself. This provides an important balance in what we do as a team. There are also coaching/instructing classes available from Karate Canada and various provincial karate organizations. The National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) also offers a variety of instructional and coaching programs.
You can use kyu ranks from your adult classes or older teen classes. Depending on the individuals, you may need to monitor or assist them more than your black belt instructors. Again, it is key that these people are keen on working with younger children.
Teaching children’s karate is an extremely rewarding experience. My own personal philosophy on education is that in each class: 1.) you should learn something new, and 2.) It should be fun! If not, why are you doing it? If you choose to teach children have fun with it. If you have fun with it and it is fun for them, everyone wins!