Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Teaching karate to young children.

I had quite an interesting time helping out with the junior class last night. I don't usually know what I am going to be asked to do until I get there and the class has done the warm up. My instructor then tells me who he wants me to work with. This is fine when the task involves taking a couple of students through a particular kata, or if I am given a very specific task to do with clear instructions on how to do it.
However, the last couple of weeks I have been asked to take the new white belts to the back of the class and 'go through the syllabus' or 'teach them some basic blocking and punching'. I have then had them for the majority of the class. The problem for me with this is that I have had nothing prepared, no lesson plan and I've made it up on the hop! But six year olds get easily bored with just going through the syllabus and then they start moaning and fidgeting - then they start wandering away or messing about with each other.
So last night I went prepared! I had no idea until I got there whether I would be teaching the white belts again but just in case, I had some drills and tasks prepared that might make it a little more interesting and fun for my little charges.
In fact I had 5 white belt students - one new woman and four children aged between about 6 and 9 years. I had planned just to teach them the stances and techniques that they would need to know for their first kata, shihozuki. These are yoi, zenkutsu dachi, mawate, gedan barai and oi zuki.
I have noticed in previous weeks that a lot of white belt students have problems coordinating their arms properly for a gedan barai so I devised a drill using a belt to help them get the feel of the movement. Basically, I dangled a belt above their shoulder, clasping it in a way that would let it slide through my hands without falling when it was pulled. Their task was to reach up to their shoulder with the opposite hand, grab the belt and pull it down across the body to hip level - this hopefully emulated the movement of a downward block. The kids seemed to pick up on this quite well and were able to tug the belt quite sharply. We did this with both arms. We then repeated the task using only an 'imaginary' belt. On the whole they did pretty well, though there was still some confusion over pulling the non-blocking arm back into chamber so I might need to think a bit more about this.
We also tried doing the same drill but with a quarter turn to the left as the belt is pulled - this is the first step in the kata (turn left into zenkutsu dachi and perform a gedan barai). This was when I was reminded that young children don't have the same level of vocabulary as adults. I asked them to make a 90 degree turn to the left. One boy was extremely puzzled by this because degrees was something to do with oven temperature! I also came into a problem with the use of the word drill because that's something dad uses to put shelves up!
To get them to make a strong zenkutsu dachi I tried a pushing game. I got them to pair up and face each other standing in a left footed zenkutsu dachi. They then touched with their left palms together and on my count tried to push each other backwards. They soon found that success depended on getting a good bend on the front leg to push their weight forward and that if they had their feet in a line they were more wobbly and easier to push over. Well, it was fun and I think they understood what was being learned.
I found belts to be a very useful tool last night. We also used belts to learn the push/pull movement of a basic punch. Standing opposite a partner they had two belts and held one end of each in each hand. They then pull back with their left hand (causing their right arm to be pulled straight out in front of them). They then pulled back with their right arm and so on. I then got them to turn their hand over as it came back into chamber. We started in yoi and then progressed to standing in zenkutsu dachi. I was then going to progress to one partner stepping forwards in zenkutsu dachi as they pulled the belts to resemble an oi zuki punch but we were running out of time.
Overall, I think it went okay - I seemed to keep their interest for most of the time. We had to stop half way because they were desperate to learn how to tie a belt on and I realised we wouldn't be able to move on until they've had a go at this. Still, belt tying is on the white belt syllabus so it was useful even if it wasn't on my lesson plan!
Things I learn't about teaching young children:
1. They take a long time to get organised to start an activity - especially if it involves a partner
2. They are chatterboxes and like to tell you things, even if it is nothing to do with karate, so you have to keep bringing them back on task.
3. To get their attention you need to use their name - learning all the kids names is important.
4. They can get a little over boisterous when playing a push/pull games and you have to calm them down.
5. You never have time to complete the whole lesson plan - everything takes longer than you expect
6. You have to use language they understand but they have an amazing propensity to learn Japanese words!
7. They make you feel proud when they manage to do something well and are incredibly rewarding to teach (and occasionally frustrating).
Do you like teaching young children? Have you got any tips/ideas to share?
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Sandman said...

This is a really interesting subject for me Sue - as I've progressed through the ranks, I've been getting asked more and more often to lead small groups of students through katas and other testing material. Working with the adults is pretty easy - they can stay on task. But with the little ones it can be a real challenge. I've found that making games out of "who can do the best zenkutsu dachi all the way through the kata" or "who can kiaii the best" helps a lot.

I like that you came up with some pre-arranged drills to be used just in case - I'm going to do that too! Thanks for the idea :-)

Frank said...

Hats off to you! I don't know if I'd have the patience to work with kids that small. Sounds like you did a really nice and creative job with it. :-)

Steve said...

I like rolling with kids to pad my win/loss record. :)

Seriously, though, I haven't been involved with the kids classes very much. We do get to spar with them occassionally, which is fun. They're crazy.

Sue C said...

Hi Sandman, you definitely have to try and think creatively with the kids so that they don't get bored!

Some books I've found useful for ideas are:
101 games and drills for martial arts by David and Elizabeth Lee. Published by AMAC

Martial Arts Instruction by Lawrence Kane. Published by YMAA

Martial Arts Instructors Desk Reference by Sang H Kim, PH.D. Published by Turtle Press.

I got them all from Amazon.

Sue C said...

Frank, I'm sure you could do it, you just have to get into the right mind set that's all.

Steve, kids are definitely crazy sparrers, especially when several take you on at once - they're so merciless!

. said...

Sounds like a great class Sue. I'm sure my DD would love those drills. She's only 6 and sometimes finds kihon drills hard because she's easily distracted. I might try those tricks to work on her stances a little. She needs to improve them for her kata.

LOL @ Steve's comment about sparring with the little ones. Crazy is the right word! My right forearm is still sporting a lovely bruise from sparring with an over eager 8 year old on Sunday! Little tinker!


Frank said...

Well, there is that distinct advantage: Little kids are pretty easy to kick in the face.

(I'm kidding, I'm kidding!) Muahahaha...

Sue C said...

Hi Marie, I find the kids very variable in their ability to retain new information. One week they've got it, the next its as if you never showed them in the first place! Making it varied and fun seems to be the key.

Frank,.... and adults are pretty easy to kick in the shins - be warned! lol.

Anonymous said...


Seriously: With kids, it seems that repetition, and approaching the same solution from many different angles, is what really seems to work.

Actually, that works pretty good with adults, too. I've been helping my daughter with her blocks, straightening her punches, and helping her with her kata.

With kata, I ask her what she thinks the bunkai is for each move, as we do them in sequence, and then I show her some of the things that might actually occur, and she seems to "get it."

Later, if she looks like she's hesitating in one of the moves, I'll say, "What are you going to do if your opponent throws a kick/punch/overhand strike? It jogs her memory, and because she's the one doing the actual recall, and seeing it play in her mind's eye, by winning it for herself, she gets to keep it. Of course, my daughter is 12 years old, so her attention-span is a little better, and she's a little more focused than when she was a few years younger.

With real little kids, if you can make a game of things and make it a form of play, they'll pick it up faster. This is how Indian children would grow up to be warriors in the tribe. The games would involve bows and arrows, wrestling matches, throwing small spears, running races, leaping, tumbling, etc.

Kids now, are so over-scheduled, and bombarded with information on all sides.. I feel sorry for them. I know that my daughter, by the end of an 8-hour school day, and then two hours of homework, she's frazzled. Especially since (at least in American schools), they aren't letting the kids go out and play, everyday. Gym class is very nearly a thing of the ancient past, unless they have it once or twice a week...

By the time kids get to class, they're all but pinging off the walls, and they really can't help it. Kids naturally have a LOT of Ki/Chi, and they have decreasing outlets to really get it all out so that they can be properly balanced.

Good luck... I think it takes a very special person to work with small children. It takes a special sort of patience, humor, and kindness.

Sue C said...

Hi Frank, if your daughter is getting to see bunkai applications in her kata already then she is doing REALLY WELL! She's lucky to have a dad that can help her.

Frank said...

Thanks! I'm showing her little things, just one at a time. The reason for this downblock, that middle block, this overhead sweep, etc. I'm trying to help it be more "real" to her. And of course, we teach best that which we most need to learn, so it's symbiotic. ;-)

Felicia said...

Hi, Sue...I think Frank hit it right on the head - repetition and kinda covering the same thing from different angles works well. Whoever said that children lean by play was spot on. Games/challenges are great for that age group, but their attention spans are short and you have to switch up frequently so they don't get fidgetty/board. Sneak that learning in through the back door, so to speak...

Sounds like you've got it under control though :-)

Sue C said...

Hi Felicia, I had it under control this week - that doesn't guarantee I will next week. LOL. Do you spend much time teaching young children in your dojo?

SenseiMattKlein said...

Some great ideas. Especially like the use of the karate belt for teaching punching and chambering concepts.

Sue C said...

Hi Sensei, I find that belts are a versatile and useful tool!

fishface said...

Hi Sue,

Nice post.

In my opinion you will find the best martial artists and the most knowledgeable ones are often the ones who teach children as you have to analyse and break down everything you say and teach in so many different ways so they understand.
You will probably find that you will learn more from them about your karate than they will learn from you!

kids learn fast, really fast and the more fun you make it the quicker they pick it up.
like anything first establish a few general rules of the game and its easy.
Rule 1 the hand thats not doing anything (hikite) lives on your ribs. thats where it lives so if your not using it it goes home.
(its always working but not yet for little people)
Rule 2. compare everything to something else. eg age uke 2 watches tell the time above your head.
rule 3 keep them busy and that way they dont get out of hand or fidgity. eg whn punching have them kiai on number 5. not that easy to count, punch and remember to kiai.
rule 4. make it fun
rule 5. its always good but can be improved. confidence and praise is fantastic motivator.

a few suggestions:

incorpoate team games eg. a race with karate techniques.
the line game is a good one. get them to line up grade order and have the person in the high grade position winning if anyones technique is slightly off move them to the low grade end of the line and everyone moves up. Just be careful to get all of the 'out' at some point so all of them have a go at being the king of the line. Whats great with this is its fun and you can be more strict with more abled students and they all love moving up the line.

Have fun :)

Sue C said...

Hi Fishface, I agree that it's probably sufficient at this level to just get them to remember to put the hikite arm on the hip and not worry to much about 'using' it. I think I confused them a little trying to get them to coordinate its movement with the gedan barai block.

Your ideas for games/drills sound interesting - I'll try something like this next time with them. Thanks for your comments.


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