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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Teaching Children: An introduction

By James A. Martin QTS MA


I’ve read articles on lesson planning and effective coaching, and many karate-ka are in agreement to the benefits of these concepts. As both a school and karate teacher, I would like to share how the modern classroom can be brought in to the dojo and hopefully help you to achieve a greater progression for your students.

There is obviously a great deal to write about upon this subject supported by wide ranging educational theorem and discourse, but I thought for an introduction I would just give some sound pieces of advice for you to build upon and keep jargon to a minimum.

Before I begin I would like to say that I treat teaching and coaching as two very separate things; both meet and share common goals and principals. The hegemony of this article is centred firmly in teaching (the imparting of knowledge) not coaching (manipulation of knowledge). An article for another day, perhaps?


1.      If you do not know what you want to achieve by the end of the lesson how can a child know?

My first piece of advice comes down to basic planning, or at least having one or two things you would like to achieve by the end of the lesson (objectives or outcomes). This can be simple:

By the end of the lesson:

- All students must be able to perform up to the first kiai in their kata.

- Some students could perform their kata demonstrating correct turns.

By using objectives, you can set a clear path; using this as a measure for progress. Put simply, if they achieve your objectives they are at least achieving.


2.      If you do not tell a child what is expected of them, how can they possibly achieve what they do not know?

If you want a child to be able to perform up to the first kiai in their kata then tell them!

Say to them,   

By the end of this class I would like you all to be able to perform up to the first kiai in your kata. Do you understand?

In a way the student has taken a small part of ownership of your lesson and more importantly knows what is expected of them. Both you and the student can now measure progression, based on your objectives and the student being able to hit those set objectives.


3.      If the student does not see a point to what they are doing, why should they do it?

I’m 30 years old so I mostly understand the reasons why I’m putting my arms and legs into those positions. If I was 13, I would probably understand the relevance of most (not all) of the things I am asked to do: After all it is my hobby and I want to be there, so I learn. But, if I am bored or do not understand I learn at a slower rate (if at all) - Surface learning.

If you want information to stick in your head you have switch the surface learning for deep learning


Some of the characteristics of deep learning:

·         Looking for meaning.

·         Interacting actively.

·         Relating new and previous knowledge. (objectives, connect and consolidate (below))

·         Linking course content to real life.


If you want to encourage deep learning you can

·         Show personal interest in karate

·         Bring out the structure

·         Ensure time to focus upon key concepts

·         Relating new material to what the student already knows

·         Allowing students to make mistakes without penalties and rewarding effort

·         Being consistence and fair in assessment, thus establishing trust.


So what happens when a student is five years old? They are training for different reasons (usually because the parent uses the dojo as a crèche) and they do just what is asked of them (another reason why objectives need to be given). Let me explain, I do a 100 punches because I want to get better at punching, whereas a child does 100 punches because you told them to. As a teacher if I can make a child understand the relevance of what they are doing then they will achieve more – but that doesn’t always work with an age group that cannot yet comprehend the complexity of self actualisation.

So I replace comprehension of why. Instead I let them see the relevance of pleasing me and performing well in front of others. If they do well they get reward, raising self esteem, confidence, respect from others and respect by others. By raising self esteem the possibility of self actualisation can be met (problem solving, acceptance of facts, creativity).

Each activity should be as fun as possible to ensure maximum retention of information: Encouraging deep learning over surface learning.




Objective: By the end of the lesson I want all students to be able to perform age uke.



Explain the shape of the best age uke, and say to the class:

“Who here understands what age uke is and can demonstrate to the class the best age uke?”

Invite students up and praise positive technique.



Relay race in teams – students will run to the end and perform the best age uke they can to you and them run back - award them two points for good technique, one point for ok technique. The team that gets the most points win.

Next: Teach them how to do age uke and repeat the relay race this time performing 10 age uke (with KIAI – same point system (no KIAI no points)


So by giving a reward for good technique you are giving the student relevance reinforcing the ‘If I do well I achieve’.


4.      If I’m bored or do not understand I learn slowly.

How many time times have you been frustrated at a child who is still doing a technique wrong after being told so many times how to it correctly? How many times have you thought your students are not paying attention or are not switched on?

I’m sorry to say this is probably more your fault than theirs as I find this is the area where I feel many people fall short in their lessons for a number of reasons. It not only has to be fun and relevant but it also has to have an element of correct timing to the age group you have.


How long should I spend on each task?

Simple rule:  look at the youngest person in your class. However old they are (minus 1)that is how long each activity should last for – for example if the youngest student is 6 years old then you should spend no longer than 5 minutes on any task.

(NOTE: The real science is based on reading ages (+/- 10%) not actual ages – but unless you have students will special educational needs (SEN), I find actual ages work well)


For example:


Objective: By the end of the lesson I want all students to be able to perform age uke.

2 mins             Explain age uke          

5 mins             Game: Relay race

5 mins             50 Age uke in natural stances

5 mins             Students demonstrate to their class mates and swap.

5 mins             Game: Relay race      


Keep the pace of the lesson flowing with short exercises, games and activities: Do not give a child time to be bored.


5.      The student is there to learn, so you must be there to teach.

Once you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, and the student knows what you want them to achieve. And you have figured out fun ways of making them achieve and know how long those activities should last. Now you need to be a teacher and construct a lesson plan that has a flow to ensure maximum progression.

I like to use four part lesson plan:


Connect           Activate           Demonstrate               Consolidate


Connecting the last lesson to this lesson, and connecting the objectives to today’s lessons.


For example: Ask the class “what did we do last week?

If they remember, they have shown to you that they have taken in the information. And if they expect that question (and you reward the answer appropriately) they may go out of their way to try and remember what you do lesson to lesson.

Then give the objectives for today’s lesson.



Activating motivation, enthusiasm, engagement to karate-do, etc


Wake them up! A fun warm up or maybe a game. Anything that makes the student think, whilst creating the motivation to fuel the lesson.

A variety of tasks related to your objectives.




If students have done good work let them show you, better still let them show the rest of the class. Let them prove they have hit the objectives you have given them and reward them for doing so.

If your objectives are about kata – give them the opportunity to demonstrate that kata.




Bring the learning together.

One of the most important parts of the lesson. DO NOT just end a lesson, without being clear that the students have understood what it was all about. Ask them what was our objectives today and did we hit them? You could ask if they enjoyed it or what was the best bit? If you can take it what was the worst bit? Always worth getting their perspective as they pay the bills.



In conclusion

I teach all day everyday and still have things crop up that I have never seen before or things that totally amaze me. I have been on course after course learning the governments new set of guidelines and buzz words, designed to make you think that they have re-invented the wheel. However, the theory works. The research has proved that children who are clear on what they are doing progress better. If a child enjoys what they are doing they progress better. If you structure your lessons and set clear goals you will hopefully achieve all the things you want to achieve.

Good luck


Email: jmartin@topvalley.nottingham.sch.uk

Website: the jks.com

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