9 Teaching Tips for Martial Arts Instructors

If you’ve achieved your black belt and mastered the proper techniques required in martial arts, you may have considered making the transition from a student to a martial arts teacher. While it’s true that anyone who has mastered the skill could go on to instruct others, we’d argue that there is a certain set of attributes that make for a great instructor.Here are some characteristics that we think differentiate a good instructor from a great one.

1. Be patient with students at all levels

One of the best qualities that any instructor can have is patience. Throughout your teaching career, you’ll have students that vary in skill level. Advanced students will catch on rather quickly while others will take weeks to master a simple skill.A great teacher is one that has the patience to teach those who have a harder time, without getting frustrated, angry, or impatient. Students tend to thrive when instructors take the time to teach at a student’s speed without making them feel hopeless or  less capable.

2. Continue practicing your craft

If you’re an instructor already, then chances are that you have the necessary skills to be teaching martial arts. The problem is that many instructors feel that once they’re qualified to teach, the learning ends. But this couldn’t be further from the truth! Even if you’re qualified you must continue practicing. You must keep your skills sharp and stay abreast of any new developments or techniques in your field. The best teachers are the ones who always want to keep learning more so that they can impart that wisdom on to their students.

3. Get to know your students better

Get to know your students. Ask questions. Be genuinely interested in learning more about them and what they’re about. Students are much more likely to gravitate towards instructors who show they care. Some questions you can make part of your practice include: 

  • What did you like most about the class today? This gives you feedback on what you're doing and keeps you accountable
  • What did you find the most challenging about the class today? As per the above - know your students limits better
  • What makes you want to come to class? Understand your students motivations
  • What other sports or hobbies do you do aside from training? Know what other sports compliment their learning of the practice or that may be quite different to martial arts (e.g. sports with less discipline and structure).

4. Always plan your lessons in advance

A good instructor is always prepared. They’ll plan ahead for the lesson. By knowing your students, you can plan your objectives for each class and determine how long each objective will take to teach. It’s never a bad idea to have a plan B in case things veer off track. Being prepared shows your committed to what you are doing.

You could share you intended class outcomes with the class at the beginning of the lesson; and then wrap up at the end a summary of everything that they learnt including tips on things they can do back at home or between classes to build their skillset.

5. Motivate your students into action

An instructor that is inspirational is one that can motivate students to action. If you can engage your students they’ll be motivated to keep moving forward and learning new skills. For them to be motivated, they need to feel your passion for your craft and your positivity.

The best leaders are those who inspire others not shame them; it is not helpful to put down students or point out everything they have done wrong and to shout at them; remember its not the military your students aren't getting paid to show up they are paying you.

As Charles Schwab said in the book 'How to win friends and influence people':

"The best way to develop the best, that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement" - Charles Schwab

6. Be flexible with students capabilities

Being a good instructor often means being somewhat flexible. You may have certain objectives to meet within a certain time frame, but if a student is falling behind it’s important to be able to make accommodations. You need to think part psychologist and part teacher in this scenario. People have different learning styles and abilities and you must be able to adapt to them to have the best effect on your students.

Also give consideration to students who may not be performing as well as usual as they may be dealing with other stressors in their life - exams, work, money, relationships. This is where getting to know your students and having them trust you can be beneficial. Be sure to reach out and let them know you can see they are struggling and offer to help.

7. Show your respect to everyone

To earn the respect of others, you must first show respect. Being the instructor doesn’t give you a free pass to boss people around and treat them as though you are superior. By showing respect towards your students, their parents, and other instructors, you set the bar for how others will treat you.You may not always agree with how others do things or what they say, but there are ways to express differences without putting other people down. By respecting other people’s ideas and choices, you naturally command the respect of your students and peers.

8. Teach the theory behind the training

Martial arts training methods involve so much more than just self-defense. Being able to teach your students the proper techniques and associated skills is a great accomplishment, but it’s also important to teach them the theoretical side as well. The history of martial arts and how it came to be is a key part of that equation. You should also make it a priority to teach your students the proper terminology used in martial arts. That way your students will be well-rounded and know all the key aspects of their craft.

9. Be mindful of the language you use

While you may not pay close attention to the language you use in everyday situations, it’s important to be mindful of this when teaching. While something you say may seem completely innocent to you, it may be perceived as an insult by someone else. Students are impressionable, and your words can influence them more than you think. Be sure to keep things positive.Being an instructor is a big responsibility. By accepting this position you’re accepting being a role model for your students.

The way that you teach them will go on to influence them in more ways than one. It could make the difference between them loving and hating the sport. It could also influence how proficient they become in their abilities.

Even if they never excel, you can influence them in other ways as an instructor. Perhaps your lessons will help improve their self-esteem or confidence. Whatever the reason, you can feel confident knowing that in following these tips there’s no doubt you’ll be an excellent instructor.

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