Becoming an instructor in a martial arts school is often a really exciting time because in many ways you feel like you have made it. In order to teach others you must have already mastered the basic content and now is your chance to “give back” your knowledge and continue the progression of your style.
This is a great honour but it is not without its pitfalls. As any experienced instructor knows, teaching martial arts, and practising martial arts, are in many ways two completely different skills.
So if you are a new instructor listen to these words of wisdom because while you are probably a competent black belt student, you are a now a beginner again in terms of teaching. Here are some of the most common mistakes that new instructors make.
If you are an experienced instructor reading this, please do not forget to relate some of your own teaching horror stories to your assistant instructors, so that they can learn from your mistakes as well.
Rookie Mistake #1: Showing up to class without a lesson plan and “winging it”.
This is a BAD idea for any new instructor. Planning is critical in all aspects of life and in any job. Being a martial arts instructor is no exception. Just because you are good at your chosen art, does not mean that you can instantly snap all of the instructor puzzle pieces together and teach an inspiring class without a lesson plan.
Even many experienced instructors refer to some type of lesson plan or overall structure before teaching each class. A lesson plan will guarantee that you are organized, that you do not “freeze” on the spot, and that you are not constantly thinking, “OK, what shall I do next?” When you are in this mode, it means that you are not focusing on your students in the moment!
Remember: You’ve heard the expression ‘If you fail to plan you plan to fail’. Having even a sketchy plan or outline of your next class(es) will reduce stress and give you greater peace of mind. Students want to be reassured that they have come to the right place. Being prepared will make you look competent and trustworthy.
Rookie Mistake #2: Trying to teach everything you know in one class.
It is very tempting as a new instructor to feel the need to stamp your authority on a class and to prove yourself to your group as being very knowledgeable. Consequently in your first class you drill your students in every possible basic technique, all of the different forms whether they know them or not, and multiple partner work drills to the point of overload.
This causes major stress to your students as they feel completely overwhelmed and when you go to teach your next class, you will not have anything left to give them that is new. There are very good reasons for a structured curriculum and a solid lesson plan.
Remember: The surest way to teach someone nothing is to teach them everything.
Rookie Mistake #3: Teaching class so that you get a good workout.
Stop being selfish! There is a difference between leading by example and training with your peers. In every class that you teach, your primary focus should be on the needs of your students and not on your own personal needs, in the end it’s your students who are paying you to teach them and not to self-indulge. It will be inevitable that you will get a good workout just by demonstrating the different techniques, forms and partner work drills to your students, and it is important to model these things well.
Remember: You have to learn to become boring. Don’t be boring or appear to be bored to your students but learn to be patient with teaching the same basic and perhaps “boring” material over and over again, whilst at the same time looking interested and motivated and like you are enjoying yourself. And if you find that hard just fake it till you make it.
Rookie Mistake #4: Being too hard or too easy.
There are very often two types of new instructors. Type 1 is the drill instructor who wants to put the students through hell so they know who is boss, and type 2 is the friend who wants everyone to like him and is overly nervous about how well he taught each class.
Try to find some middle ground and work your students hard by holding them to high standards, but also develop strong and respectful relationships with them and show them that you care about them and their success.
Remember: Your students ultimately don’t care how much you know, but they know how much care. Don’t try to impress them, but serve them and make each training session fun and memorable.
Rookie Mistake #5: Allowing your students to decide on the content for the class.
This is a BIG mistake because so many things can go wrong. First, you cannot please everybody and by asking what your students want to study you will get requests for everything possible within any group – forms training, sparring, pad work and target training, and self-defence. You can’t possibly fit everything into one class, nor should you (see mistake #2).
Also, don’t entertain every question a student may have. The question maybe relevant to the style or drill you are teaching but answering would not only throw you off your lesson plan, but also bore the other students. It’s not uncommon for students to ask a question for the sake of asking, in order to get attention or a break from the exercise. By all means clarify a drill or form but keep questions to the end of the class.
Remember: You are the leader of the class and your students expect you to know what they need to study. Do not abdicate your responsibility to your students and allow them to dictate your content or methods in the class.
If you have any further questions feel free to contact me via the contact tab above.
Good luck and best wishes on your journey in the martial arts.
Sifu Talib Fehlhaber