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Teaching Martial Arts


The technical standard of martial arts
practitioners in the West is extremely high
indeed, from the modern combat sports like
Kick-Boxing and Ultimate Fighting to the
more traditional arts of Karate, jiu-Jitsu,
etc Western martial artists have made their
mark the world over. and are acknowledged by
all as being ranked among the worlds best.
However, the elite athletes and technicians
referred to above are just that: Elite.
Exceptionally skilful individuals at, or
very near, the peak of performance standards.

Most of us may never reach that exalted
status, a lot of us wouldn’t even want to.
But, does that mean we shouldn’t join a
club, and get a buzz out of training at our
own level? Off course not! Martial arts
training has something for everyone, and
should be readily available to anyone who
wants to give them a try.

To teach all kinds of people however, takes
a special skill. A skill that is completely
separate to having technical ability. And
that skill is called ‘Teaching ability’
because it’s a fact that being good at your
subject doesn’t mean you can teach your
subject, any more than being able to drive a
car makes you a good mechanic!

The following will act as a guide to
instructors in tackling one of the most
demanding roles they can be faced with: No!
not teaching unarmed combat techniques to
commandos. Teaching martial arts to toddlers!


Not all martial arts instructors choose to
teach very young children (4-6 years), as
they know it will prove an extremely
demanding task. They are, off course, quite
correct in this assumption!
It requires a special set of skills, and the
author would certainly advice against such
an endeavour unless the instructor concerned
has undergone some form of specialist
training to be able to deal with the
complexities involved.

However, it is important that instructors
continue to refine their teaching ability as
this will help improve performance and
maintain good practice in quality assurance
throughout. So they are to be encouraged to
seek out and undergo such training. In the
meantime, here are some of the ‘basics’ to
be going on with:

To be able to teach a toddlers class, the
instructor will need to understand something
about child development, and structure the
classes in such a way as to compliment and
reinforce this.
Child development has four main aspects, and
these are as follows:

- Physical
- Intellectual
- Emotional
- Social

Collectively, these are known as ‘PIES’
(nice easy way of remembering them!)

Physical Development

A pre-school child will have already begun
to act independently, they will be able to
change into their own budogi, and use
certain equipment efficiently. In addition,
they will have good levels of balance and
agility, so you can reasonably expect them
to be able to perform kicks, breakfalls and
However, it must always be remembered that
they are STILL DEVELOPING, so extensive care
must be taken to avoid any and all
activities which might have an adverse
effect upon their delicate frames (Joint
locking, strangles/chokes, rolling over
objects, striking hard objects, certain
types of exercise, etc).

Intellectual Development

The young child’s mind is like sponge when
it comes to soaking up information. They
love learning new things, and the instructor
will need be careful in not taking them ‘too
far, too quickly’ because the mind, just
like the body, can be overworked and
strained. So make sure that here are regular
periods of work (learning) and rest (play)
Generally, Toddlers tend to learn best
by ‘doing’ (kinaesthetic) rather than too
much listening (auditory) or watching
(visual). That is to say that although it IS
still important that the instructor does
continue to both demonstrate and explain
what they want the class to be doing, much
more emphasis should be placed upon the
doing, simply because this is an ‘active’
learning style which requires energy and
participation, rather than the more passive
ones of sitting still while looking and
listening to the instructor while trying not
to fidget, pick-noses or fall asleep!
These young learners will already have
developed good problem solving ability, so
the instructor shouldn’t immediately rush in
to correct any minor mistake s/he has
noticed (unless some aspect of safety is in
danger of being compromised) Rather, they
should allow them some time to try and work
it out for themselves, as that way they will
get a far greater sense of achievement.

Emotional Development

Even though human beings are the most
intelligent species upon the planet, it is
still our emotions that define who we are.
The ability to ‘feel’ rather than
simply ‘reason’ or ‘think’ is what makes our
existence so rich and varied: what makes
us ‘human’ if you will.
During this period, the children will still
be developing their understanding of
feelings (both their own and those around
them) this is a vitally important skill
which will aid them in eventually becoming
well- balanced adults.
Instructors should show constant support and
offer plenty of reassurance to the Toddlers,
helping them to develop their confidence and
sense of self. They should be encouraged to
form new bonds and friendships on the mat,
express their feelings in a socially
acceptable manner and also to think about
how other people feel.
When implemented correctly, the above
techniques will combine to result in an
emotionally strong and secure child
who ‘feels’ valued as an individual.

Social Development

Social skills are what get us by in society
at large. Any form of group learning is
a ‘social experience’, wherein the young
child will not only be learning the subject
being taught, but also certain aspects of
interpersonal skills and teamwork. This is
where they learn about such things as
responsibility, discipline and good manners.
To’ wait their turn’ and use ‘please’
and ‘thank you’ (and ‘Oose’) etc.
Children in this age group can be expected
to share equipment, work well in a team,
choose their own friends and wait patiently
for the instructor’s attention. The
acquisitions of these ‘socialisation’ skills
help them understand the basic rules and
principles of society, and their place
within it. They will have respect for
others, discipline in themselves and (later
on) more of an appreciation for law and

Teaching Methods for pre-school children

As we all already know, Children of this age

- A great deal of energy
-A very short attention span
-An ability to learn quickly
-A love of games and play
- Varying levels of coordination

This means that your lessons will need to be
the following:

-Safe! (See chapter on Health and Safety)
-Short (30/45mins max)
-Kinaesthetic (emphasis placed upon ‘doing’)
-Interesting, challenging and informative
-Have plenty of variety
-Contain lots of the ‘fun’ element.

In addition, motivational aids may be
employed such as badges, medals, trophies,
certificates or coloured ‘tabs’ for their
belts, etc.
This type of ‘token economy’ plays an
important part in the encouragement of
learning and attainment, and is a valuable
resource in influencing and building
positive attitudes and behaviour.

Instructors must have:

-Suitable Qualifications (Black belt or
equivalent plus a coaching/training/teaching
award, etc)
-Be CRB checked
-Have a child protection policy
-Have special training in Child Protection
-Make sure all Health and Safety measures
have been taken and are up-to-date
(Including Insurances)

Teaching Toddlers can be an extremely
rewarding undertaking as you can often see
the results of your efforts almost
immediately. It is well worth the extra
efforts involved.

by: Jaimie Richard Lee-Barron,

Article date: April 2008.

Right Path London Personal Training | Goya-ra-ru Martial Arts, Birmingham.