There is a balance between teaching students new material and working on improving current forms/ techniques. I have trained and worked at schools that have made the mistake of swinging to much one direction or the other. When all you do is introduce new material, students will stay excited, but they will never be good at any skill. On the other hand, when students are not allowed to learn new material until they ‘master’ current techniques, they become bored.
“White belts are not black belts, we should not expect them to perform like black belts.”
When teaching, the quote above is vital to remember. To that end, yellow belts, green belts, etc. are also not black belts. As teachers we cannot expect white belts to perform a round kick like a black belt or even a blue belt. If we push a student to perform above their rank we are in danger of losing the student. Rather, we need to have reasonable expectations of what a white belt round kick will look like vs. that of a blue belt.
Instead of focusing on perfecting one technique, take a progressive, layered approach to their learning. When I teach double kick, (two round kicks done in succession, going forward with the second kick starting before the foot returns to the floor from the first kick) I start with with a double front kick. I do not worry about the student bending their knees or turning their body, we just start with achieving the ‘double’ motion. Then I layer in turning their body and/ or bending their knees (order depending on the individual student). This allows the student to learn and improve the technique over progressive belt levels without the pressure of getting it ‘correct’ right away.
To keep students interested and excited, some schools will continually teach new material to students. There needs to be new material to learn, but rather than always focusing on new material, instructors should focus on disguising repetition and develop intrinsic motivation. I talk about disguising repetition in previous blogs.
Developing intrinsic motivation is about personal passion and goal setting. When students start Taekwondo, they are excited to learn something new. With everything being new, it is easy to be excited. As they train, receiving belts and learning techniques, eventually they reach a point where the motivation needs to move from external motivators to internal motivators. They have learned enough technique that they now need to improve what they know. As an instructor we must keep the classes exciting, but also help our students make that transition. Goal setting, like learning is layered. There are large-goals, such as achieving your black belt (remember to help students focus on beyond black belt). But to really develop motivation, we must divide those larger goals into small manageable goals, such as learning/ improving aspects of a specific form or technique or getting ready to compete at a tournament. As the student achieves goals, we must be ready to give them the next goal. With our eventual goal being that as we guide students, they will learn to desire self-improvement. This does not ‘just’ mean a new self-defense to learn or form, but what they can do to continue to improve what they know.
Taekwondo is also a discipline with many different aspects, Poomsae (forms), Kyorugi (sparring), board breaking, self-defense, and sometimes weapons. As every teacher has aspects that they are more passionate about, then the same will be true for our students. For instance, I am more passionate about Kyorugi and Poomsae, than other aspects. My program still includes self-defense and breaking (at least a little), even if these are areas I do not naturally gravitate towards. As a teacher, it is incumbent upon me to help my students grow in the areas of their passions. This does not mean they do not need to learn all the aspects of my program, but I do not expect a competitive Kyorugi athlete to perform Poomsae at the same level as a Poomsae athlete. Each will need to meet a minimum level of competency, but I will push them to explore their passions.
This is becomes the balance. We have to help students ‘want’ to improve what they know, while knowing the limitations of where they can currently grow a technique. Then introduce new techniques, while continually working to improve techniques they already know.
Talking and celebrating with students also helps set expectations. I continually talk to my students about the importance of ‘improving’ what they know. I always make this their goal. Then I pair that with ‘praise’ speech whenever they are successful (even if it is not a perfect success). Giving a student a small correction, such as not using two hands to preset for a middle block, then watching them practice a form and doing it correctly half the time or even once, is worthy of praise speech. A quick, ‘good job, you did XYZ correctly this one time, next time let’s try and get it two times.’ Praise the success and reset the goal.
My next blog will be about just that topic: Praise the success and reset the goal.