Martial Arts Teaching Tip: Going Out on a High Note

Martial Arts Teaching Tips - Going Out on a High NoteDid you ever see that episode of Seinfeld in which George manages to curry favour at his office and in his life by saying something during a meeting that gets a good reaction then leaving the room immediately after? The theory was that if he stayed around long enough he might say something stupid that counteracts the earlier effect, which then leaves a bad lingering impression of him. I’ve taken the liberty of providing a clip from that show below. While taken to a ridiculous extreme, there is research in psychology to support this theory.

The truth is that the way something ends is more likely to be remembered, even if the entire experience the whole way through gave an opposite impression. There is a great TED talk (see below) that goes into more detail about this. This concept is important for martial arts instructors to remember.

While every student enjoys different aspects of class, there are no doubt certain elements that are more popular than others. In my classes, I find that live training drills such as grappling, Jiu-jitsu circles, adaptive/reactive self-defense, sparring, etc tend to bring a positive vibe, because they bring people’s heart rates up, and get people’s adrenaline flowing, while leaving room for creative expression, particularly for more advanced students. But then everyone has different preferences.

Scaling Training Drills for Different Levels

If a student isn’t as comfortable with your “high note” activity, it’s often because they feel they lack the skill to do it well. For these people, be sure to break it down or offer them an easier approach to the exercise so they don’t feel so overwhelmed. If the exercise is ground grappling, you can have them work from a set position and limit the pair’s attacks and defenses to that position. If it’s sparring, you can limit the targets and/or types of attacks. If it’s a Jiu-jitsu/self-defense circle, you can limit the attacks to ones that the student is familiar with.

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Sometimes students will have an off day and they still struggle with a drill regardless of how well it has been scaled for their level. As an instructor, it’s important to recognize these moments and offer positive feedback that will help them improve, finishing by letting them know what they did well in the exercise. When anyone has an off day, you want to come away feeling like that it wasn’t a complete disaster and that at the very least you learned something from the experience so you can improve on your performance in the future.

How Students Can Help Create “High Note” Endings

Sometimes your instructor doesn’t see when someone has a less than ideal experience in class. Being someone’s uke means that you have more direct contact and are more likely to notice when someone struggles. While it may not be appropriate for you to offer suggestions for improvement, depending on your level, but you can always offer a kind word. You can point out the techniques or applications they did well, or offer encouragement based on your own experience. Or at the very least, you can simply thank a person for working with you. Some students worry more that they’re inconveniencing their partner with their lack of ability. Thanking them helps lay these fears to rest. Lastly, remember that an honest smile, when timed appropriately, helps put people at ease and feel more accepted.

When students end their classes on a high note, it’s good for individual motivation and the overall training atmosphere of the school. It helps improve attendance, which leads to improvements in skill levels, which in turn leads to higher levels of enjoyment when training. And that leads back around to better attendance. These positive spirals do need to be cultivated to get them started and keep them going though.

Now over to you. What ways do you or your instructor help to create “high note” endings at your martial arts school? Have you ever had a specific experience that really made you particularly good? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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