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Andi Kidd
Andi Kidd's picture
Secret Syllabus

Recently I have been discussing syllabi with several people. One of the things that has come to my attention is that people are quite secretive about them. If people want to see tem they always say, "if you don't mind showing me" or something similar.

The only thng I can liken it to is wages, another taboo subject to ask someone. Well this is the case in the UK anyway, I did hear the other day that in some places  e.g. Poland, they talk about it quite openly.

So why are we so secretive, or aren't you?

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Actually I am very open with mine. We actually make a point of showing it to new students, and we give them a talk through how our syllabus works and progresses. In general I am a bit unsure on how secretive people actually are. One thing I have noticed is that syllabuses are all over the internet. Almost every MA website you visit their syllabus is there. 

Now I would not do that myself. My syllabus is personal to me and my classes. I would not want it to be broadcasted all over the internet, simply because I want some control on who sees it. 

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture


My Syllabus is available to all my students. and after each grade they are given a copy of the next part of the syllabus showing their next belt requirements

I find that sometimes Students like to Run before they can walk so they look at the higher grades and Kata, without first learning what they need to get to the next level.

The only thing about my Syllabus is that it is written in "Kenglish"  as opposed to "English" so Translation is required. Lol.

I aim to have my Website showing all the details of the Syllabus but I'm waiting my Web Writer to do his bits.

I can't see how a Syllabus can be "copywrited" as how can you "copywrite" something that existed before you were born in some cases or even if you have "amended" it, its still the "same" (Iain as you're quite knowledgeable about Copywrite and Plagerism would you be able to assist me with this comment?)

Naihanchi Kata is Naihanchi kata no matter how its performed. A front Kick is a front Kick etc. etc.

StuartA's picture

Mines on my web site for all to see, as are our BB grading requirements :-)

Needs an update probibly, but I put it there so other TKD students can basically 'compare and constrast' and hopefully bug their instructors about the stuff their classes are not doing!! LOL



ky0han's picture

Hi all,

sometimes it is as simple as that: The syllabus is no secret per se, but it is not freely available e.g. for download. Instead they sell professional printed copies to their members for about 7,50 € or something like that.

Regards Holger

StuartA's picture

I think some groups keep their syllabus 'secret' as TBH, they are pretty minimal and they perhaps don't want their students 'comparing'!!


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

I must confess to being relatively secretive with my actual dojo syllabus. I’m more than happy to share it with people I know personally, but I’ve never made it publicly available and would not share it with people not personally known to me.

My paper syllabus is set of headlines, notes and reminders that would make perfect sense to the people who train with me week in, week out. But to “outsiders” it would make little sense. It also does not go into the detail of how things are done so people would not be able to get much from the paper version anyhow. It does not need detailed explanations of everything because my students will learn it all directly from me and hence such written explanations would be superfluous. So it would be pretty useless to those not already “in the know”.

As for why I keep it close to my chest, well that’s to prevent dishonesty from others. Sadly, now that I have certain profile, I have come across people totally unknown to me claiming to teach what I do or to have a connection with me that they do not have. I suspect access to my actual syllabus would help then produce their own p#ss-poor version of what I do – with none of the understanding and none of the detail – which they would claim was the “Abernethy Method” or something similar.

So I keep my syllabus relatively private and ask all those who I do share it with to do the same. Some bits are out in the public domain though (i.e. all the two person Pinan drills we do are out on DVD, etc). I’m also totally open about how I operate my syllabus / dojo teaching at the seminars too. On top of that, I’m also running longer courses now for people who really want to get into the detail of what I teach (i.e. my specific methods as opposed to the more general approach) so they can pass it on to their students etc.

So I’m not at all secretive with those who legitimately know what I do and who I personally know. But I’d never put my syllabus on the web or anything like that because past experience has shown me it is likely to be abused by the unscrupulous at some point.

So it’s a document for “me and mine” and because it would be of little use to the honest, but could be abused by the dishonest, I think it’s better if I keep it relatively private.

No problem sharing it with those people I know. And I think a new starter should have instant access to an overview of what you are planning to share with them over the next 20 to 30 years, so I’d never keep the higher grade syllabus a secret from the lower grades. However, I’m not going to share it with someone unknown to me and who is not training with me. I wrote syllabus so it was not around before me and it is radically different from the majority of what is out there. I therefore feel I have a right to chose who I share it with.

All my students have mine and they can happily compare it to any others out there if they want. I don’t think there is any obligation on me to make mine available to others so they can compare theirs with it though. I’m not out to poach students and if they want to know what we do, then the best way to do that is first hand. A piece of paper shows none of the detail or how things actually work in practise. I know some bad clubs that look good on paper and I’m sure those here do too.

My guess is that others who are “secretive” with regards to their syllabuses also feel their syllabus is something for the “in group” and not for anyone who asks to see it? It could well me the same for people who expect others to be “secretive” with theirs?

All the best,


StuartA's picture

My syllabus (online) is only the headlines too - it doesnt detail training regimes or how we do things - just what we do in a single line eg. "Sparring"  "Choke Sparring" "Traditional Sparring" "Sparring Against Knife" etc!

As you say, the printed student syllabus is much more comprehensive and you can't put it all on paper anyway!


Andi Kidd
Andi Kidd's picture

This has been very intereting - thank you!

Firstly, I was thnking about secrecy to outside the dojo, I forgot there were some sad people who wouldn't show it to their students.....Oh dear!

When Iain says "A piece of paper shows none of the detail or how things actually work in practise." is spot on. Iain was one of the people who ok'd my syllabus but when we came together we had differences in expectation and therefore somd confusion ensued. Iain was good enough to help me and now we understand each other (i think). Same with StuartA whgen he says they are headlines, good point.

When Iain says "I know some bad clubs that look good on paper and I’m sure those here do too." He has a point as well. Anyone can write anything on a website. I know one club that says "if one of our blackblets walked into any club in the country, they woud be comparable or better", and to be honest, no they aren't, nowhere near. Looks great on the site but the reality is different.

The funny thing is I do have a protective streak about mine but, logically, there is no reason to?

StuartA's picture

Part of my reasoning for putting the 'headlines' of my syllabus online is that the TKD world is dominated by big orgs that have a tendancy to belittle small clubs like mine and write them off as if we arnt doing 'real' TKD' - esp. independant clubs such as mine. So our syllabus is reasonably transparent to show we not only do all they do (ie. the standard TKD stuff) but as a club, go above and beyond that.

I can understand Iains POV, especially considering his postion and 'fame' and all he has done/is doing within the karate world and all the training methods he has personally devised. However, for me, Im such a small fish in a  big pond and the TKD world is so skewed up, that I feel that if someone suddenly thinks - oh, that looks good lets include that in our training, to me thats a good thing and simply makes the TKD world that little bit better.

As Andi says, things can look good on paper (web sites) when in reality arnt all they are cracked up to be which is why we release video's of our dan gradings etc. to show we don't just talk the talk etc.


Kyoshi's picture

I am in the making of a new syllabus and this topic is pretty actual for me.

I will be making a students manual and an instructors manual. The students manual is about 15 pages of what is required, theese will be availbe if the students have passed their previous grading and is a member. The Instructors manual is (tada) only for CURRENT certified instructors teaching. I will make my curriculum public, but only as most of you guys also did, only the "what" not the "hows" or the "whys".

Traveller's picture

Sad to report, my association actually sells a printed booklet containing the syllabus to students and it's more-or-less compulsory to have one.  Given the training and grading fees they extract, I do find this a bit cynical.

GaryWado's picture

e wrote:
I must confess to being relatively secretive with my actual dojo syllabus. I’m more than happy to share it with people I know personally, but I’ve never made it publicly available and would not share it with people not personally known to me.

Sorry for the late entry here, but have just come across this and it is a very interesting subject (to me at least anyway).

I think it is fair to say that my Wado group’s syllabus (which is very public btw), is very similar (if not identical) to many other Wado groups here in the UK – simply because it is, to all intents and purposes, the same one - as developed by Suzuki sensei.

However your comments about keeping your syllabus close to “you and yours” for the sake of its integrity is something I also understand through my Koryu training.

As well as Wado, I train with a keiko-kai who are much more guarded about their koryu syllabus. It is not so much that it is secret (although a lot of it is as I understand) it is the fact that that it is very difficult to knit into anything usable without the instructor telling you how. Before students are introduced to the “kata” of the koryu, they are schooled in kihon, which acts as foundations / preparation to engender the important principles which will come into play later when they start to learn the koryu proper.

As well as molding the students in preparation for starting to learn the real stuff, it has the added benefit of gauging a student’s dedication/commitment but more importantly stops people training for a few months/years and then buggering off with the family’s silverware.

In addition to this of course, it was in the interest of the koryu to keep the contents of their densho top secret - as it was (back then) literally a matter of life or death. Why would you want your enemies to know what you had (or hadn’t) been schooled in, or indeed what sort of stuff you knew?

e wrote:
My paper syllabus is set of headlines, notes and reminders that would make perfect sense to the people who train with me week in, week out. But to “outsiders” it would make little sense.

Again – I like this and there are some parallels that can be drawn.

As I understand it, the syllabus of a lot of koryu groups is written in a way that “outsiders” would not understand – deliberate in the most part (just in case they fall into the wrong hands), but also because – just like here – in medieval Japan there was not a great deal of literacy – and what there was probably wasn’t that good. This added to the encoding factor perhaps though??

Very interesting Iain, although the koryu went one step further to ensure the secrecy and therefore ongoing integrity of their school and that was that member took a “Keppan” or blood oath….? Food for thought??

[edit] Of course with Wado ryu being a descendant of a koryu - there is a similar dilemma (in terms of transmitting the core details on a personal level) - not many guys round these days that can.



Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

GaryWado wrote:
Very interesting Iain, although the koryu went one step further to ensure the secrecy and therefore ongoing integrity of their school and that was that member took a “Keppan” or blood oath….? Food for thought??

Now there’s a thought! I have to confess to being very proud of my syllabus and I may be a little over protective. A blood oath may be a little too far … but I guess it proves genuine interest and commitment! ;-)

All the best,


Neil Cook
Neil Cook's picture

Like Iain i am very proud of my syllabus and relish the opportunity to discuss it with anyone! For me my syllabus is simply printed guidelines as to what i think is a good way of training. As such a syllabus by itself means nothing without understanding of how to do it. I can understand Iain being protective about his as many people would try to jump on the bandwagon.

Personally i think it's about the problem that effects a lot of martial arts/instructors. Ego some people feel the need to shout about what they do like they need to justify it. As i've already said, my syllabus is just my opinion which may well change in the future. So long as we all reach the same goal, who cares how we got there.

shoshinkanuk's picture

Our syllabus is certainly not secret - but it is dynamic in as much as it tends to be a little different for each student.

I have some rough outline, Pinan Kata fro Green Belt, Naihanchi for Brown Belt and Passai for Black Belt. then the other kata if a student wants or needs them.

We have 2 of each of those kata (Pinan, Naihanchi, Passai), some students just learn 1 of each, others both dependant on their capability and the need or requirement to learn for them, individually - but all must learn Pinan 1, Naihanchi 1 and Passai Sho (it is the foundation of our Ryu).

I will confess very openly that the Bunkai I teach is 'dynamic', it changes according to the audience, range being worked or area im looking into - of course the same things keep popping up and they can be considered core, I always refer my guys to Iains work as a reference for structure, he has done a great job in this and other areas! it supports what we do very well.

OK, im the same with drills - yes there are some real basic ones we all do, but ultimatly they develop with the student from fixed, to semi fixed to free drills.

Kihon is simple, I mess with the timing, and tempo all the time and generally work a principle from it into a drill, ie a 2 man piece of work and we work that hard.

Kata, they stay the same and are formal - unless one is invited to train 'for themselves' then go for it in terms of how you do your kata.

We do alot of Kumite varients, no pads light contact, heavy wrestling, full pads heavy contact sparring etc etc.

Kobudo we have a few kata, they are formal, full Bunkai sets that ar emroe set than the empty hand stuff due to the nature of the subject, we don't focus so hard on this area.

It's a fluid approach, and one that many don't agree with - but it seems to work well and my guys tend to be well rounded and capabile of dealing with most situations, im pleased with it overall.

Al Peasland
Al Peasland's picture

My apologies for joining this thread a little late too.

I completely agree with Iain and have a similar stance with regards to my own syllabus.

When I say my own, I mean the ramblings I've thrown together to represent the combination of arts that I have trained in for many years - along with a far more eloquently structured syllabus that one of my partner Mick's Instructors, Rick Faye, has put together for his MKG system.

Training under Geoff Thompson for many years, we only really had a syllabus when we were training solely in Shotokan Karate. And that, instead of writing a syllabus, was provided by the KUGB for us all to follow.

Since we then combined many other arts into the training, we never really did get a proper, formal sylabus together, until now, when I have created a better structure and grading framework for my students to follow.

For those who've penned syllabuses (or is that syllabii?), they are alot of work, especially to get something that is relevant, aids a well though out and structured learning progression for the students, covers everything you wish to share with the students and also forms a guide for fellow instructors within the system. A hell of alot of work.

This is why, like Iain, I am also a ta protective of it, and quite a few times recently have been asked for my own syllabus, which I offer in a very stripped out version to those I do not know or who do not train with me.

This isn't being protective, because, in all honesty, anyone could figure out what we train and teach simply by studying all of the individual arts that we cover and reading a few well respected books on the subjects of Self Defence.

However, what it is protecting against is others using my syllabus as a structure to create their own with little effort or thought on their own part.

I am more than happy to help anyone create their own syllabus if this is something they wish to do. And I offer my services to anyone on here who would like to contact me to discuss any questions they may have about their own syllabus.

But I'm afraid I am less inclined to help those who first will not make an effort and have a stab at their own sylabus first.

As some others have mentioned - all my students get a copy of the syllabus for their own level and what we expect them to do next. This helps them to hold us to account if we haven't taught them everything they need to know - and works really well.

But, all that said, my own syllabus is still only a high level document which outlines the basic requirements for a student at each grade. How those techniques are taught, learned, practiced and applied are only available when the students train with me.

Hope this doesn't sound very negative - I feel I may have rambled somewhat  :-)

Al Peasland


Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture

I think about what I've seen when talking to fellow instructors and club owners, as well as the places that I have taught in the past, and the majority of the time I see a jumble of a few different things going on. First, in most of the cases what the club is calling their syllabus is more of a teaching guideline and it is intended for instructors only. It is filled with all the technical components, and what to teach when (in terms of student development). When the club does have a students version of the syllabus it is usually just a list of the bare techniques divided by the belt level (yellow- Kata shodan, technical: punch, block ,kick, etc...).

SO- I have developed my own and broken it down like this: We have 3 different kinds of manuals or syllabus that are protected in different ways. We have a Technical, Fundamental, and Coaching divisions.

What makes a training session with me different, or one at my club is the overall experience that the student receives. This perception is a combination of what we do (technical), how we teach it (coaching), and the way in which we put those together (fundamental).

A) Technical - This is simply the description of the motions we are asking the student to learn. It is the physical how-to of Punch A- put you hand here, and move like this, Block B- do this followed by do that. It is easy to follow and similar to any description that you can find in any Karate book. This manual is freely shared and given to anyone who wants to know.

B) Coaching - This is our manual of how to coach. It comprises of personal experience and signature concepts. It is only for instructors and is not shared with anyone outside of the coaching staff. It is the lifeblood of our unique experience in my gym.

C) Fundamental - This is our manual of drills and exercises. It is a brief description of all the flow, or sparring drills we do. It is shared with higher students or people who have been training for some time. We would prefer  that the student experience the drill before reading it, as this manual is meant as a reminder of how the classes and exercises are structured. 

An example of this would be:

A) Shuto-uke, how to do the open hand block 

B) All the little secrets of why teach this when, and how to teach it best for retention, etc.

C) The Open hand block Flow drill - how to get around the arms.


So, I kind of am not secretive, semi-secretive, and really recretive all at once. HA! Because we are in the position of requiring that the student learn everything at the beginning, we don't divide our technical components by level and are therefore able to share them with everyone from day one.

I'm always happy to chat about what we do, or be part of a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. If you like just send me a private message through the forum message email. Have Fun!

JWT's picture

My syllabus is divided up into separate modules.  I send my students the modules for the simple reason that like many others here, they need to know what they are examined on.  Like others here that mini syllabus contains a list of the physical drills done, but without the video of the drill taking place, or the commentary from me on the purpose of the drill, why each movement is executed the way it is, that list is less than an empty shell.  However each module contains several pages of theory about what I teach and each student sits a short written exam to show their knowledge.

Now in one sense I'm not massively bothered about people seeing the list of drills, it means nothing without all the detailed explanations.  On the other hand that's precisely the bother - that list could be ripped off without any regard for the years of work that went into it, or used to belittle what I do without understanding the depth and detail in it.

I would however be bothered about people ripping off the theory I have written.  About 50% of it has been published by me in my first book, or in magazine articles, and obviously a large amount of the material has been covered by other researchers, but those are my words!  

Josh Nixon
Josh Nixon's picture

I print out the syllabus as a booklet, as professionally-printed as I can possibly make it, personal to each student (stamped and everything, they love it). I just charge £1 so I cover my printing costs. Just so they know what they're doing really, and it's nice to have something 'proper' to refer to whenever they want.

I don't put it online, but there is a password-protected section of my forum for registered CSPS students to discuss things - as a few have said already, I want to have a little bit of exclusivity around it if I can - I've put a lot of work into it and don't want it stealing! laugh