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mrjeffmacdonald's picture
Who do you teach to? Lowest common denominator?

Lets say you have a class of ~20ish folks spread from white belt to Nidan. Fairly evenly for most classes.

Do you teach mostly things that only the white/yellow belts are going to get? Do you split folks off into groups and if it's the green belt group, do you give them a blue belt to work them thru it?

How often do folks just get sent off to "do their material" with no teacher?

Curious. Thanks!

Wastelander's picture

Honestly, this kind of thing happens to me all the time. Generally, I will teach something that can be "accessorized" or expanded, so the white belt and Nidan can work with the same base material, but as everyone is working, I can expand on the material for those who can go further. I do also break outs for different rank groups, so they can work on more individualized material.

Marc's picture

Hi Jeff,

there is always a risk that you might spend more time on the white belts and too little on the black belts.

However, I would expect a black belt to have a good grasp of most things we do. Therefore it is often enough to just give them a quick hint what they could improve. ("Bob, your back foot again!" "Laura, a little more hip action!"). They know what you mean, they just needed a reminder, and they are intrinsically motivated to work on it.

So to a certain degree (pun intended) it is acceptable to spend more time on the beginners.

Anyway, we need to make sure that the experienced folks have something to do while we are explaining stuff to the beginners.

If in your dojo you have enough instructors it often makes sense to split the group. Thereby making the problem less prominent. Most of the time we would split by grade. But sometimes it might help to split by other criteria.

If splitting the group is not an option then how I handle the wide spectrum depends on the kind of exercise.

Warmup - Not a problem. We'll all do the same stuff.

Kihon - Either we all do the same (even a black belt can alway improve their basic techniques), or I'll assign more complex tasks the higher the grades. Or I might count steps for the lower grades and let the higher grades do it in their own speed.

Kata - Kata is difficult, because you cannot teach more than one at any time. But there are still some options: For example, we could split the group (assign one of your higher grades to teach the lower grades), alternate between katas, let them repeat their kata while we walk around and correct details.

Kihon-kumite and sports-like randori - If that's required, everybody can do any of the kumite forms together. When partners have mixed grades the higher grades can help the lower grades. When both partners have higher grades they can increase speed/intensity or experiment with the form.

Bunkai - In my experience most bunkai work can be practiced by all. Often I start with one simple thing and add more moves or variations for everybody who can manage them. When we work on different katas for lower and higher grades, I choose applications/principles that can be found in both katas.

Some of my higher grade students have a history of "3K karate" with mostly block-counter bunkai if at all. These students have more trouble learning practical bunkai applications than the beginners who move more naturally. Therefore sometimes the higher grades may require more of my time than the lower grades.

So the general idea is to give basic tasks to lower grades and related, but more complex or more refined tasks to higher grades.

In one dojo, every few weeks we have "exam preparation" week, i.e. every student gets the chance to work through their individual exam program. Sometimes I structure the class and sometimes I let them do more of a free training, when they all practice their stuff more or less on their own. Mostly they form small groups by grades and help one another. I walk around and give hints, or they can ask me for help. They seem to like this format.

The most important thing, I believe, is to know your students and to have all of them in view all the time, at least in the corner of your eyes. Every individual student needs a bit of feedback in each exercise (mostly: "good, Peter" or "well done, Luise"), so they know that you see them.

Take care Marc  

Ian H
Ian H's picture

I often see classes split up with a "beginner" class, "intermediate" and "advanced" class, as well as a few "everybody" classes, spread throughout the week.  So there are times when the white/yellow get all the attention doing basics, time when the dan-grades get attention to their specific needs, and so forth.

Also, with partner exercises, you can switch between "black with black and white with white" sometimes, and "black with white" other times: somtimes the beginners do beginning work with each other while the advanced students do advanced work with each other, and then beginner and advanced train together.

Neil Babbage
Neil Babbage's picture

It happens all the time to us because we have an "empty middle." Lots of 10th and 9th kyus, lots of 1st kyus and 1st Dans, a handful of people in between (the reasons it ended up like this are complex but can be broadly summarised as no effort made to bring in new students for the last 3 years). It can be really difficult especially in a small group to challenge the higher grades but we usually do it by challenging them to work on variations or better application. For example, in bunkai the higher grades might be asked to work on finding one or more new applications for the same set of moves from the kata. In pad work they'll be focusing on power generation and proper targeting more.