In my journey as a deshi, I have been given some great opportunities to come up with clever ways to get complex concepts across to kids ranging from the age of 5 to 15. I’d love to share these ideas, and hear back from other deshi students and instructors if they have had success, and have found ways to tweak them!
The Jelly Tot Game
This idea was inspired by my dear friend Clea, who got it from her dancing teacher. All you need is a big bag of sweets that have relatively flat bottoms. I use jelly tots, which look like this:
You’ll need sweets that will stay put when placed, but will also fall off as well if moved too vigorously.
How the game works:
Every student gets a sweet placed on each shoulder. They must then cross the dojo by moving through stances. I like to use the classic sanchin, zenkutsodachi, shikodachi trio. If they make it to the end without dropping their sweets, then they can eat them! If they drop them, they have to pick them up, go to the start and begin again. Good reason to keep shoes off the mat!
What it works on:
I noticed that the kids were wobbling a bit as they moved through their stances, so this is to teach them to tighten their core, keep their shoulders forward and to move through the centre. It is also a memorable way to reinforce a concept, and a good way to introduce some fun into the dojo during the cold season, or when the general energy level is low.
You can easily swap out the sweets for fruit, or place beacons on their heads and encourage them to move without their beacon sliding off. You can also use it to train core movements and proprioception by making them stand up and sit down without losing the cone.
Tick-Tock – The Metronome Game
In teaching the older kids basic randori principles, they were unable to grasp the concept of smooth, slow fighting. The dojo has a sound system, so I hooked up my phone to it and used a metronome app. There are many great, free ones. I use Sound Corset as it offers a lot of flexibility.
How it works
This is pretty simple to introduce. Once the students are paired off, set the metronome to about 50 beats, which is a slow enough pace for control, but not so slow that they get bored. Encourage them to use the beats to keep an even pace, so that they can tell their partner when they’re going too fast. It also helps you to see instantly who isn’t keeping pace, and to diagnose why.
What it works on
Timing is vital in all martial arts, so this helps students to learn pacing and control. It can also be used to teach beginner adults how slow randori should be. Because slow is relative to each person, this introduces an external way to track speed.
The same metronome can be used for kumite training, by speeding it up for footwork drills and plyometric training. If you don’t have a loud enough sound system, introducing a simple triangle or a drum into the dojo will do the trick.
1,2,3,4: I Declare a Clothes Peg War
A crucial element of fighting (at least in my style) is to control the centre line. This game is designed to teach martial artists of all ages how to defend their centre line while attacking their opponent. This has been a huge hit and is a great way to energise your dojo while introducing an important concept. Honestly, this is one of my best ideas, though I’m sure someone else has come up with it too!
How it works
You’ll need a lot of clothes pegs for this one. Either get some cheap wooden ones, or invest in good, solid pegs. You’ll need about three per student. If you are a kumite-centred dojo, you’ll probably need to look at getting the strongest ones you can.
Everyone will attach the clothes pegs to the centre of their training jacket, either on the lapel or on a bit of pinched fabric. Because of the nature of the game, it may be more appropriate to pair female students together. The goal of the game is to defend your clothes pegs while grabbing the other person’s pegs. The ground rules are simple: no running away, no holding your pegs. You can attack while the other person attaches the ones they stole. You can get your pegs back. The game is over after a certain time limit. I recommend about 5 minutes, max.
What it works on
Ah, so many things! Weapon, target, control, defending your centre, learning to keep a defending hand up, footwork, endurance and a fighting mind. It is a great way to train fighting principles in a memorable way. It is a good way to solidify a class on kumite and randori principles by introducing it at the end. Fair warning – it can get out of hand easily due to the excitement of defending and taking, so keep a very close eye on the students.
You can stick the clothes pegs on the back, teaching students to get around the person, and to step to the outside and get in their blind spot. You can also colour code the pegs, so that they can only grab the red ones, and if they grab the wrong one then its a penalty. This teaches hand-eye coordination as well as even clearer use of weapon/target. For sheer craziness (and only with very senior students), one person has all the pegs while two others get to pick them off – this is for dealing with multiple attackers.
And that’s it! I hope you find these games useful in your teaching practice. I am always working on them and refining them, and I would love to hear about your own inventions and success in the dojo.
Besides, while I know that I could keep these games a secret, I feel that it is more important to share them with the larger martial arts community so that we can learn together and improve our teaching practice.
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