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Teaching Through the Ages: A Study on the Instruction of Different Age Groups

Cade Bengert Examination for Third Degree Black Belt June 2, 2012


In Tae Kwon Do, the student’s progress depends not only on their own determination and work ethic, but it also relies largely on the quality and type of their instructor’s teaching. Their instructor must provide ways of training that are both informative and fun. These teaching methods will differentiate between age groups, belt ranks, and even individuals. Warm up exercises will not be the same for the junior class as they are for the youth and adult classes, because the younger students’ muscles and bodies have not yet fully developed. They cannot be expected to have the same strength, stamina, or even the patience required for many of the exercises done by the adults. At the same time, we must acknowledge that we have students who are not as physically able, due to their age. These students may need to alter exercises and certain moves to fit their abilities. These changes are not incorrect just because they aren’t the set system. And of course there are also some students who have more unique challenges. The instructor must respect disabilities, either physical or mental. It is the responsibility of the instructor to make the appropriate measures to insure that both the student with the disability and the other students around them are safe and receiving the training they deserve. This essay will hopefully help to provide new ideas of dealing with our students’ limitations in an appropriate fashion. The students must feel safe and satisfied with the training they are receiving. This essay will exam the differences between the three main age groups of students, as well as training ideas for teaching students with disabilities. Teaching children can be difficult, frustrating, and stressful, but it can also be highly rewarding. Ask any long term instructor how it feels to see their student grow


from a cute, stumbling, young child to a strong, precise, and confident warrior and they will tell you it is one of the greatest feelings an instructor can feel. For this essay’s purposes, the word “children” is being defined as any student under the age of thirteen. Warm up for children is less rigorous and physically demanding than it should be for adults and adolescents. The main goal for children is to get their muscles warm and ready to be used. They are not in Tae Kwon Do so they can gain incredible flexibility, huge muscles, amazing cardio, or to work off excess fat. They are just there to have some fun, and learn the martial art. Their muscles have not yet fully developed the muscles and strength of adults. Warm up should be used to “get the blood pumping” and let the muscles know they are going to be worked. Rotating the joints, light cardio, and other exercises can be used to achieve this. For children an ongoing problem is trying to keep them interested. This can be done by involving games that incorporate the usual exercises, but in a different format. Relay races are a common example of this. Tag can be turned into a warm up but saying that once a child is tagged, they must do a certain exercise, ten pushups for example. There are many games that an instructor can use to give their student’s a proper warm up, without the kids even knowing it. Children must only stretch lightly. Excess pressure on their muscles can cause damage. Children should never be involved in partner stretching. Not only do many children lack the judgment and maturity to know when to stop applying pressure to their partner, but their bodies also react better to only working within their natural range. External pressure of any kind is dangerous, and can severely damage their bodies. Five to


ten seconds is an appropriate amount of time for a child to hold a stretch. Repetitions of two to five in a set are also recommended. Once children have completed their warm up and stretch, they may begin training. When lining them up, be sure that the newer students have a good view of the instructor. If this cannot be easily accomplished, be sure the ones that cannot see the instructor, can see the higher ranked students, as they will understand better what is expected and will set a good example for the less experienced students. When training children, unless otherwise required, the instructor must keep the students on their marks, which should be evenly spaced at a distance that reduces the chances of the students hitting each other. It is difficult to work with a group of children when an instructor is just starting to teach. They must work to find the balance between being a very strict teacher whom none of the students enjoy, and being the very lax teacher who the students love, but from whom they will learn nothing. Learning to find the proper balance of these two teaching styles takes time to develop. Be sure that when explaining fundamentals, the instructor does the moves with the students, as some may not understand verbal explanations as well as a visual demonstration. The instructor must speak loudly so that all the students can hear them. When working with children, it is important to demonstrating moves properly. Many children will not ask questions, either because they are too shy or do not know what questions to ask. They will just try to match the instructor’s movements. It is because of this that an instructor must not let their own bad habits or incorrect movements show. Students at that age are very impressionable and susceptible to developing habits, both


good and bad. The instructor must correct small mistakes in their own form and technique, therefore improving the instructor’s ability as well as training the students properly. Because they lack of control over their moves, children’s sparring is different than that of youth and adult, in respect to distances. The new rule is: starting with sixteen inches, the student’s age is subtracted to give the appropriate distancing in inches. Therefore, if a student is six years old, they only need to be ten inches away to score a point. Any contact will not be tolerated. This system of distancing is fairly new, so all instructors should work to familiarize themselves with it, as an effort to make judging as uniformly fair as possible. Maintaining children’s attention while teaching the curriculum can be a daunting task for many instructors, especially in classes with high numbers of children. Changing activities often is one method that can help with this challenge. “I find that the more interactive you are with them and the more you keep them busy and thinking about something the easier it is to teach them,” says Alicia Smith (II Dan, Wainwright, Alberta), “The more fun they get to have the more they pay attention.” The way that children advance up the ranks is also different. The ranking system for children involves four stripes per belt. There is much less technical advancement between these stripes than there is between adult ranks. For example, the difference between a plain white belt and white belt with a yellow stripe may only be learning a few more kicks. The four directional kicks (drills practiced in the children’s class) stay the same, as do the self defense techniques and many other things. When a student in this age category tests, they can receive either one stripe or two stripes, depending on the quality


of their performance. It is because of this difference that a junior yellow belt is not equivalent to an adult yellow belt. In children’s class, there are also fewer opportunities to test. This keeps down the number of children finishing the children’s curriculum at a very early age. The children’s curriculum only goes to junior green belt, after which the student is transferred into youth and adult class. Teaching children can be highly rewarding. They can give the instructor some of the most fun classes they will ever teach. But the instructor must also be prepared for the difficulties that come with teaching them. If the instructor can overcome these difficulties, both their teaching ability and the students’ quality of training will benefit. The instructing of teenagers can also be difficult. Many teenagers are fighting the balance of being a child and being a young adult. They are experiencing changes which commonly cause stress and mood swings. They tend to reject and challenge authority figures, including the instructors. Chief Instructor Dave Hargreaves, IV Dan, Stettler, Alberta, has taught many teenagers over his twenty years of instructing. “The hardest part of instructing teenagers,” in his opinion, “is that they allow outside influences to play a role in the class. They bring a lot of their school drama into the studio.” These all make it quite difficult to instruct students in this difficult age, especially if the instructor is close to the same age. However martial arts like Tae Kwon Do can provide a positive outlet for the teens’ frustrations in a safe and controlled environment. For this essay’s purposes, the word “teenager” is being defined as any student thirteen to seventeen years old. Treat the students as young adults rather than as children. This helps with motivation and the students will feel more trusted. They will keep interested because this will appeal to their wanting to become more adult-like.


Chief Instructor Hargreaves explains his philosophy of dealing with teenagers by comparing it to Dog Whisperer. “If you puff yourself up, present yourself as big and tough, and let the standards of the class be known right away, they will back down and respect you. Teens are just like animals that way.” As difficult as teaching teens is, it can play a large part in not only their development in Tae Kwon Do, but also in their development as people. Teens can be angry, confused, frustrated, and opinionated, but they can also be hard working, considerate, respectful, and intelligent. If an instructor can provide a good influence for these students, they will thank them for it for many years to come. As teenagers fall into the adult curriculum, this essay will just discuss both age groups under the label of “adults”. This includes “teens” (thirteen to seventeen) as well as “adults” (any able bodied student over the age of eighteen). The task of teaching adults has its own unique list of difficulties. Besides the vast difference of physical abilities of adult students who enlist in Tae Kwon Do, there can also be other problems. Young adults may solely be there to learn to fight and may not realize the more technical aspects of the martial art. Older adults may resent being told what to do by an instructor younger than themselves. Finding partners that match each other’s physical size can be difficult when you have students who are very tall, very short, very large in build, or very slim. These can all cause problems for the instructor. The warm ups for adults can be more physically demanding than that of the warm-ups for children. Adults can all benefit from increased cardio, flexibility, and strength. Cardio can be achieved through relay races, jumping jacks, laps of the studio, jogging on the spot, or other such exercises. Flexibility is gained through proper


stretching. These can be dynamic stretches (e.g. high rising kicks) or static stretches (e.g. the usual sitting stretches). Strength can be built in many different ways. The strengthening of the body’s core can be gain through sit ups, planking, and other exercises that work the abdominal muscles. The arms muscles can be strengthened through pushups, resistance training, or even just holding the arms out while running on the spot. The legs can be worked through kicks, lunges, or jumping. The adult curriculum is very different from the children’s. The adult curriculum incorporates forms, one step techniques, and more difficult self defense techniques. All of these become increasingly more difficult as the student advances up the ranks. Forms are a series of techniques performed in a predetermined order, demonstrating the skills practiced by that specific rank. The comparison of Alpha (the white belt form) and Storm (the black belt form) should show how the student’s skills and abilities have progressed since they started their training. Each form has a meaning for it, which must be memorized, understood, and repeated on the student’s test. Forms play a very large role in the adult curriculum. “One steps” are meant to show the skills developed at each level. They are cooperation between two students, meant to demonstrate the skill, accuracy, and beauty of Tae Kwon Do. These also get increasingly difficult as a student progresses up the ranks. Once a student has reached the rank of green belt, they must create their own “one step”, called an optional. This optional shows the students ability to communicate their training into a demonstration of their skills with a partner. Self defense techniques teach the students how to defend themselves from certain attacks, in a safe manner. The self defenses are meant to show how to disengage or


disarm the attacker without inflicting serious damage. The hope is that the higher the rank of the student, the better they will be able to defend themselves and the more the techniques will become instinct. This way the student will have a faster reaction time to a real life attack. These also involve optional techniques, where the student can choose an attack and find their own way to defend it. These can be simple evasion techniques or more complicated ways of disabling the threat. All these are very important aspects of the adult curriculum. It is an instructor’s job to teach these techniques correctly and in a way that the students will understand. Some students will understand these very quickly, whereas others will require repeated demonstrations. “Sparring” is also an important area of training where an instructor’s influence can make a large difference. Until the adults meet the requirements (sixteen or older; blue belt of higher) they must be trained to not make contact. An instructor must train them to see openings in their opponent’s guard, when to go for the higher point techniques, etc. Once the student reaches a level where contact is acceptable, the instructor must teach them to defend themselves while still getting points. This area relies largely on instructor input as a student who has not been trained properly can get serious injured in contact sparring. Teaching Tae Kwon Do to adults can be both challenging and rewarding. In this age group, egos can hinder the training of many students. It can be very difficult for an instructor to work with these students and keep respect. If an instructor can do this however, they will gain many loyal, hardworking students. These students can bring new ideas to class, causing the instructor to rethink their own practices in a new light. Strong


bonds can be formed between the instructor and their students. These students may develop into instructors themselves one day, and will remember the teachings of their instructor, and only respect them more. Tae Kwon Do has been known as a very adaptable martial art. Anyone can benefit from the skills taught in class. However, this can be easier said than done. Many instructors can have difficulties teaching certain students. The difficulties involved with teaching some students can be a large setback for many. A large group of these students are elderly. The elderly students have a particularly difficult list of problems to deal with. Many have serious difficultly with physical activity. They may have little flexibility, poor cardio, limited span of movement, and many other problems. These must be taken into consideration when running a class with these students. For the purpose of this essay, “elderly” is being defined as any student with physical problems brought on by age. This can mean people as young as forty years of age. For elderly people, proper stretching is very important. Many of these students suffer from many years of neglect from a proper physical work out. Their muscles have not been properly worked, and have become weak. Flexibility is not a strong point for most people in this age group. Stretching the neck, half spinal twists, side bends, back stretches, joint rotations, leg extensions, and other exercises like those are recommended to help loosen the muscles and joints. Remember that some of these students may not be able to do these exercises as well as others. Let the students push themselves as far as they feel comfortable. Only they know their limitations.


For sparring, many elderly people will find themselves being slower than other competitors. An instructor should try to teach these students to use simple moves in sparring. Many people forget the simpler moves, the higher up the ranks they go. Many younger students are more inclined towards going for the very complex difficult moves for more points. However, sparring matches are not only won by fancy moves. They can be easily won by well placed simple moves. It can be very effective for older student to master the simpler moves such as punches, basic kicks, and good ring movement. This can be a good way counteract the fancy techniques of other students. People in this age group should also try to discover their opponent’s sparring patterns. They should learn to see their opponent’s preferred sparring stance, and how to attack when they are forced into a different stance. They should identify patterns in their movements, and pressure them into moving differently. These can be powerful weapons in sparring. In forms, it is obvious that the older students do not possess the physical strength or flexibility to kick as high or put as much power into their forms as the younger students can. Moves may be modified within the form, as long as the floor diagram, rhythm, and timing of the form are not compromised. “Always give an option of modification, provide knowledge aspects of the activity as well as the physical aspects,” recommends Kat Staple (III Dan, Ponoka/Wetaskawin, Alberta), “That way if the students are physically unable to perform the activity, they still learn the principles and theory behind it.” When partaking in Tae Kwon Do, many elderly students can feel as though they are too old or too weak to succeed. It is the instructor’s role to show these students that


this is not the case. They must be shown that they can be just as successful as anyone else in that class. No matter what their age, their willingness to push themselves to be the best they can be is important. The must feel like part of the class. The instructor cannot show age biases by making exceptions for these students or by making them sit out in certain parts of class. Including them in all aspects of normal class will help them with a sense of belonging and they will gain the confidence to push themselves and face life’s obstacles head on. Mastering this can help any instructor who plans on teaching this age group. When teaching Tae Kwon Do, an instructor may be faced with a student, of any age group, that has unique difficulties. They may have a certain thing about them that will make their journey through Tae Kwon Do more challenging, and provide new obstacles to face. These come in the form of disabilities, both physical and mental, and can make a student feel alienated from the rest of class. They can make a student feel as if they are unable to perform at a level that is equal to the others. It can also be difficult for instructors. Knowing what is pushing them too far and what is holding them back is a very difficult concept to master. The instructor is responsible for keeping all the students safe, but at the same time must allow the students to grow and develop at their own pace. This is no different for the students with disabilities. Chief Instructor Hargreaves has many students in his school with disabilities. “We have students with ADD, ADHD, Clubfoot, FAS, Autism, Depression, MS, and several others.” In his experience, the best way to treat these students is be highly supportive and encouraging. “An instructor should be a safe person for all of their students, especially those [with disabilities]. When they walk into the studio, they no longer have that disability in my eyes. They are just another student who wants to train and get better.”


Tae Kwon Do has been quite renowned for being significantly helpful to those with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (or ADHD). People with this disorder suffer from abnormally high levels of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Tae Kwon Do has been found to help with burning off energy. “This will lead to a healthier body and more oxygenated brain,” states Dr Abida Ripley, who has studied the subject. Discipline also pays a large role. Students with ADHD will benefit greatly from this. In Tae Kwon Do, it is very well laid out that the students are to respect their instructors and higher ranked students. This can be quite effective for students suffering from ADHD, as it tells them what is expected, as well as informing them if they do well in class and learn their techniques, they will be rewarded on test night with a new stripe or belt. The constant repetition of fundamental training can also be very helpful to students with ADHD. As classes can usually consist of practicing the same fundamentals over and over gives the students the idea that they must come to frequent classes if they wish to learn more for students that suffer from difficulties focusing their attention, these repetitions can help them to organize their thoughts. Tae Kwon Do can help shape the student’s outside life as well. The organized fashion of classes and the discipline trained in class can help show the students what is considered socially acceptable. The tenants that are taught in class naturally carry themselves into the student’s everyday life. Students with ADHD can benefit greatly from this. Needless to say teaching these students can be quite trying. It will require a lot of patience. The instructor may feel very stressed and unsure of how to handle these


students, but there are certain things that they can do to help both themselves and their students have a good, productive class. Make sure that all students understand the rules of the class. They must acknowledge that they must line up and be quiet when the instructor is speaking. They also need to be aware of the punishments if they do not follow the rules. If an instructor notices that a student’s attention seems to be drifting away from the class, they can pull the student back in by saying the student’s name, asking them a question, or by standing next to the student to make the instructor’s presence known. The instructor should use very clear instructions so the students know exactly what they are being asked to do. Positive reinforcement is also a key factor in the instructing of students with ADHD, as well as any student. Students are more likely to respond to an instructor who congratulates them on the things they did well, than one who just points out the mistakes and areas they are lacking in. The most an instructor will achieve from the negative tactic will be an angry student who will either lash out in class or not want to come back. A student who is treated with positive reinforcement is more likely to try to improve even more so they can impress their instructor, classmates, and, for children, their parents. Tae Kwon Do can be a safe haven for many students suffering from mental disabilities like ADHD. It can provide structure and discipline in a world that seems distant and difficult to control. In Tae Kwon Do these students can forget their disabilities and just be another student. They can work to achieve their own goal without someone telling them that they are not going to be able to do it. For many of these students, this is what they want.


It is the instructor’s responsibility to be sure that these students get the chance to achieve these goals. They must make sure that the student feels comfortable to push themselves, while at the same time keeping all the students safe and on task. It can be a daunting task for many students, but if they are up to it, their students will be very loyal and thank them for many years to follow. Teaching Tae Kwon Do is a very difficult, trying, stressful, and demanding task. Not all students that achieve high ranks will be able to be instructors. Some will simply feel they are not up to the challenge, while others may try, only to realize that it is considerably more difficult than first anticipated. Teaching has hidden difficulties that are not seen just by taking part in a class. A student never knows just how much effort their instructor puts in until they themselves are placed in front of a class. Each age group has its own difficulties. Some instructors may find themselves more comfortable with teaching children than teaching adults. This is normal. Each instructor is going to have types of students that they are more at ease teaching. However, each instructor must still know how to teach all age groups, comfortable or not. Teaching children raises the question on how to keep class interesting while still teaching the necessary techniques. The instructor must know how to warm up students without putting too much strain on their muscles, which have not yet finished developing. This age group can be the most trying on an instructor’s patience as it is very easy to lose control of a class. Teaching youth and adult students makes the instructor work on their own basics. Many of these students are accustomed to moving in certain fashions that are not the way to move in Tae Kwon Do. Breaking old physical habits in these students can be very


difficult, especially when many of these students just wish to learn how to take a punch and hurt people (this is more common in the male students). A proper work out must be included, and the curriculum must be accomplished at a speed that each student can progress. It can be quite stressful to have to deal with some of the egos that appear in this age group, but if these can be overcome, some of these students will develop into great instructors themselves one day. An instructor is forced to rethink all their training when faced with a class of elderly students. Many of these students are unable to execute the same techniques as the younger students. Some are even challenged just to stand in line for a class. The instructor in charge of this class must understand the limitations of this age group, and change their teaching methods accordingly, without making these students feel as though they are being carried through the ranks. Allow these students to push themselves past their preconceived limits. In an instructor’s teaching career, they are likely to encounter at least one student with special difficulties that create new difficulties for them to face. These students make instructors test themselves in ways that they have not before. These students can become into the most loyal and well disciplined students an instructor could hope for. They just need to be given a chance. In general, teaching Tae Kwon Do is very difficult. Not only are there difficulties to be faced within the age groups, but each new student as an individual can pose new challenges for an instructor. It is very impressive to see an instructor that can teach the necessary techniques, keep class fun, challenge every student in a positive way, and still retain the respect of their students. An instructor is just as responsible for a student’s


progress as the student is. It is a close knit relationship that will last until the student’s training is complete.


Works Cited Physical Disabilities  Are  No  Obstacle  When  it  Comes  to  Taekwondo,  Sandy  Crosser,,  June  03,  2008 Taekwondo  Stretching  Exercises, Adolescents  and  the  Martial  Arts  Class,  Jaimie  Lee-­‐Barron,,  2007 Teaching  Martial  Arts  to  the  Elderly,  Jamie  Clubb,,  2007 Teaching  Students  with  Special  Needs,  Lesley  Jackson,,  2007 Kim, Sang H., Martial Arts After 40, Hartford, Turtle Press, 2000. Wiley, Carol A., Martial Arts Teachers on Teaching, Berkeley, Frog Ltd, 1995

A very special “thank you” to everyone who was interviewed for this essay.


TaeKwon Do Essay  

A TKD essay I wrote for my 3rd Degree Black Belt examination.