Karate, as it exists today, has been around since the late 1800s and there are many different styles. These may have some techniques performed differently, such as the positioning of the hand, low to the hip in Shotokan or high against the ribs in Goju, but the principles of Karate remain the same in all the systems. Teaching Karate is not just about the style but how we pass on this information in a way that each level of student can understand and retain.
Although the Martial Arts, specifically Karate, have been around for many years, it was in the late 1970’s that the Federation of Australian Karate Organisations (FAKO) members were introduced to the coaching methodology set down by the Australian Coaching Council. Before this coaches, or instructors as we were known then, taught as they learnt from their Japanese mentors, basically ‘Monkey see Monkey do’. We stood out the front and performed to a count along with the students with little or no correction offered for improvement. From that position, very little assessing of the students’ performances could be done.
I was first asked to take a class in 1977. With just over two years of training, it was a scary experience as I really had no idea what to do. I knew the techniques of Goju but couldn’t think how to present them to the students. To this day, I still remember how I felt and it took several years and many mistakes before I felt competent in my coaching ability.
Thirty-eight years later I am still coaching. I have produced many black belts but I continue to access new ideas provided by experts to assist me to bring out the best in my students. I tell my new coaching students that it took me four to five years to be comfortable with my own coaching ability but, by attending and completing the National Coaching Accreditation Scheme (NCAS) Bronze course for beginner coaches, their time to be comfortable with their coaching can occur within 18 months.
As Karate coaches, we have a duty of care to our students to ensure that we are teaching correctly, in a safe manner, in a safe environment. By definition, Martial Arts mean ‘War Like’. Our techniques have the ability to cause serious injury or even death. This is what sets the Martial Arts apart from other sports. Although all sports have possible dangers – athletes have died or received life-changing injuries playing sports that seem safe – we need to be aware of the inherent dangers in Karate and ensure our students remain safe at all times.
Coach education plays an important role in coaching today’s students. Juniors, especially, are more familiar with sourcing information on their computers and want to know why things are done a certain way. Gone are the days when a student blindly followed the Master. Personally, I believe having students that don’t follow blindly challenges the coach to become better and this ultimately produces better students. Our novices, adults and children, are our future black belts, our grass roots students our future competitors and we need to give them a strong foundation on which to grow. By being the best coaches we can, we can help the students be the best they can be.
We know from experience and from information from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) that children who want to play the game are not necessary in it to win at any cost. It is more the parents and coaches that want children to win, sometimes putting too much pressure on the children therefore causing them to quit. Some years back, as National Secretary to the Australian Karate Federation (AKF), I attended a seminar hosted by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC). They presented a survey to a group of Queensland school children regarding playing sports. The consensus was that being involved with their friends, having fun and doing their best outweighed winning. Ten years later, the ASC conducted the same survey with another group of students in Queensland and they received the same results. This means developing team work and helping them be the best they can in a stress-free environment is important in how we coach our children.
Back in the day, if a child acted up in class then push-ups were given as a punishment, resulting in them hating an effective fitness exercise. Thanks to new adolescent coaching programs, we now know how to handle those situations without the class being disrupted and the student being inappropriately punished.
Children have a shorter attention span than adults and this can cause its own challenges. We know that continuous training without a fun break or quick changes will cause some children to act-up. So instead of 100 punches, 100 kicks, and 100 blocks, we do ten of each and then either go back to the start or put a karate game into the mix – a game that develops a skill or team work. It also means there is less likelihood of repetitive injuries in children. Breaks are important for the children in their recovery, even though, when they tell us they are tired and need a break, they usually run around like crazy anyway! We can’t stop them, but at least their minds are rested and ready to be filled again.
In the past for some coaches, experience was a learning curve regarding why we taught exercise and techniques using a specific method as well as why we didn’t do certain exercises such as bunny hops. Now, through coach education and attending refresher and update courses provided by the various State Government sporting organisations, we can gain access to a variety of up-to-date material and research that can assist coaches in understanding the dangers that can happen if techniques are not executed correctly. The coach now learns to assess individual students and adjust their exercises to suit. We learn what is unique to our sport, how different body shapes may need addressing and the importance of warm-ups and stretching.
Like with bunny-hops, there were things in the past we got wrong. Gone are the days when push-ups from a kneeling position were called ‘Girl Push-ups’. In fact, I have found that when my students have had back injuries or discomfort doing push-ups, the kneeling position is useful as it does not put as much stress on the lower back. Unfit students may begin this way and work their way up. Knee problems? Then use the wall for push-ups. The use of technique based warm-ups can then help the student to gain competency in a much shorter time, reducing the risk of injury.
I first started Karate after arriving from England back in November, 1965. In those days, if you had an injury of any sort, you didn’t dare go to training as you were expected to perform as usual. Today this does not happen. If one of my students comes to me at the beginning of class and says that they are carrying an injury or returning from an injury, they know they can train at their pace without fear of their injury getting worse, and they maintain their standard while they continue to learn. In some cases, recovery is faster if they get back to training.
Communication, verbal and non-verbal, is the biggest part of coaching and our best tool to pass on the knowledge of Karate. The old system of showing a technique, having a student repeat it and saying “that’s wrong” without correcting or even explaining why it is wrong is extremely ineffective. It can also cost you students. I now know that corrective feedback should be positive and immediate and that praising a student when a technique is achieved results in a better, more motivated student. It is also crucial that, through understanding the learning abilities of a student from beginner to advanced, we can identify the use of key points suited to their level of understanding in terms they can easily accept.
Karate coaching today involves the clear explanations of key points, effective demonstration of techniques, careful observation of performance for correct technique and immediate positive feedback. While using today’s coaching methodology has reduced the time for coaches to become competent, we should continue to challenge ourselves to become better at what we do.
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