Saturday, September 18, 2010

Effective Lesson Planning for Karate Instructors

This article deals with the very important aspect of lesson planning.  Just as school teachers need to plan their lessons, I feel that karate instructors should also plan their lessons.  After several years of teaching experience the planning process naturally becomes easier and at this point it is less necessary but at the very least I believe that an effective instructor needs to refer to some kind of overall syllabus, curriculum framework and general lesson plan on a weekly basis.
There are several main objectives that I have identified as critical to the overall lesson content of karate at all levels. I view a complete teaching cycle as about three months, as that is usually the length of time between grading examinations at the lower levels. Of course it is not possible to cover all content in three months, but it is possible to touch on all of the listed objectives. These objectives are

·         element, which includes kihon, kata, and kumite;

·         type, which includes quality, quantity, fun, and serious;

·         level, which is beginner, intermediate, and advanced;

·         focus, which includes grading syllabus, bunkai/oyo(analysis and application), self-defense, target training, and general.

Generally, every lesson will include all four of these objectives. The components of each objective relate to the actual lesson content. By combining these components and making slight changes, each lesson will be interesting yet different while still sticking with the necessary content required at each rank level.
I will define each objective and its components.


The element objective refers to what kind of content the lesson includes. Usually, each lesson will use one or more of the three k’s – kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (partner work or sparring.)


The type objective deals with how the lesson is delivered. Does the lesson focus on quality (detailed explanations of basic techniques, forms, or partner work), quantity (a hard workout using repetition of technique as the main teaching tool), or fun (a more relaxed atmosphere than normal, with activities such as target training, games for the kids, light sparring, or something completely different such as kata from another style)? Or is it a serious lesson—working on etiquette, posture, correct behavior and habits, traditional philosophy, and history of karate? Each lesson can, of course, incorporate more than one of the four methods of delivery.


This objective shouldn’t need too much explanation, as it refers to the three main levels of students in class or to the level of content delivered in each class. Beginners are ranked tenth to seventh kyu, intermediate students are ranked sixth to fourth kyu, and advanced students are ranked third kyu and above. However, lessons, at times, could still include beginner content for advanced students, to remind them about the things they should already know. Likewise, advanced content can be given to beginner students. This gives them a chance to see what they have to look forward to if they stick with their training. In a club with a large membership, there may be enough black belts to warrant a black belt-only class. If so, there could be a distinction between brown and black belts as to their level of class. This is for the instructor to decide, depending on the membership and resources of his or her club.


This objective guides the reason behind the content. When a grading is coming up in the next couple of weeks, a lesson on the techniques that will be tested in the grading is obviously a good idea. When students have learned and memorized the moves to the kata they are studying, it is time to focus on the bunkai/oyo. Perhaps one of your students is being bullied at school, and you feel it is time to revisit some self-defense techniques. Maybe you just want to have a lesson that has a bit of something for everyone (general).

Planning a lesson

            Now that the four objectives have been defined we can look at planning an actual lesson.  Before any lesson can be planned the instructor must first know what level class he or she has been assigned.  Once this has been determined then the instructor should refer to the curriculum pacing guides and determine which week of which grading quarter the class is currently in.  In my club I have put together full pacing guides at each level which define the content that should be studied for each level class throughout the thirteen week grading period.  By doing this the instructor will then know what the class content of his or her assigned class should be.  Now the Level and Element objectives have been defined and all that remains is for the instructor to determine the Type of class that he or she would like to teach (fun, serious, quantity, quality, etc.) and the overall Focus of the class within the parameters of the class content (grading focus, application of technique, self-defense, etc.)  Now the four key objectives have been defined and the instructor can then make an appropriate lesson plan.  An instructor’s individuality and personal style can be expressed through the delivery of the content and the overall flow or theme of the lesson.  For example additional elements of martial arts training such as the importance of focus, discipline, self-confidence, health, fitness, self-control and other key words can be introduced into the lesson through the content.  This is especially appropriate for the kids’ classes but can also be good for the adult classes when related to everyday tasks, chores and responsibilities at work and at home.
            Here is an example of how this works:

Assigned class: Beginners on a Thursday night (family class – age 7 and up)
Current week and quarter: Week 6, Quarter 1

From this information the instructor consults the pacing guides and sees that the content for that evening’s class is:
            Kihon – Syllabus         Kata – Heian Shodan              Kumite – Gohon kumite #2

Now the lesson planning begins.  Already the two objectives of Element and Level have been defined, so the instructor should then determine the Type and Focus objectives.  After this has been decided the instructor can refer to the grading syllabus for 10th to 7th kyu content and decide which basic techniques he or she would like to teach that evening and what type of drills to use for those techniques.  The lesson plan might look something like this:

Element: Kihon, Kata and Kumite
Type: Quality
Level: Beginner (10th to 7th kyu)
Focus: Grading preparation

1.      Oizuki
2.      Gyakuzuki
3.      Age-uke, gyakuzuki
4.      Soto-uke, gyakuzuki
5.      Uchi-uke, gyakuzuki
6.      Shuto-uke
7.      Maegeri
8.      Mawashigeri

Practice all techniques up and down in the lines in sets of five.  Explain the key points of each technique and let the students know what the instructor is looking for on the upcoming grading.

            Heian Shodan

Practice this kata slowly step-by-step, then half-speed and then regular speed.

            Gohon kumite #2 (chudan oizuki attack, chudan soto-uke defense with gyakuzuki counter)

Practice this set to count, then all the way through and then with the attacker changing the rhythm of attack to try to unbalance the defender.

Finish class by verbally reviewing the grading requirements at the Beginner ranks (10th to 7th kyu) and give a reference point for further study (club website, etc.)

An alternate lesson plan for the same content could be:

Element: Kihon, Kata, Kumite
Type: Quantity
Level: Beginner (10th to 7th kyu)
Focus: Drill key techniques from Heian Shodan and Gohon kumite #2

1.      Oizuki
2.      Age-uke
3.      Soto-uke
4.      Shuto-uke

Drill each technique up and down multiple times and then with a partner forwards and backwards with both partners performing the same technique simultaneously.

            Heian Shodan

Run through the kata 8 times focusing on executing each technique with power and highlighting oizuki, age-uke and shuto-uke that were practiced in the kihon section of this class.

            Gohon kumite #2

Practice this partner work drill three times as attacker and defender and change partners and repeat.  Keep changing partners multiple times so that everyone has a chance to try their attacks and defenses against different people.

Finish the class by explaining the importance of drilling the key techniques through repetition and the importance of training with different partners to help increase the ability to modify techniques based on the different size, strength and ability of your potential opponents.

In conclusion, over time and with experience you will begin to know which drills and activities work well for both the students and for you as the instructor.  You will remember how you taught each lesson previously and you will also be able to modify and adjust your lesson plans accordingly based on the actual students who show up that night, the overall mood and energy of the class and the required content for that lesson.  At this point you are on the path to becoming a great instructor.


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