Discipline and Children's Martial Arts (ages 4-8)

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Discipline and Children's Martial Arts (ages 4-8)

Martial arts requires discipline. In the dojo, students must have good conduct and otherwise should be corrected. However, with children, instructors must take a different approach.

Positive Reinforcement

  • If the class is misbehaving, call attention to the students that are behaving correctly (even if it is just a single student) versus calling attention to the collective failure.
  • Children are usually competitive and after seeing a good student praised, they will usually shape up their act.
  • The good student can also be asked to step forward and demonstrate the technique in front of the class. This rewards the good student and subtlety points out the poor behavior of the rest of the class (without an adult actively badgering them).

Negative Reinforcement

  • Kids simply do not have the same endurance as adults and can sometime struggle understanding punishments. Therefore punishments/disciplining the class needs to be simple.
  • Doing pushups is a common martial art discipline technique used on students. Though for kids they get easily discouraged because they lack the upper body strength to extended quantities of it. An easy thing to do is just have them drop into the pushup position and hold it for a small period of time. If the class is being disciplined as a whole, students that have better positions can be allowed to get up before the others. This reinforces the attitude they must have as a martial artist and that doing things right sooner will pay off for them.
  • Another technique is having the actions of one student affect the class as a whole (ie. the class will not get to practice rolling, or must do pushups because of a single student). This should be used on rare occasions as it shows the student how their actions can affect others but at the same time might cause students to single out the troublemaker if this is used on a regular basis.

The Promotion Dilemma

The student is young, is not ready to be promoted to the next belt, and they may be on the verge of being discouraged enough (or by parents) to quit. So what can you do an an instructor? Here are three easy things to do:

  • They can receive a "tip" (tape) for knowing a portion of what they need to know (i.e. the first half of a particular form).
  • You can give them small star patches (to go on the sleeve of the uniform) as rewards for learning techniques. These stars can also be used for things like good attendance, good behavior and/or good grades in school.
  • If you are a school that uses only solid belt colors, you can implement several promotions with a same colored belt with a black stripe through the middle, indicating a higher level/rank in that color.
  • These techniques can be useful and respectful ways of conveying to the student that they are not ready for the next level but that their hard work is still noticed. This will often help motivate students to keep striving for the next level. This is key because in life we learn though failure. Unfortunately, in most education systems, students are just punished with bad grades for failing. These more positive techniques show students that they will only get to the next belt level if they actually earn it but also that their hard work is a pride worthy accomplishment.


If young children are getting out of hand in a class, you can try to redirect their attention versus punishing them. Here are some examples of redirection:

  • Simple things like "Hands on heads" or getting them to touch their head, shoulders, knees and toes redirects the attention of the class.
  • Kids love moving/activity keeping them moving as much as possible is great and as it fits with the training schedule.
  • Haiko Dachi statues is a handy one.
  • A two clap method where the children have to stop and do two claps in response.
  • Star jumps or a similar exercise to keep the class occupied if you need to assist one child but don't want the whole class standing around getting bored.
  • A timely placed game can help ensure disciple is maintained with minimal effort.
  • Alternating a more complicated technique with something simple like hands on hips and getting them to drop into shiko dachi and up again on a count.

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