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I practice Taekwondo regularly with the club at my university. There are three main instructors, one 3rd dan and two 1st dan (my belt level).

The club has a lot of black belts of varying degrees who want to keep in practice, but also a lot of beginners trying out martial arts for the first time. This makes it very difficult to run a class suitable for all students. The head instructor generally does a good job tailoring the class to the level of the students present or splitting it into two groups, but often the other two instructors essentially run a black belt level class even if it is the first day for half the students.

Several people who started practicing with the club have quit because the classes made them uncomfortable, and I worry that it has turned some of them off martial arts entirely. I also think that even for the ones that stick it out the class style is substantially lowering their ability to gain mastery and leads them to get hurt more often than they otherwise would because they aren't ready for various techniques and drills.

It's difficult for me to figure out an appropriate way to bring this to the instructors' attention--I don't want to be disrespectful or undermine their authority, but attempts to subtly direct their attention to this after class haven't been particularly successful. Students who are uncomfortable usually just quit, and the others are excited to get to try advanced moves/sparring right away, so I don't have the impression the newer instructors are getting any feedback on this.

Is there a proper way to handle it? Or should I just let it alone?

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this is a great question, one i think almost everyone who has been in martial arts for a long time has had to deal with. –  Patricia Feb 13 '12 at 18:33

5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Typically, the correct way to approach this is personally, away from the rest of the class. If you have a problem with the way an instructor conducts himself, then, if it's important enough to warrant being brought to their attention, going to them one-on-one and requesting a private moment of their time is proper.

It's important to not seem combative or accusatory. I have found that making the assertion a personal issue rather than a communal one makes them feel less attacked, and will make them in time begin to look at the issue among more than just yourself.

It's important to make this private; in a social setting in which you are questioning a superior, it's important to maintain the hierarchical standard. Anything else will be perceived as a challenge or a threat to their capability, and their status can lead to your ostracism.

In those cases where they're completely unresponsive to your requests, then it may be necessary to take this same approach with the head instructor. "I'm having a problem in the class, and I feel that I'm unable to keep up. I feel okay under your instruction, but I feel like I struggle with the other instructors. I'm sure this is a problem I'm having, perhaps I feel less confident. Could I ask you to look in on our class from time to time perhaps to see if there's something that I'm not understanding?"

Again, remember you are questioning them by claiming your own inadequacy in private; this is to make them feel like the privacy was for you to save face, not for them. If they are not defensive, then they will likely notice your message and change appropriately.

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Thanks--this is a good answer, and I definitely think talking in private and being non-confrontational is key. My one concern is that, given that I'm the same belt level as some of these instructors and am clearly not having difficulties with the class, it would be hard for me to frame this as a personal issue without seeming disingenuous. –  RSid Feb 13 '12 at 22:07
    
@RSid: I do understand; there's a lot of disingenuous behavior that goes along with being part of hierarchical social structures. Your rank, without being named an instructor, still puts you at a lower rank than they are; being self-effacing means you're offering them a way to save face, which can be ingratiating. There is always the other option used in the military: "Permission to speak freely, Sir?" This, however, is immediately confrontational. There is not an easy answer; ultimately, whatever path you take, you'll be making a compromise between your feelings and theirs. –  stslavik Feb 13 '12 at 22:48

Have the adult conversation with the instructor in question. Let them know that you have some feedback from people that have left, that they felt that their introduction was too advanced for a novice and leave it at that. Don't put words in people's mouths but provide the constructive critical feedback.

If they are upset at your feedback, you have a decision to make: either discuss the feedback with the head instructor or don't.

I've done a fair bit of teaching, mentoring and instructing and I am the type of person who wants feedback while there's still a chance to do something useful with it.

Now, if they get bent out of shape about constructive criticism, you should seriously think about whether this is a place where you want to spend your time.

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As with any type of job, class or organization try and raise the issue in private in a one on one session. This will ensure that the instructor, owner or leader does not feel threatened or disrespected and become defensive or combative. It's important to try and not make them feel threatened or that your criticizing them. Steer the conversation into as much factual information you can, asking student why they quit and more like your passing along their suggestions.

Normally when I have to have these conversations with people, I sandwich my suggestions between compliments. It sounds strange, but it really does help. Were all human and no one like to hear stuff that seems negative all the time.

Also try and use the chain of command if possible. I never like to go over peoples head and if there is an intermediate that is between you and the overall instruct try communicating with them first.

I like to have some non-opinion based data, like questions from other people, comments, etc. Don't bring them with you, keep it one on one, and also don't make it seem like you've gone and surveyed people, might seem like you've gone behind their back. I normally approach it like "I overheard some guys talking, or a friend of mine who was in the class..".

Not every instructor is receptive to peoples comments or suggestions. I wouldn't take this personal if it happens, but just try and help them see it for themselves.

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I cannot add more to the answers already there apart form a few advice: be assertive. Assertiveness at work is a good book to have to learn how to do it. Basically, it is looking at how to criticise actions but not the person doing them while focusing on resolving the problem at heart.

So instead of saying

"Your classes are too hard so new members quit",

say

"I believe that some of the new members are disheartened because they feel that the classes are too hard. While it is good that the yudansha train hard, could we sometimes break the class and let one of the dan grades teach the lower belts? I think that it would help us grow (we have to learn to learn the kata well enough to teach it) and it would help them feel less swamped. What do you think?"

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You've gotten some good answers here.

Another approach might be to suggest to the head instructor that it might be time for the club to offer different level classes. Most schools separate out beginners from advanced students; if the club has a mix of black belts and newcomers, it would be appropriate for the club to do the same.

You might have to offer to teach the beginners, though, to make this happen. You should think about whether this is something you're interested in before you approach the head instructor.

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