When teaching martial arts, particularly to juniors we sometimes run into problems with discipline. Most people assume that you can hand out physical exercise as a good disincentive to poor behaviour, however we have several (usually male) students that enjoy doing push-ups etc. If the problem is serious and involves only a single student then having them sit out works very well.

What have people found to be an effective way to discipline an entire class (when either all or the majority of students are involved) for low level problems?

  • Although your question is well intended, it is more about teaching than martial arts per se
    – jclozano
    Feb 7, 2012 at 5:04

7 Answers 7


Kids are fast. If you don't keep them occupied they will do something else: chatting, joking, bullying, etc.

While you may need to impose discipline from time to time, don't forget to work on the root cause; try to be more engaging. Here are some ways:

  • Vary exercises frequently (this is not always the best thing to do).
  • Don't talk too much (no long explanation, direct corrections for the win).
  • Engage their focus with a reflexes based exercise/game at the start of the class (e.g. when I say one you punch, when I say two you kick). Think of it as a warm up for their brains.
  • Tire them. Not too much, but make sure to keep a healthy level of fatigue for everybody.
  • Pretend engagement: when they seem too lax, incite them to get better stances and more focus. Have them act like samurais when they're on the mat, and expect them to. Put that in a game perspective.

The younger the kids are, the higher the chance they won't be interested in your fine talks! :)

  • 1
    Absolutely! Spoken like someone who has had to learn a lot of things about teaching kids the hard way :)
    – Anon
    Feb 1, 2012 at 14:28
  • Some kids get a rise making other in the class to push ups, and/or like showing off when they do them alone as punishment. I think tacone's answer is bang on, but if punishment is needed have them sit out for blocks of time.
    – Swift
    Feb 1, 2012 at 17:11
  • Yes, yes, yes. The more active you keep youngsters, the more fun they have and the less they play up because they're bored. I used to help teach an under-11's class and also an 11-16 class, so I've also learned this from experience. Feb 6, 2012 at 17:39

When I'm teaching kids' classes, there tends to be two types of kids: the ones that want to learn, and the ones whose parents drop them off so they (the parents) can have some peace and quiet. Those are the trouble-makers every time!

I tend to pair them up with a hard-working student; this helps keep them in line. At our club, pushups are traditionally the punishment for acting out, but if the behaviour is something that would endanger another student, I usually sit them aside for a few minutes.

I always re-iterate at the beginning of each class what won't be tolerated, and what the consequences will be. This keeps them in line most of the time. Usually, if something starts I just have to give a look with a little eyebrow raise and it stops dead.

If the whole class is misbehaving, before you get too harsh with them, think about what's going on. Is it:

  • The last day of school?
  • A full moon?
  • A PA day?

All these things mess with the students ability to focus, and sometimes just shifting the focus of the class from being very technical and focus oriented to group "games" that build skills can fix the insanity.

  • 2
    "as far as if the who class is missbehaving, before you get to harsh on them, think about whats going on, is it the last day of school?" nice suggestion
    – tacone
    Feb 1, 2012 at 17:25
  • What's a "pa day"?
    – nedlud
    Jun 5, 2012 at 3:34
  • a day off school :)
    – Patricia
    Jun 7, 2012 at 13:49

Try the opposite, have them sit in the corner and do nothing while the rest of the class gets to do push-ups. Just don't make it a punishment for the rest of the class, they get to do push-ups because push-ups are good for you.


Under 10's? It needs to be fun. You're not going to have a dojo of little angels. You're best bet is to try to keep it down to a low roar!

Like most kids, they actually like a routine. They want to know what's happening next (it helps with their concentration and engagement). Set and keep boundary's. They should know not to 'misbehave' before class, to stand quietly when bowing in (or whatever your 'start of the class' procedure is) and they should know that the first thing they start to do is warm ups. (I get them to run a circuit around the dojo then get them to jump, hop, skip, side walk, roll, crawl, etc etc - pretending to be animals is good too!)

Then you do your "technical bit", then a bit of practice, then a game. Rinse and repeat.

Give the kids a favourite game at the end (we play "sumo" with them). This is their reward for a good lesson.

As a martial arts teacher, the way you behave directly influences the kids (and the parents) so you must never lose your temper.

It's much better to reward good behaviour than to discipline bad behaviour. If you know "little Johnny" is a PITA then try to catch him doing something good, and reward him (try to get that in early). If he then starts to play up then tell him your disappointed 'cause he was doing so well (and the warning) and if he repeats the misdemeanor then he will sit out for 5 minutes. Then catch him doing something good again (real quick).

It's funny, but it does work! Everyone wants to be accepted, wants to be liked. Some kids have learnt that they can get attention from being bad. You need to show them that they can get better results by "just not being that bad".

Finally, at the end of the lesson, re-enforce the good things he did and say "see ya next week!". And start next week completely fresh with no hang ups or carry over from the previous week. If the kids comes back, it's 'cause he wants to come back so give him credit.


I have a slight problem with the idea that anyone coming to a martial arts class needs disciplining. Based on the way you ask your question, we can assume it is, in fact, 2 questions.

  1. What's the most effective way to discipline adult students?
  2. What's the most effective way to discipline junior students?

In response to the former, I ask you to consider yourself, an adult, being disciplined by another adult. Perhaps you've been disruptive, intentionally or not. Would you rather a.) be humiliated or singled out or made to be the cause of public scorn, or b.) politely asked not to return if you can't control yourself? I'll presume the answer to be "b", assuming of course that you are a logical and empathetic adult.

In response to the latter, you simply have to demonstrate what it means to be disciplined, rather to enforce some form of punishment. If you can not do this effectively, then you do not belong teaching youth classes. There are, of course, tricks to doing just this that many have not figured out, but they are relatively simple:

  1. Tell the kids "Do XYZ." rather than "Don't do ABC." In order for a human being to understand a negative, they must first process the positive, then negate it. Children typically do not have the attention span to process further than the affirmative.
  2. Keep it simple. Studies have found that children watching Sesame Street pay attention when they understand something; further, they tend to "tune in" on 90% of Blues Clues.
  3. Keep them entertained. Find new ways to present the same information repetitively without boring them. Children will become disruptive if they're disinterested; they become disinterested when they become overwhelmed; they become overwhelmed when there's too much information that they do not understand.

Keeping abreast of educational research studies like those conducted around children's education programs (like Blue's Clues and Sesame Street) can make you a far better educator of children. If you eliminate the idea of disciplining the students and instead teach them to discipline themselves, you'll have a far easier time managing your class.


Of the methods I've used, by and far the most effective was to have undisciplined students go back to doing basic beginner techniques, while the rest moved on to other things.

It might go something like this: The class is getting out of control. No one's listening. Kids are talking over their instructor and making the class look like a joke. Signal firmly 'Everyone line up! You're forgetting what you've learned here; so we're going to have to go back through the basics.' Everyone starts back at the white-belt curriculum; moving together on count. Keep things moving at a relatively slow but deliberate pace. Make corrections every few counts.

When you see improvement in some students, point out that that's what you want to see; and send them to the next technique. If you have a co-instructor send the students who are getting their act together to do something more rewarding.

This didn't turn around the worst problem students, but it made a huge difference in the group mentality. Example: When reminding the class to keep their hands up, one made a joke like 'we have to hold our hands out even though we're not getting snacks?'. Before, everyone would have laughed and started making their own jokes. Now he was met with an embarrassing silence. He didn't put near as much effort in disrupting the class after that. He didn't want to be in martial arts though, and his parents moved him to another sport. The students who stayed learned to be a more positive influence and developed more self-respect.


Honestly, these are all great answers. Sometimes you will find students that will be disrespectful or disruptive intentionally and this is when you should remind them that it is a martial art class, not baseball practice or dance. Adults and teenagers are invited to spar. Kids are given a sharp swat on the backside or leg. When I was training, this is how it was done. And, though not a first resort or frequently used, is rather effective and doesn't change the flow of class because of a single student's disruptive, disrespectful, or incorrect behaviour. I'm not saying injure them. However, there is a reason kids stop touching a hot stove after the first time.

  • 1
    You're advocating violence against a child as a form of discipline? In the UK, that goes against all current safeguarding advice!
    – Mike P
    Nov 4, 2015 at 10:18
  • This is utterly terrible advice. We are teachers not bullies! Nov 4, 2015 at 11:08

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