I have recently started instructing an older age group than the previous one: the class is composed of more advanced students of age 8-13.

Over the past few weeks I've noticed that when the students walk in they are less respectful with me as they were with the former instructor. When I told him about this, he replied that I had to discipline them.

My question is: how to do it?

  • Can you be more specific about how they are being "less respectful?" What do you mean by "when the students walk?"
    – Larry
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 19:34

5 Answers 5


Good question.

Children are harder to discipline than adults, because they are more likely to push the boundaries, they are less likely to take responsibility for their actions, and they'll frequently have a parent who thinks the sun shines from their wazoo and their little angel could do no wrong.

As their new instructor you have to let them know in no uncertain terms exactly where the boundaries are and what is acceptable to you. They need to know that there are differences between you and the previous instructor. Do it verbally to the whole class (several times if needed to make sure you inform everyone, repetition is good), then follow it up with an informative news letter which you also expect the parents to read.

My sensei runs a dedicated kids class, and he introduced a home/school progress component into the gradings. In other words, the kids couldn't progress to the next belt unless they had reports from the school and from home that they had been good - this meant that homework was done, bedrooms were consistently kept tidy, allocated tasks at home were done, and general behavior was good. This approach to teaching and grading has seen some excellent results - and the parents love it and support it.

While you do want the kids to behave and show respect in class, you also have to remember that they are kids - so you'll need to be a bit less traditional and a bit more fun. Kids respond to happiness and fun. But if punishment is required, don't punish the individual - use the power of the group and punish the whole group, make the whole class do 10 or 20 press ups. If you've built a good rapport within the group this approach should work well, the peer pressure within the group should help stamp out problems.

If individuals are not bonding well within the group or are consistently badly behaved, then have a talk with the parent/caregiver - you can't have one person spoiling the progress of the class. It's better to pre-emptively drop one student than to eventually have several others drop out due to that one.


Respect must be earned, not simply demanded.

I have always had a problem dealing with mental illness. Sometimes people with mental illness tend to push your boundaries quite a lot (ex: OCD), where they have an obsessive compulsion to test you. I have never figured that one out. Other than that, boundaries are pretty easy to set and reinforce, and I think and most people respect them, when you let them know.

I used to teach children martial arts. I think one thing that helped me was to give the kids something to do, and positive reinforcement. Kids like being active. They were in line and enjoyed learning the martial art. Expecting kids to sit still is not respecting their age limitations in my opinion. It is important to realize children's age limitations.

I like that the one teacher used a belt system to teach kids discipline at home: clean room, homework done, etc., before they could earn a belt.

Our martial arts academy did not use a belt ranking system (there was one instructor who knew the most and we listened too) and I also liked that too.

  • I just wrote the previous comment (Bob). I would recommend positive reinforcement. And possibly such as we will wait to start the class till everyone is in a line.
    – Bob
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 17:39
  • OCD seems like an odd match for "pushing boundaries" given it's all about having unwanted thoughts and performing rituals to banish said thoughts. Are you looking for a different mental disorder? Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 15:27

From personal very rough but effective experience. I started Kyokushin when I was 7, in post USSR era. Our Sensei had many medals from competitions around the former USSR as well as some hardcore training in the army.

His goal was to make champions and not run a "fitness club" as he called it. He made people who are falling behind do extra things like push-ups etc, fight with higher belts.

All push-ups had to be done on your knuckles, sit-ups with weights or while holding a lighter partner on your shoulders. He wasn't afraid to whip your foot with his belt if your kicks weren't improving after being told what to do.

People were openly told where they were falling behind and asked to improve or leave. If it was a kid 7-10, then their parents were advised that their child was not fit for this sport, and shouldn't waste their own time and find something more suitable. What ended up happening was people that came in and tried to mess around only lasted a week or less. Usually left full of tears from pain or disappointed mentally. But people that stayed all had some kind of achievements in competitions. Some more,some less.

So the question you have to ask yourself and your students is "what do you want your students to achieve?". If they're there to loose weight or let out steam, tell them that there are far more effective places like gym to do these things. If they're there to become a well rounded disciplined fighter and a person, then they came to the right place and they must abide by the rules, and show respect.

One thing to note is that he never shouted or argued. He explained everything in a calm and straightforward matter.

  • Some people who start out fooling around, giving it half effort, or simply not being naturally athletic, will turn out weeks or months later having something "click" and turning into some of the best and most dedicated students. It would be a shame to be too aggressive in "weeding them out" too early in the process, unless they are so disruptive as to be actively inhibiting the progress of other more serious students.
    – Larry
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 19:32
  • I know what you mean. But over the years I've noticed that this "some" is very small %. I liked his approach, hence why I changed my daughters gymnastics clubs until I found a coach that ran his club the same way I was thought karate. She not only learned that she loves gymnastics, but she also learned respect and discipline.
    – ibimon
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 14:03
  • I'm all for respect and discipline. Somebody can be respectful, disciplined, interested, and dedicated, and yet still be "falling behind" compared to quicker students. I was just commenting that the best goal of martial arts instruction is not necessarily or exclusively to "make champions" in a way that purposely weeds out under-performers early on.
    – Larry
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 0:32

First of all the trainer has to have a respect. How the trainer can get the respect? I think that the best way to achieve this is by: your personal achievements (medals etc), great shape and attitude, great technique and eventually in randoris/sparings with attendees (if they can participate in this).

That way of getting respect (and what follow this is a good behaviour of attendees) is what I have experienced on my judo lessons.

The other way I experienced while training muay thai. The trainer disciplined us by giving us extra push ups or any other (sometimes quite painful) exercises. This is quite hard to finish but be able do it first on your own :)

Personally I would go for the first option, second works imvho but is not good.

  • 1
    Number of medals has zero to do with being an effective instructor.
    – JohnP
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 20:14
  • medals are part of an example to my answer
    – Julian
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 20:24

Perhaps point out that you are teaching potentially lethal combat techniques, and in order to keep them safe, it is imperative that they focus and pay attention. Ask, how can you trust them with combat techniques if they can't even manage basic etiquette. No respect = no tuition and guidance. Don't be afraid to ask them to sit out.

A few years ago a good leg sweep was acceptable, but unfortunately nowadays everyone wants to sue each other so your options are quite limited.

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