Okay before I get into the main question, I'll just outline the sparring structure we employ at the school where I teach.

Beginner level students do not spar at all to give them a chance to build up some confidence in blocking/kicking/striking before being put under pressure.

Intermediate level students go into very light or no contact sparring (point sparring) which has a small sub set of strikes and kicks that can be used to score a point. This gives them the opportunity to work on speed and control without being overwhelmed by the massive 'tool set' that they have available to them.

Advanced level students move up into contact sparring which allows significant contact (up to around 60% power) and allows the student to use most of the strikes and kicks they know provided that contact is limited to the chest protector (and any strikes to the back are strongly discouraged).

In both point and contact sparring full protective gear is worn - chest protectors, groin protectors (men), gloves, head protector, mouth guards and skin guards (optional). Obviously the use of gloves further limits the kinds of strikes that can be used.

Now to my question.

At the school we have been having issues with attendance levels of sparring classes - mostly the contact sparring classes. The Chief Instructor has investigated and found that a single student is a major contributing factor in the reluctance of students to participate. He is overly aggressive and competitive. He essentially bullies students that are newer to contact sparring and thus less able to handle his intimidation techniques while in the ring. He also lacks fitness and so makes up for this by going in even harder - especially on the students that can challenge him technically. Most of the significant 'incidents' we have had in sparring classes over the last few years have involved him in some way and one those was serious enough to get him suspended from contact sparring for a period of time.

The Chief Instructor is considering suspending him from contact sparring again while still allowing him to attend point sparring so he can work on control. However, this hasn't worked in the past since it's still an issue now. The Chief Instructor also doesn't want to lose this student but for the greater good of the school something has to be done.

Does anyone here have any suggestions for how this can be dealt with?


The Chief Instructor has decided to give him another chance but is going to step in and be active in all sparring classes for the immediate future. I think he is going try to use it as an educational opportunity for all students (not just this one causing issues). However, if the student doesn't like it and ends up leaving because of it then so be it

  • A simple way to put students in their place is to have them spar someone beyond their capabilities. Aug 4, 2015 at 12:03
  • We did consider bringing him to spar with the instructors but that probably would have been counter-productive. The more advanced students are mostly able to handle him . Having said that, he has a way of going too far, too hard with some of those guys too. On multiple occasions he has pushed otherwise calm/controlled people to the point of wanting to pound him into the ground. No other student has triggered this kind of response.
    – Instructor
    Aug 5, 2015 at 1:10

6 Answers 6


Is the student toxic?1

If yes then get ride of him as soon as possible. If they have no desire to change, then they have to go. Actually, that might be harsh: offer him the choice of either mending his ways or training elsewhere.

If maybe, then you have to figure out if they are willing to change their behaviour. Again, you need to talk to them in an open and non-judgemental way. Explain the perceive problem(s) making sure you criticism actions and not individuals. Said student might not realise the trouble he is causing. You need to with with him to come up with a solution everyone is happy with.

If no then you have some work to do. Start by working out why he exhibits the traits he does. Is it inexperience, frustration, or a drive to be better? Is he not realising that the red mist is coming over his eyes? Does he fear being "weak"? Those can be easily channelled into something positive. Does he realise that he is acting in an unsafe manner? Is it just a lack of training? The bottom line is: work with him to figure out (in as much a non-judgemental way as you can muster) why he does the things he does. Once you know why they are acting in the way they are, it is much easier to find a common ground to move forward.

1. By toxic I mean unsafe, egoistical, and disrespectful.

  • By your definition this student would probably be considered toxic. Huge ego, is unsafe and, while I wouldn't say that he is overtly disrepectful, I've definitely detected some 'attitude' at times.
    – Instructor
    Aug 4, 2015 at 6:43
  • Don't keep somebody around who is unsafe and discouraging to other students, and has already resisted efforts to modify his behavior. Why would you want someone like that in your school?
    – Larry
    Aug 8, 2015 at 0:55

Do you know what the student wants out of the class? I have found the first place to look for resolution is to look for a win-win. If there is a way the Chief Instructor can help him accomplish what he wants to get from the class without affecting the others, then that is the win-win.

Of course, this is not nearly so easy as typing a paragraph about how to look for win-wins. What the student wants out of the class is not always what they will verbalize as their purpose for going to class. The Chief Instructor may need to demonstrate remarkable sensitivity in reading between the lines to determine what the student actually wants.

Perhaps there is a way to make him value point-sparing more. Is there a way he could become an example to others as to how to do it well? If you can convince him to accept a mentorship/leadership role like that, he may be able to gain enough value out of point-sparring to be worth his while.

Perhaps there's a way to have two sparring sessions? Perhaps one where he joins, and one where he is asked to step into point-sparring. It may help him to notice people electing not to be in his bracket. That way he can get his punches in, but it can be clear that he needs to also focus on control.

Also worth noting is that he most likely considers his control "good enough," despite being called out on it. My experience on that type of individual is that they are actually unaware that there is a higher level of control to be had, and that the other fighters are applying it! (This is first hand experience: I was one of them... and I leave it to my peers to opine whether I still am)

In the end, the final question will be safety. Anyone who is too aggressive in full contact sparing is a danger to others, and your words suggest that, with him, this is not prophecy but merely old information. This is where I would want to know if he treats himself as "part of a martial arts group," or "an individual who paid to learn martial arts." If it is the latter, I would not be so worried about letting him go. I would encourage him to try to become part of the group, and start to learn how working together improves training, but if he doesn't get that, let him go.

  • I expect that the Chief Instructor will be having a conversation with the student this week to try to determine this. This student does show a lot more control when participating in Point Sparring classes. He still does as much as he needs to ensure he wins the match but his aggression is generally toned down a lot - probably because students at this level are usually no challenge for him to 'beat'.
    – Instructor
    Aug 2, 2015 at 23:33
  • We do have multiple classes per week but as he tends to go to all of those sessions semi-regularly it puts people off going to any of them. Some students come for other classes but will bring their gear and only spar if he isn't there or do Point Sparring instead.
    – Instructor
    Aug 2, 2015 at 23:53
  • You mention he tends to calm down if there is no one to "beat." Are there any students there who are sufficiently advanced to dominate him regardless of the aggression? If so, does he go after them aggressively as well, or does he only become aggressive with a match that is close? That may be a detail that would be helpful to identify when figuring out the best way to approach him.
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 3, 2015 at 0:01
  • Yeah, most of the bigger and/or more advanced men are usually able to handle him with little trouble (generally speaking). Having said that, if he goes harder against them then they will also lift too and that's when things can start to spiral out of control.
    – Instructor
    Aug 3, 2015 at 1:51

In our schools we mix up our sparring training so that we can have everybody sparring simultaneously at times.

At others times a couple of choice students spar whilst the others watch. Pausing frequently to swap students and give feedback (positive-negative-positive for morale/confidence).

This method also allows an instructor to act as a referee (you can also get students to practice umpiring in these sessions). As referee you can give warnings/fouls as would be accrued in competition (I actually like to be more strict in these sessions so students aren't caught out at competitions).

This is helpful as the student will see how their behaviour is costing them the spar (you can also take more time over giving the warnings and fouls to explain what they have done and why it isn't allowed) - it is also useful for watching students to see what is allowed.

As other answers have stated - if these methods don't quickly alter their behaviour then eject the student. Ejecting one problem student to keep a good student is a no-brainer in the long run.


When I was in Taekwondo I was this kid. I wasn't arrogant but I was very tough on the other students below my level. I didn't beat them up but you could tell I was punishing on them and they didn't enjoy their sparring time. I thought it was fun. So the head instructor started inviting other head instructors from other schools to assist during our classes(who were above his rank). I had to spar them and let me tell you, I was put in my place many times. They didn't pound on me, but I never even got a point or made any contact on them whatsoever. You know how a good instructor will go half speed for a student to give them a sense of confidence. I wasn't given that. I got the idea pretty quick.


He is overly aggressive and competitive. He essentially bullies students that >are newer to contact sparring and thus less able to handle his intimidation >techniques while in the ring. He also lacks fitness and so makes up for this by >going in even harder - especially on the students that can challenge him >technically.

Seems your's is a non-traditional school. Traditional training would have / should have corrected these issues in the first year of study. Being well-trained in many techniques, aggressive only when necessary, exceptionally fit and exceedingly polite are required for traditional training. Whether someone is highly competitive is a personal trait that can be cultivated and refined.

Perhaps he should be invited to practice with your Chief Instructor?


Don't let the weak students fight him. He is obviously going to be a great fighter, so reigning him in is just going to make him frustrated and force him to quit. By the same token, letting weaker students spar with him will demoralise them and make THEM quit. So have him fight someone in a higher weight class/ age bracket if possible.

  • 3
    I would amend that to "skilled" fighter. A "great" fighter would be one who could unleash when needed, but be able to control and adapt when facing an obviously weaker opponent in a learning setting. You learn nothing by bashing in the face of a less skilled opponent. That is ego stroking, nothing more.
    – JohnP
    Aug 3, 2015 at 22:48
  • You're right. Though that's why I said to let him fight stronger/bigger opponents. He'll learn to be "great" soon enough. Aug 4, 2015 at 6:56

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