I sometimes have to lead classes in my club. Most of the members will do what I say but there are one or two members more senior than me who will almost always go off on a tangent and not listen to me when I try to get them to focus.

I do understand that they want to play and train variants and, if they are working with people of suitable level, I don't mind as much. However, when they are training with beginners, I feel they confuse that individual and undermine me as "sensei" for that lesson. What are the best ways to deal with these individuals in this situation?

6 Answers 6


A good coach does not need to be better than his students but they need to understand how to make their students better. It is not easy but I feel that this is what you are lacking.

I would allows the senior grades to train with each other for some of the session time: during that time, you tell them to do a kata such as the kaishiwaza or all variations on kote gaeshi that they know. Let them play! Tell hem to do one kata as tori and uke then pick one technique each within that kata that they feel is weak ask the other for advice and practice this one technique a dozen times -- both tori and uke.

If they are really keen on free play, let them do randori (kakari-geiko, softo-randori, or even shiai!) for that time. Make sure they all rotate so they get to play with everyone.

During the rest of the time, ask them to help you teach. Ask them to demonstrate techniques. Ask them to just be uke, no tori work at all, with the lower grades. This will make their break falls even better and show them which technique they struggle with: if you cannot teach it, you do not understand it. I would do this first, then split the class.

  • A collection of very sensible ideas! Thank you! I had not considered this approach before. I am not sure when I am to teach again but i will bear this in mind. Nov 18, 2015 at 14:06

You may see this as disruptive, and you may feel anxiety as a result.

Provided they are respecting your commands in general I would strongly suggest that you don't worry about it. Going off on tangents while doing one on one training or drills is important - this type of experimentation can lead to the students learning new applications for moves, and just as importantly they can learn what variations don't work.

This practice of exploring tangents is actually ingrained and valued in my home dojo. Of course we don't expect students to deviate too far from the specified activity, nor do we allow people to act up while doing this. If it looks like it is getting out of hand a suitably senior student or sensei will normally pull the students back into line - and this is something you will have to get comfortable with if you want to lead classes.

  • 1
    I agree completely. I know when I train I find it invaluable. I do not find it helpful with beginners though as sometimes they are already out of their depth (if doing a complex technique) and then the individual shows them something different and encourages them to try it their way. In this situation, I worry for the student and don't want them to be too overwhelmed. Nov 18, 2015 at 12:35
  • @NinjaArekku In cases like that you have to trust the senior student. If the beginner starts to look confused then that is a signal for you to step in. I've found that a little bit of tangential creativity can hook the beginners right in, too much line work and rote moves tends to bore them or be a bit tedious (remember that all beginners want to learn cool moves now, some creativity helps feed that need).
    – slugster
    Nov 18, 2015 at 12:54

I totally understand your problem I have had similar problems and often with people who are of the same grade as me and sometimes even students of a lower grade than myself.

I would suggest perhaps splitting the class up, let the higher grades that cause confusion use one half of the dojo to do more advanced practice and you take the lower grade students and keep control that way rather than trying to battle to be heard.

Alternatively if I am taking a class of mixed grades, I sometimes bring the higher grade to the front of the class and assign them one or two low grade students that they can teach perhaps a kata/form or even help them improve on a certain kick or basic.

Hope this helps or gives you some guidance.


The simplest approach I know is to have everyone change partners regularly. There is no confrontation necessary with this approach, you reduce the impact a poorly matched partner has on any one person's training, people get to practice on a variety of bodies, and it's better for social mixing.

Also, the tangent problem (not always a problem, but when it is) is not unique to your seniors. I attended a seminar led by a very high rank instructor, senior to all attendees. At the beginning of a session, this instructor stated that people would want to add additional moves and practice things that were more complicated, but they should not do so. Even after this warning, I would estimate the compliance rate was only ~50%. I asked the instructor about this, and his response was that you can show someone the door, but it is their responsibility to go through. The instructor needs to set the conditions necessary for success, but it is the student's responsibility to execute.


I think it depends on how far off they're getting, and what they're doing in that tangent.

If they are working with beginners and not working the techniques you/the instructor is showing then they are doing that student a dis-service (and themselves, but they are responsible for their own training).

Even as a mid-level student (lots of time in, but I'm slow at physical things) it is a great frustration for me to go to a seminar or work in a different dojo and work with someone that isn't on the same scroll as the instructor.

Eventually I just figured out that I'd learn what I could from that guy, then try to catch up when we switched partners again.

We (IMO) do not learn from the guy at the front of the class (generally) we learn from each other. We learn from doing, and having done to us (it is often more valuable to be Uke than Tori).

It is absolutely critical to learning that we be the best training partner we can be, both for ourselves and for our fellow students.

That said, sometimes something catches your mind, or you see something in a junior that really needs to be corrected right there. If you (the instructor for that session) didn't catch what happened right before, then you might not understand why the divergence took place.

You should talk about your concerns (privately) with the Senior Instructor in your school and ask him (a) what he thinks of this, and (b) how you should address it in your classes.


I am but a simple judoka and far from having real training experience, so this is a simple advice. It depends what the class is committed to do and what your training style is. In military the discipline is enforced by extra number of pushups, and also by punishing the whole group when an individual missbehaves. Sometimes this is done in martial arts as well, depending on the situation. If the style is lenient, a simple respectful and honest conversation with the two guys would probably do it, or maybe if you are patient enough they will probably realize by themselves that they are disturbing your class. From my humble experience some seniors are usually less disciplined with their younger sensei, although it is a bad mark on them.

  • Unfortunately I cannot use the extra pushups/punishment for a multitude of reasons (We have juniors and we dont have a need to build strength etc) and they do follow the more simple rules (start and stop training each technique etc). Nov 18, 2015 at 12:13

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