Hapkido has an extremely large number of techniques and an even larger number of variations in it. It includes a huge variety of techniques with the hands, feet, and with various weapons. Not to mention that there's a tendency to teach you progressively more fluid variations as you continue to train (so basics, then advanced basics, etc). Then there's also the matter of needing to learn how to teach it.

My particular class is a small class of mostly upper kup and dan ranks, but with a few lower belts as well (one white belt and one 9th kup at the moment). The challenge I am seeing is in making sure that, in the course of the class, the students are getting sufficiently exposed to the breadth of the material while not losing focus on the depth of their individual understanding. As an example, we recently we realized that a 4th kup had basically never seen a set of techniques that we taught for a long while at white belt. Simply because with so much to cover it had been skipped over.

It being a small class presents an additional level of challenge, because it isn't always easy to simply split the class. I've heard of people trying lesson plans with gap analysis and other things along those lines, but I am not sure how well they work in practice in this sort of environment.

I know that we are not the only art that has this phenomena, so I figured I would put the question out there: What is a good method to make sure that the material is being adequately covered in a small class?

  • Not really an answer, but...there is a sense in which the difficulties of small classes argue in favor of relatively frequent ranking exams. That way you can hand the student a syllabus for the test and they have an opportunity to say "Uh...do I know this stuff?". Then you can fix the deficiencies in your recent coverage. Commented May 7, 2012 at 12:25
  • Great question. +1
    – stslavik
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:20
  • I'd like more information: how long between each ranking test, and how many times do they train with you per week?
    – Anon
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 17:05
  • @Trevoke I can answer that, but I don't know how relevant it is for the general case since all that it changes are the specifics of the application and the specifics of the pacing. The question stands regardless of the number of belts, time between them, or the number of lessons involved. Commented May 7, 2012 at 18:09
  • Hmm. Interesting argument. I feel like a small group that means once a week and is testing every year does not face the same problem as a small group that means three times a week and is testing every year.. But you might be right.. I'll see if I can figure out an answer that does not depend on these qualifications.
    – Anon
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 18:59

4 Answers 4


What is a good method to make sure that the material is being adequately covered in a small class?

I am fortunate in my training that I haven't just learned from one instructor, but have studied under at least a dozen different instructors at different times. There are two approaches that I saw, and my approach was born out of a combination.

1) The Rigid Lesson Plan

Most martial arts have a logical progression: Basic, Intermediate, Advanced. Often times, classes will be divided up according to these progressions, making for more manageable selections for teaching, but this is not always the case.

The rigid lesson plan is a syllabus of all the techniques you're approved to teach from beginning to end. Generally, this is determined by the school, but if you're on your own, it's your responsibility. In the Bujinkan for instance, we have the Ten Chi Jin Ryaku no Maki, which details all the techniques that should be known by the time you reach shodan.

With your syllabus in hand, start at the beginning. Practice each technique for as long as it merits (you need to decide this based on class performance, but generally between 15 and 30 minutes per technique is good for a 2 hour class). You're not going to make it through the spectrum each class, so don't bother trying. Make it as far as you make it, then place a marker in your book. Next class, you pick up at that point and move forward.

Eventually, you will get through everything. If a student has never seen the pre-requisite for a technique, then it's sink-or-swim time. Expect them to try, not to succeed. When the pre-requisite technique comes around again, they'll learn it.

  • Pros: Everything get's taught in a relatively predictable sequence.
  • Cons: Classes can get boring for more advanced students.

2.) Teach What You Want, When You Want

My first Bujinkan instructor took the route that he would teach us what he wanted when he wanted. We would sink-or-swim each class. The key here is that you're teaching what you're passionate about, and you know what you're looking for with your students. In small classes, this is great because you adapt what you're teaching based on their skill levels, then each time you look at them practicing, you focus on one aspect: perhaps foot movement, or perhaps their angles... Then you tell them what you think: "Very good" or just shake your head. They may never know where they stand with you, but they sure as hell will work hard for the "very good"s.

You need to not just be wandering around while you teach this way, though. You have to participate. Pick a student and practice with them when you train in two-person techniques. If you're performing kata or poomsae, then pull it apart with them and show them when and where it works.

You have to know your students for this to work. If you don't, focus on the ones you do know until you know them all. Encourage the newbies by taking time to ask if they understand. You don't have to necessarily explain, but demonstrate the technique again when they don't. Force them to struggle and they will be excellent.

  • Pros: In the long run, those that stick with the art will be far more adaptable than those with the rigid lesson plan.
  • Cons: Short term, you may see that a lot of students don't like not knowing where they stand, and may quit.

3.) My way

I have a full lesson plan that I make available to my students if they want it. Every technique that I teach is described in detail. If I'm teaching mostly newbies, I teach the fundamentals and expand them how I feel like at that moment. If I'm teaching more advanced students, I may teach a class based solely around a principle (nagare [flow], or control, or angles), but I always give them a reference to go back to. If I'm showing flow, I may demonstrate the full technique form of oni kudaki before doing it very small with adaptations of body movement.

This is about knowing how you're comfortable teaching. You have to be confident in your students abilities, and if you're not you have something to fall back upon (the syllabus).

  • Pros: Classes aren't boring because they're not predictable.
  • Cons: Visitors (especially lower-level) hate this and think you're doing it wrong since you're not doing it the way they've been doing it, and may turn some of your students off to you as well.

No matter what teaching style you may choose, you're always making trade-offs. There's no perfect system, and no everyone will learn the same way. Ultimately, you have to do what you're comfortable with and make sure that you're confident in your abilities to teach the material effectively with minimal interruption. Less interruption means more practice.

  • A little bit of each for me. I plan to hit four of five broad areas in the next month or so, and announce this in advance. Then I go with the flow at each lesson. Commented May 7, 2012 at 17:31
  • It can help too to ask yourself what your goal is. Sometimes your long term goal is just to get them capable to defend themselves. Other times, it's about getting them capable to do one technique. Only you know your expectations.
    – stslavik
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 17:40

It helps to have an established curriculum or progression through your system. Your system does sound like it has that, but perhaps something was simply missed or perhaps there isn't a structure of progression of the things that people need to learn.

With a huge breadth of material to learn, a way to cover those teachings is to drill out the fundamentals that are essential to your style. This is something that I do in my particular system, and no matter what level anyone is, we continue to work even on what seems like the most basic of movements simply because they are the foundation of all the advanced material you learn later. For what we do, it scales up and down for large and small classes. Our school promotes a culture of learning and understanding so that no one feels like they are superior or inferior to each other, because we all have to go through the same thing.

Sometimes when people reach a certain level, their path in their art might diverge. Within in our school, part of this plays to people's different strengths and weaknesses. People might learn certain weapons or hand forms that "fit" them (in terms of movements, personality, characteristics, etc.). Another way to look at this is in how do you pass down the teachings and traditions to your students and maintain the "life" of the knowledge so that it doesn't "die." However, given that, we still continue to emphasize and focus on what makes your kung fu "good," and a huge part of that goes back to the basics that everyone learns and will eventually be tested when the time comes.

I'm not sure if I understand "splitting the class" properly, but I am guessing you mean into various levels like beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The way I read this is sub-dividing the students within the class to drill various exercises. This is something that I've done whenever we've had small classes. Sometimes the students will be at similar levels, or their years of experience might differ. In the latter case, sometimes you can have a group of students work on something together in their own group (whether one or a few people) while helping another with different materials and bouncing between the two groups. Once in a while, we might just have everyone drill the same thing together (again, because we emphasize our fundamentals).

If you can allow this type of thing, sometimes having the more senior students help out with teaching class or showing various techniques can lift the burden. How you decide this is up to you really. It is a valuable tool for both the teacher and the student; teach to learn and learn to teach.

If there's anything to take away from this, I'd say figure out the exact materials and lessons you want to teach your students. Create a plan of progression of what you want to emphasize from the beginning to later years so that you can cover the aspects of what your system entails.


The challenge I am seeing is in making sure that, in the course of the class, the students are getting sufficiently exposed to the breadth of the material while not losing focus on the depth of their individual understanding. As an example, we recently we realized that a 4th kup had basically never seen a set of techniques that we taught for a long while at white belt. Simply because with so much to cover it had been skipped over.

I'm inclined to harp a little bit on the 'Rigid curriculum' that stslavik mentioned in his answer. Define a subset of ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY SKILLS that each rank must, simply MUST have. Make sure this subset is LESS than the time that these students will be in class. Now:

  • You have an easy frame of reference for testing
  • You can split the class easily by telling the ranks you are not actively working with to work on a particular technique
  • Everyone has more time than requirements (Ah, wouldn't that be nice if it were true?), so it's OK if you take three black belts to work on a green belt drill. Chances are they could use it anyway. And of course, rotate the partners so the black belts are sometimes together, sometimes with lower ranks.
  • The previous point means that you can now say: "Work on drill X" and if they say they haven't seen it yet, you can pull the entire class into teaching that particular drill and still easily split the class by giving the lower ranks drills that THEY know
  • You can pull a higher rank who needs teaching experience and let them lead/teach a drill to lower ranks without worry or concern.

Okay, now the problems:

  • It's easy to progressively devolve into "This is the curriculum, you only need to know this".
  • It's easy for a student to say "Why am I being tested on this? It's not in the curriculum."
  • It's easy for a student to say "Why am I learning this? It's not in the curriculum."
    • To the previous two points I want to say, "Find another school", but that's of course not always a good business decision. There is no perfect answer, these must be handled on a case-by-case basis if they crop up.
  • It's HARD to come up with an efficient subset and not leave out something essential
  • You might get criticized for trying to create a new martial art when, inevitably, you make a change or create a drill to encompass a few concepts that it takes too long to teach on their own.

One way might be to wrap the ranks with "What a student is taught right after they get to this rank" (which might involve a new way of doing basics and such), "What a student is taught right before the test" and of course "What a student is taught in-between".


I've trained Hapkido under a couple different instructors, and while the curricula had some differences, they were more similar than not. One thing that really struck me is the selection of technqiues at each level was almost arbitrary, and out of order from how they should be taught. Some techniques that were taught to white belts really shouldn't have been taught until the variation taught to green belts had been taught.

So what I would suggest is find the most basic variation of a technique (from any belt level), and teach that to everyone. The lower belts would just focus on that one and the out of order one for their respective belt test, while the higher belts would practice a wider variety. This way you would have one day/week in which the focus is on hip throws or arm throws, the lower belts would practice 1 or 2, while the higher belts would practice 5-8.

The lower belts get exposed to a small number of techniques to ensure they don't get overwhelmed and start confusing one technique for another, and the higher belts don't end up missing out on some important lower belt techniques because everyone is learning those together in the class.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.