I’ve been training in Taekwondo for more than 13 years now. In that time I’ve attended classes as a student, and I’ve also taught as an assistant instructor and instructor. As a student I’ve seen which classes are enjoyable and interesting, and I’ve tried to distill what it is that makes a good Taekwondo class. And as an instructor I’ve tried to use these ideas to teach interesting and effective Taekwondo classes, and through trial and error, have found what works and what doesn’t work. Here are five general principles that I try to follow when teaching a Taekwondo class.
1. Students shouldn’t be standing still for more than 30 seconds.
I’ve been to too many Taekwondo classes where students have been left standing around with nothing to do for several minutes. You can see them getting bored – it doesn’t take long. While I don’t think that the primary purpose of a Taekwondo class is to keep students physically fit, it is something that should just happen incidentally – students should be doing enough exercises to become and remain physically fit. Many people do attend Taekwondo classes for that reason.
2. Never do the same class twice.
I’ve also been to too many classes that have just been exact copies of previous classes. This is a sure way to make your students bored. Variety is essential for maintaining your students’ interest and enthusiasm.
This doesn’t mean that no two lessons can be alike in any way – if you were to try to make every single lesson completely different from every other one, you’d quickly run out of teaching material. It just means that no two lessons are exactly alike. There should always be something different about any two lessons, even if it’s just doing a different warm-up exercise.
3. In every class, teach your students one thing they haven’t heard before.
This relates to the point about variety, and that no two classes should be alike. An easy way to make sure that no two classes are exactly alike is to try to teach your students one completely new thing in each class. This could be almost anything to do with Taekwondo: it could be a new sparring technique, it could be how to score points when refereeing sparring match, or it could be something about the history of Korea. There is a lot to know in Taekwondo, and most students only ever see a fraction of it. Teaching your students one new thing in every class not only adds variety and keeps your students from becoming bored, but it might introduce them to some aspect of Taekwondo that they find particularly interesting.
4. Always give higher grades something harder to do than the lower grades.
Again, I have been to too many classes where the class consists of a wide range of grades – from white belt all the way up to third degree black belt – and because there are white belts in the group, the entire class does white belt (or often yellow belt) line work. While black belts do need to practise basic techniques like punches and knife-hand strikes, they don’t need to do this all the time, and they DO need to practise the more advanced techniques that they’re learning for their grade. If you always give black belts white belt exercises to do, they will get bored.
If there are a large spread of grades in a Taekwondo class, the class needs to be split into groups. If there are black belts (and if there are enough of them), they almost always need to be split off into a separate group, and given very hard, physically demanding exercises to do – they are black belts after all. If the group of colour belts is large enough, they should be split too – normally around green or blue belt. If you only have one or two black belts in the class, one of them can instruct one of the colour belt groups.
And even if the class is not large enough to be split, if you’re doing something like line work, you should still give the higher grades some harder line work to do.
5. Get the senior grades to teach the junior grades.
This is something that we did a lot in the Taekwondo classes I go to 10 years ago (and which we still do now, though not to the same extent). If two green belt students need to learn the pattern Wonhyo, and there is a blue belt in your class who knows their own pattern quite well, get them to teach the green belts Wonhyo. It gives the blue belt something interesting to do; it helps the blue belt ‘revise’ Wonhyo, and think about it in a different way as they have to describe the moves to someone else; and it frees you up to monitor the class at a higher level – to make sure everyone is active, rather than just concentrating on teaching two students in your class one pattern.