3 Secrets to Being a Karate Instructor That Kids L-O-V-E (& Respect)

I can’t lie… I love my job! : -)

Being a Karate instructor isn’t easy.

Especially not if you teach kids.

It requires knowledge, creativity, psychology, kindness and looooots of patience.

But that’s not all.

If you teach kids, you shape the future of Karate.

What a HUGE responsibility!

That’s why it’s SUPER IMPORTANT that you’re GOOD at teaching kids’ classes.

(Otherwise, you sabotage the future of Karate.)


How can you become GOOD at teaching kids?

By first making sure they love and respect you.

Once you achieve that, the rest almost takes care of itself.

To help you, today I share my top 3 secrets for being a Karate instructor that kids love and respect – based on my experience from being both a “Karate Kid” and instructor.

I’ve never told these secrets to anyone before.

Check it out!

1. Reward Good Behavior (Don’t Punish Bad)

First of all…

There will always be kids in your class who behave like devils.

They scream, pull your hair, kick each other and cause a ruckus.

On the other hand, there will also be kids who behave like angels.

They stand perfectly in line, practice diligently and never make noise.

Here’s the important thing:

  • You should focus on rewarding the angels.
  • Not on punishing the devils.

In fact, you should ignore the “devils”.

Why It Works:

What you acknowledge, you reinforce. By openly approving good behavior – with your attention, words and actions – kids learn that good behavior is rewarded and therefore starts gravitating toward that.

It’s basic psychology.

Don’t yell at kids who misbehave.

Instead, reward kids who behave.

Gradually, the devils will become angels.

2. Never Ever, Ever, Ever, Ever Get Angry

Kids can sometimes be a nightmare to handle.

(Especially if you don’t have assisting instructors to help you.)

But no matter how wild the class is; never ever, ever, ever show anger.

If you find yourself screaming at your class, ask yourself this:

“Am I angry at the kids or myself?”

You’re supposed to be the calm and composed leader.

Don’t make a fool out of yourself.

Why It Works:

Kids don’t do what you say. They do what you do. And they easily forget what you tell them – but they rarely forget how you make them feel.

So, if you want kids to love and respect you, be strong, warm and secure.

Act the way you want the kids to behave.

Be a role model.

Not a loose cannon.

3. Always Begin & End With Fun Stuff


The first and last exercise of each Karate class must be fun.

(For example; a mini game of balance, coordination or agility.)

It doesn’t have to be advanced, just something that puts smiles on the kids’ faces.

Why It Works:

Scientific research tells us that kids’ attention, and subsequent memory, of an event (like a Karate class) is hyper focused during the first and final minutes of the event.

Therefore, the first and last moments (5-10 min) of class must be fun.

In this pic, I teach kata using “The Broccoli Method”. (Read more)

Interestingly, it doesn’t matter if the rest of class is ultra boring, because the kids will remember the whole class (45-60 min) as being fun.

Works like magic.

And that was my top 3 secrets for being a Karate teacher that kids love and respect.


You should know that love and respect doesn’t come quickly or easily. Oh no.

It needs to be earned over time.

But when you finally get it…

Everything changes.

Trust me. ; -)

Good luck!


  • Siaw
    Wow! This is great! I'll try out these next time
    • Awsome Nicole-san! It requires some practice - but let me know how it goes.
      • Inorque
        Hi, Jesse. I have been folowing your health karate articles. Its really what every karaté would know and live. I love suchly your job. I have been training Kimura Shukokai Internacional Karate since 2002 until Now in Mozambique. You are really halping me with your real teaches. Good bless you and still getting sucess for ever
  • Ruan Linker
    These 3 secrets will help me a lot in the future, thanks Jesse sensei. Greetings from Brazil
    • Thanks Ruan-san, that's great to hear! Muito obrigado :-)
  • Amar
    Works for adults, too! Cause, you know, adults are just big kids after all :P
  • Gavin
    This is really, really good advice Jesse. Thanks as always!
  • I think I have #2 pretty down pat. There's a difference between being firm, and being angry, when it comes to discipline. And I think I'm pretty good about staying calm. Discipline does not mean punishment, punishment is simply one of many avenues of achieving discipline in others. I will speak loud enough to be heard when chaos ensues, but not out of anger, simply to get the students' attention. I have a very small group of students, and they are all well behaved most of the time. However, I think I have a long way to go on working on #1. As for #3, my idea of fun may be different from my students, so I need to work on finding more things that are fun (but still relevant to karate!!) for them to do at the beginning and end of class. Thanks again for the well written brilliant insight Jesse-san!!
    • Thanks for chiming in Joël-san, great comment. Nice training with you in Canada! Keep up the awesomeness. :-)
  • Peter Damen
    Thanks Jesse. Great advice! No. 1 and especially no. 3 I'll have to work on...
  • Rob
    We will often take the last ten minutes of our kids' white belt class and play "Sensei Says" and have them practice their stances, strikes, kicks, blocks... The reward for being the winner is a stripe on their belt (drawn with a Sharpie). We have one young karateka who shows... less than stellar behavior on a regular basis. He picked up on the fact that, if he wanted a stripe on his belt, he had to pay attention and not goof around. He's still a terror on occasion but now that he has a couple of stripes, he's much easier to manage. We use the stripes as reward for many things and the kids love receiving them. It's a great way to provide a really short term goal/reward each class. That being said, I still need to constantly remind myself to remain calm and not give the negative behavior attention. Besides, giving attention to the negative behavior punishes the kids who are behaving and really trying to do well because it takes your attention (and time) away from them. Another great article!
  • Rob
    BTW, I would love to know what other games and fun exercises the rest of you use in your childrens classes
    • On occasion, we setup obstacle courses for the students. - Chairs with a bo or belt between them, students have to jump over, or crawl under - Stations where one of they they have to block sensei's punch, or they have to punch on the blockers - Stations they have to do push-ups or situps - Hulahoops they have to step or jump through - Cones on the floor, they have to C-step - Jumping jacks while they wait their turn between laps. Obstacle course is usually a big hit. Other favourites: Pair warm-ups - High five pushups (face to face pushup, slap hand across as they come up) - High five situps (lock feet together, high five as they come up) - Wheel barrow pushups (one partner stays up and holds the other's legs while they do pushups) ... just to name a few Chair warm-ups - Up downs (step up, step down) - Incline, decline pushups - Dips - Situps with legs floating over the chair - Touch squats (squat until you feel the chair, but don't sit, just go up) - Step up, kick (start from the floor, step up, kick while standing on the chair, step down) Weapons warmups - Step over pushups (put a weapon (e.g. bo) on the floor. Push up, step the hands across the weapon, push up, go back) - Scissors with sai (Holy crap that's a lot!! I should write this down!) All these variations keep it interesting for both the instructors and the students.
      • Rob
        What a fantastic list, thanks for sharing!
      • Moore
        Wonderful list..thanks for sharing.
  • Ossu! Bookmarked for future use!!! Thank you! @ Rob - a great person to ask might be Andrea Harkins ( http://www.themartialartswoman.com/contact-me/ )
    • Rob
      Thanks Joelle! I'm heading to her site now.
  • Anthony
    I have a point system in my class when I teach the kids. Every time they answer right to my question, practice hard or simply have good behavior I would give the kid a Strip of cloth(Ribon?) to atach to their belt. At the end of the class I would compiled the points of each student for a big prize pot at the end of the semester. Also for the devils, My Sensei told me to not be preocupied by them for as long as their mischief dosent bother another kid from doing the exercises! Good Read Jesse san!
  • We find all of this to be very true! Nice job :) you might like to check out the video showing some drill clips on our FB page. We just purchased a go-pro camera so even better and more interesting videos will be posted next week! Ohana Karate on FB.
  • Gary
    Very wise words. The same principle of only using positive feedback is used to train killer whales to leap through a hoop. Imagine getting cross with a killer whale. Oss.
  • Talaniel
    Nice post, Jesse :-) All three points are actually usable outside dojo I bet :-) I'm raising two kids and at least, the points #1 and #2 are really useful to know and use :-) Sometimes, it is really hard to not get angry :-)
  • DancingMachine
    Greetings from Brazil! Hi Jesse, I need your help. It's been four weeks since my last trip to the dojo, I am disheartened and do not know what to do. Can you give me some advice? Love your blog and sorry for my English, it sucks.
  • Great stuff! Some of this I had to figure out on my own. Other aspects I had not yet realized, but, will be giving a try. Domo Arigato, Jesse Sensei!
  • Taekwon-Do Girl
    My instructor usually ends the beginner class with rebreakable board-breaking, and I have to say...when I was a white belt that was the only thing I looked forward to doing! Now I prefer to work on the technique and my flexibility more than anything. I can almost do the splits now :D
  • Leander
    Awesome article!! Hey Jesse could you write an article about your trip to Brazil and how it was meeting sensei Machida and Vinicio Anthony,, it would be awesome! have a good day!
  • jarri
    Ossh... !! You are great Instructor. This article is very helpful for me to handle in my karate class,and I will to aplication this methode to avoid boring class. Thank so much Jesse.
  • Great article and I agree with you 100%. At our academy we always teach instructors the PCP principle. Praise, Correct, then praise again.
  • I absolutely love this article. Over the past year and a half I have had to step up my role as an instructor to to working commitments from one of our founding member's. As such I have been given responsibility for our 5-7 year olds 'Cubs' class. I have been doing the opposite in terms of number 1, haven't yet shouted but do get frustrated when they misbehave and I always try and end with a game so that they go away happier. Not only is it a learning curve for them but its a steep one for myself as well. I will be applying these principles when the classes start back after our summer break.
  • Great, refreshing advice. I've been teaching kids for twenty years and I have seen that if it is not fun, or if it is too serious, you will not retain students. I often get kids from other schools who leave their to join me because they want to enjoy what they are learning. Adding fun at the beginning and end is the trick to their retention.
  • Diego Ruiz
    Very good article Jesse San. On rewarding good behavior, what we do is to select the best student at the end of the class (we make sure we choose a different student every time). Kids love to compete among them.
  • Yoosuf Mahees
    Jesse I really appreciate all your great commitments towards Karate.
  • Simon Jones
    I'm not a Karate guy, but this is really good stuff, no matter your style. As an instructor I find myself focused on the devils a little to much. Great Stuff!!!
  • sideeq
    Thank you sir, thanks a lot This is such an interesting subject. Im also an karate instructor. I will surely follow these theory.
  • Moore
    Thanks a lot. This article has been enlighten. Looking forward to both the angels and devils I my next class. Lol. Oss
  • mark mcaneny
    Great tips jesse sensei. Have you any guaranteed games that work well with 4 to 5 year olds? I want to build the games but make yhem eady and fun.
  • Graziela
    I'm starting to help teach Judo to some kids at our dojo and I hope I can use some of these during our lessons. Most of these kids are hyperactive, non-listening, bored kids, but I see potential in some of them, who really seem to want to do Judo, because some maybe are just dragged to the dojo by their parents to have some time without kids. There are more devils than angels, but the angels are supported very well!
  • Dave Francis
    I totally agree with you! Make sure the kids have fun. They will work hard and not even notice it! The best reward we can get, and truly understand we did a good job, is when you hear at the end of class: « it’s already finished??? »
  • Okay, this all sounds ideal - but just curious: What do you do if you're working partner drills & there's an even number of students with no one to leave out of the procedures - and then one or more of the kids either don't pay attention or purposely do things wrong, which frustrates the kids they're working with who ARE honestly trying to learn? You can sit the troublemakers down and not allow them to participate unless they decide to pay attention, but then they may cause problems in another way (attempt to distract the other students or create a different disturbance) - and if the unruly kids' parents are observing, they may decide that it's doing no good having their children just take up space without learning any discipline ...or the parents of the kids who ARE working hard may become frustrated with the interruption and decide that their kids are being shortchanged as well. I never get angry with my students, but I do become direct and a little intense if I have students who just won't respond to positive encouragement. And the vast majority of the parents I've had tell me that they definitely agree with the concept of consequences for inappropriate actions. ...In other words, when I was growing up, if my parents had only rewarded me for good behavior and not punished me at all for bad behavior, I'd have had no reason to behave unless I wanted something (and the excitement of getting cool little stripes or stars or other adornments wears out pretty quick) - and no reason to not MISbehave at all. ...But then, all of my training (since I began at 15) has been under instructors who were the real deal and dead serious. Which eventually saved my life - twice. So I may be a little prejudiced in my attitude toward Martial Arts instruction. Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of kids wearing Black Belts from schools that keep everything fun and non-confrontational who couldn't actually defend themselves against a real threat from an aggressive predatory street-tough kid their own age and size on a bet. And just FYI, I've worked with a lot of those street-tough kids in the past through city-funded alternative activities programs for at-risk youth - so I speak from experience. I want my students to know how to function effectively under a little - or a lot - of pressure regardless of what rank they may be, and being able to accept reasonable well-deserved discipline goes a long way toward developing that. At least, that's what I've discovered over the 46 years that I've been teaching. And at the risk of sounding too proud, I've produced some amazingly talented and successful students. Thanks for the time.
  • Stefano Natalizio
    Brilliant article Sensei! Loved it - it's very true we do get angry, to my belief more at ourselves than the kids, when a drill is starting to go sideways. Love the idea of rewarding the angels rather than disciplining the devilish kids. Thank you for posting and have a great day! Domo Artigatou!
  • Léo
    Thank you so much ! The more i teach the more i realize the responsability is huge!
  • Lucas Empey
    Could keep writing more about teaching kids, please? I'd love to know what your favourite Karate games are for kids, what the best way to reward good behaviour in Karate is and how do you teach the kids to perform high-quality kata and basic. Both what your instructors taught you and what you've come up with on your own. I teach 5 classes a week (and sometimes more) of 3-5-year-olds so I need all the help I can get. Love reading your content!!!
  • Daniel Handler
    I have a question - how to deal with the devils if they disrupt other students? There is a young karateka in the kids class. At first he just annoyed everyone, when people got over it and started ignoring him he started to stop others from learning (standing directly in front of others so they cannot practice when space is limited and the student cannot move without disrupting another student, not training at all during partner exercises, running between students doing kumite, etc.). So, when people just tell him to stop he doesn't. What to do..?

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