Teaching the Love of Karate to Children

With a background in gymnastics combined with 20 years teaching experience, both learning and teaching karate have come fairly easily to me. I am also passionate about children becoming coordinated at a young age, so it was a natural progression for me to incorporate a wide variety of fun coordination skills with the teaching of karate.

Karate is challenging for children to learn. In order to grasp an understanding of the basic blocks, kicks and punches, children first need to develop good balance, all-round body coordination as well as body and spatial awareness. To achieve this I incorporate the use of beanbags, hoops, ropes and sometimes even music into my classes. I find that the tactile and visual stimulation the equipment provides further enhances their physical development and the learning of the basic karate skills. If children have something visual to see, touch or follow, they are more focused and less inclined to get bored.

By combining and implementing these different teaching techniques, children learn karate skills with ease. Regular repetition of the skills supports muscle memory and builds physical self confidence. The integrating of creative movement activities together with the learning of basic karate skills facilitates a constructive and practical way of learning karate. I also believe that this combination of fun and focused teaching promotes and supports self regulation, which is becoming an increasing area of difficulty for children in the early years.

I use a variety of tried and tested teaching methods and always try to have a thoughtful structure to the lesson with a good mix of karate and movement skills. For example, having an assigned “place” for each child to leave from and return to saves valuable teaching time. I use a square carpet with an animal picture on it. Children love to run and they love a challenge. I often say after practicing one skill, “I am counting to three! Back in your place you must be. Show me your best kamai!” Within seconds they are back to their places and ready for another karate technique or movement skill.

Through experience and experimentation, I have discovered that the use of the voice and sound effects is a magical, creative way to engage children. If I whisper, the children are quieter and really focused on trying to hear what I am saying. I use sound effects with low and high sounds to indicate the intensity of a movement. I make the children say the name of the block, punch or kick they are learning to correlate the word with the movements required to complete the skill.

I use body language to show that I am seriously observing what they are doing. For example if they are doing foot work, I will crouch down and really show that I am watching their feet. They will try harder as they can visibly see that I am focusing on what their feet are doing.

It has taken me years to learn all these different ways of working with children, but I have proven that, as crazy as they are, my teaching techniques work!

However, keeping young children returning back to karate each season is another challenge in itself. To help achieve this I focus on the following areas:

  • Children like to progress and they like to be rewarded for the progress they make. I do this by awarding a different colour stripe for their karate belt each season. The stripe is determined by the age they are at the time of their grading.
  • Every child wants to feel comfortable in a new environment and that they belong there. I try to support this by quickly learning all their names and greet them when they arrive or when I want their attention. I especially do this with children who struggle to concentrate or with those who prefer to disturb others by saying their name as soon as I feel I am losing them. Even if it is mid-sentence, it returns their focus back to where it should be.
  • Children thrive on praise and encouragement and especially on acknowledgement when they have done well. I try to assess confidence levels, physical ability and areas of weakness as soon as possible. This enables me to apply appropriate teaching methods and emotional support where needed and to group the children appropriately.
  • Eye contact and acknowledging every child during the class is paramount. Quiet and shy children or children lacking self confidence often move to the back of the room or to the end of a line. I always try to ensure that every child is seen, is comfortable and happy and, most importantly, achieving. No easy feat.
  • Discipline when teaching young children a sport like karate is a fine line. Yet, without a fair amount of discipline chaos will reign. One has to use the voice in a strong, and confident way to keep control of a group of children. Clear instructions need to be given and children disciplined when their behaviour is not suitable. I also only have children train techniques to the count. This allows them the opportunity to re-focus before repeating the technique and produces progressive results. Teaching young students the discipline of karate while also having the much needed element of fun is challenging but not impossible.
  • Parent communication takes time and is vital. The younger the children, the more important the need to communicate with parents. They are curious, concerned and like to be aware of what is happening. Parents like to know that the classes are structured, well-organised, and that their children are being looked after by someone who cares.
  • Rewarding progress, personal attention, encouragement, eye-contact and acknowledgement, discipline and communication with parents are the keys to teaching karate successfully to young children. It is only through trial and error that I have learned these skills, but the results have been positive.

Children return for more karate season after season. Those six-year-olds that first walked into the dojo knowing nothing about karate are now members of the Finnish Shukokai karate team. They are winning medals, making themselves, their parents and me proud with their determination, hard work and Kimura spirit, without which, little can be gained.

Sensei Darlene Koskinen (3rd Dan)