Longevity series: Teaching for A Lifelong Practice

It’s been a little while since you’ve heard from me here. Life and school have left little time for blogging however I wanted to take some time to address a topic I’ve been thinking about quite a bit and that is teaching to promote longevity as a martial artist. Specifically, I want to delve into how teachers and coaches can teach in a way that promotes a lifelong practice in their students.

I’m in the final stages of school for massage therapy and it has had a significant impact on how I approach training, especially in my personal martial arts practice. When I was younger I was kicked in the  knee; injuring one knee led to compensation patterns which ultimately led to problems in my other knee. I was young enough that I was able to bounce back quickly from the original injury but I have since been haunted by recurring knee injuries and pain. 

Sitting with ice right after my knee went out during black belt testing.

I went to a doctor in middle school and she diagnosed me with patellofemoral syndrome. When I asked her what I could do to help my knee pain she recommended that I work on strength and flexibility. My mother looked at the doctor incredulously and asked;

“Her legs are already stronger than most people, and she’s definitely more flexible than most people, what are you talking about?”

“Well, she just needs to work on different things.” The doctor shrugged and handed me a sheet of exercises to help with “runner’s knee”, as the condition is more commonly known, and that was that.

Looking back on that moment now, I cringe. At no point did anyone go over what I was training, how often I was training, and how that was creating unhealthy movement patterns in my body. Moreover, none of my teachers understood the relationship between what I was doing in class and my injuries.

While learning the basics of anatomy in my first quarter of massage school, I learned about the specific muscles involved in the actions of kicking and I realized exactly what I had been missing in my training for almost 18 years. While getting kicked in the knee initiated my problems, my training was exacerbating the problems that incident had sparked. Unfortunately, too many students will experience injuries like mine which will stall their progress or prevent them from being lifelong practitioners of their art.

The goal of martial arts is to develop a lifelong practice. This doesn’t just mean wearing a belt your entire life, it means being able to practice in some way, shape, or form, for your entire life. There are a few different ways we as teachers can adjust our teaching to facilitate this and in the next few blog posts I will highlight specific tools you can use to improve your teaching to promote a lifelong practice, starting with this tip:

Mix up your curriculum:

Cycle your training program and look for new elements to add to your program. Repetitive use injuries are less likely when you vary your training program to allow for the development of different muscles and ways of using the body. Stumped on how to mix it up?

  1. Look for different ways of drilling techniques you already do, there are a lot of youtube videos that demonstrate different methods to teach and train the same techniques you’re already using in your program.
  2. Put yourself in a hypothetical situation where you have to teach a particular technique within the context of a certain challenge. For instance, imagine you have to teach a roundhouse kick on the moon where less gravity forces you to move more slowly. What would the kick look like, how might your students move in that environment?
  3. Look at drills other martial arts use, especially drills that build strength in areas your art doesn’t typically emphasize. If your art is highly structured, like Tae kwon Do, Look at Kung Fu drills used for flow and vice versa. This will promote varied activation of muscles and aid students in practical applications.
  4. Look outside martial arts altogether. Basketball drills that focus on jumping can be adapted to martial arts to help build height on jump kicks. Ballet drills can be adapted to build control and active flexibility. Be creative and open to inspiration everywhere!

Not only will these ideas help your students build a stronger foundation for movement, they will keep your teaching fresh and energized.

In the next blog we will look at flexibility training in martial arts; how people go wrong, and how you can do it right!

- Juliana Rose - Second Degree Black Belt -

Questions? Contact: Jrose@evo-martialarts.com

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