Posted: February 18, 2005

Schools often advertise that martial arts training helps develop self-esteem. This promise is directed to both children and adults. While this is true, I believe that it has been taken to extremes. I don’t intend to criticize my colleagues. This is merely an observation that I have made after dealing with countless students who have come from other schools.

An injustice is done to students when the instructor offers too much praise at the expense of critiquing technique and demanding higher standards. Students, both adults and children, like hearing nice words. From a business perspective, it’s all about making the customer happy. When customers are happy, they keep coming back. From a martial art perspective, however, it is deceiving. This deception leads to the instructor avoiding corrections so that his student’s ego will not be bruised or offended. For example, one student who had earned a black belt at another school told me that the instructor praised him even when he was hit or knocked down by a lower ranked student. He would tell him that he “did great!” Over time, the student believes what the teacher is telling him.

In reality, it is the instructor’s responsibility to admonish the black belt who should know better. If he doesn’t, then he shouldn’t be wearing the belt. It’s dishonest to promote a student just to boost his self-esteem. This practice is widespread especially when it comes to training children. Some teachers will tell parents that monthly testing is great for their kids’ self-esteem. The only thing it is great for is the school’s cash register.

Traditional martial arts instructors were hard on their students because they wanted them to learn. In circles that still hold on to this tradition, the tougher the teacher is on you, the more he likes you and wants you to succeed. They show their love for you and the martial arts by demanding more from you.

A realistic approach to teaching is particularly important when a student has made it known that he is enrolling because he wants to learn how to protect himself. For the student who wants to study martial arts as an alternative to other fitness programs, I say let them have fun. There is room in martial arts for all types. But if the student wants self-defense or a parent wants to help a child who is being bullied, this is a different story. After 9/11, a lot of my new students are business persons who are concerned with terrorism and ask themselves what they would have done if they were on those planes. The prospect of having to defend themselves is not as remote as it used to be. What good will kind words do them when their personal safety is in danger?

"... it is the instructor’s responsibility to admonish the black belt who should know better. If he doesn’t, then he shouldn’t be wearing the belt. It’s dishonest to promote a student just to boost his self-esteem."