How to Best Teach Martial Arts

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Robert Lisac was my first professional martial arts instructor. Separated by an ocean and twenty years later, we still chat frequently. Recently, on the topic of coaching, we discussed what method(s) we, and others we know, use to best teach martial arts.

He began by asking me which of the general two concepts I prefer and why. “Many famous martial artists… teach in a very free and spontaneous way. They improvise, and it seems as they don’t really have a plan, a curriculum. Many others are very strictly following the curriculum. How do you feel about both approaches, and why?”

As a personal trainer, martial arts instructor, I’ve  competed and coached in various capacities across the globe. This gave me a unique opportunity to observe and practice both approaches, structured and unstructured, as they relate to various ways of  teaching martial arts:  everything from competition clinics, one-on-instruction, two-day workshops to trouble-shooting sessions, and cornering fighters as part of a six-week camp.

Things to Consider if you Teach Martial Arts

How to Best Teach Martial Arts: Tale of Two Approaches
Seminar in Ireland, of a two week tour, helping teach as Craig Jones’ uke

In my experience, those that best teach martial arts take into consideration skill, knowledge, and individual learning ability and stylistic preference of the student(s). Ultimately the success of a competent martial arts instructor is two-fold. One, it is the absorption of knowledge by the student, and two, it is the ability to execute obtained knowledge practically. Of course, I have my own preference, but as a coach who takes great pride in adoption rates (transference of skill) onto those I teach and instruct, I must be able to teach martial arts in both ways.


Time and audience size constraints also influence how I instruct. Practically speaking, how I teach a martial arts class of 30 people is entirely different than how I coach an individual. With one student in attendance during a private session, a more casual, unstructured approach covering multiple scenarios tailored for the benefit of that student is exceptionally beneficial.

The same approach spells disaster in large groups, such as seminars, which can easily reach 100+ participants. To best serve that many attendees, a structured approach pays off more. If the audience is mixed in experience level, I find it to best teach to the lowest common denominator of skills present in class. Of course, this, too, can change during, say, a specialty seminar. In this scenario, attendees must close their individual skill gaps with their instructors to absorb the skill being thought. This is usually the case with very high-level, world-champion, or specific subject-matter seminars.


Personal Preference and Learning Styles

My personal preference and learning style is kinesthetic, which means I learn best by doing and feeling. Having a conceptual framework in my mind, particularly when acquiring a new skill, allows me to connect things to their final destination (submission, position, pin, etc.). Martial arts in many ways are kinesthetic. That said, a good instructor pays attention to other learning styles as well.


Therefore, visual, auditory and reading styles of learning all have their place on your way to black belt. Viewing footage opened my eyes to mistakes  I could not feel during my matches. Focused conversations with my coaches helped me explore new venues of preparation and training I couldn’t see on my own.  Copious notes returned me to techniques and concepts I forgot in heat of preparation and battle. All of them are an integral part of my  journey as a coach today. I am positive they are or will be in yours as well.


Tools to Become a More Well-rounded Martial Arts Instructor

Teaching martial arts effectively takes time and practice. But then again, so does the practice of martial arts. In the following YouTube interview,  I discuss how to best teach martial arts in even greater detail. Also, as a side note, due to an angle of the chair, my European shorts look like I am wearing underwear. If you enjoy the video, Robert put together, check out his other videos, and subscribe to his channel.



Not sure whether your instructor or you are a good coach? Perhaps you’re looking for a great martial arts coach, or someone to mentor you, but you are not sure how to find one . My post on how on how to find a good martial arts coach. will provide you pointers and save you time as you start. Additionally, if you have reached a plateau, or you’re a beginner looking to speed up your progress in practice,  my post on 3 training hacks  will get you a needed dose of motivation.


Hope you enjoyed the article. Until next time. Stay safe and stay healthy. Cheers, Gregor


What is your typical learning preference? Do you have any success or funny stories regarding a miss-match of styles? Let me know in the comments below.




European turned American! Linguist, traveler, martial arts aficionado, BJJ Black Belt, and a retired executive who decided to pursue grappling full time at 35 and document the journey in order to inspire others to pursue their dreams. These are his ramblings.

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