More Than One Way to Teach A Cat

Published on 28 April 2024 at 07:37

*And by Cat I Mean Class

So class format is a thing I have been playing with from the first day I started teaching the club full time.  In all of the martial arts classes I have ever attended, I have been a part of many different teaching formats and styles.  There is usually a pretty standard list of parts to the class, no matter the art being taught.

  • There is generally a warm-up.
  • There is a part of class where you work to improve an attribute(s).
    • This is generally a physical attribute like power generation, quickness , balance, flexibility, or agility.
  • There is a part of class where you work to improve a skill or concept.
    • Skills or concepts taught here would be things like take down defense, a specific drill, or how / when to transition through a set of moves or techniques.
  • There is sometimes a part of class where you work on strength or conditioning.
  • There is a part of class specifically for sparring or free play.

Variations on a Theme

Most classes I have taken do have the attribute and conditioning portion as part of the class.  All have had a part of the class where you learn a skill or do a drill.  The amount to which a class devotes to sparring is another thing altogether.  Some do very little, like my Aiki class and my fencing class, others do a lot like my wrestling and Judo classes.  I have even visited a HEMA school where they taught a short skill portion, then the rest of the time was sparring, this very much the opposite of what I had seen in many martial arts.  As you can see, the parts are all generally there, but the classes vary in their composition and approach specific to what the instructor thinks is important for the students and the skills being learned.

My Approach

Initially, I started classes with a little warm-up, then tried to focus the class on a specific concept or drill I wanted to work on.  I started, and continue to focus parts of class each week on things in our curriculum with the goal of people seeking promotion if they desire to do so.  But after a while, after talks with folks who have been instructors far longer than I have (like my friend and Lakan Guro at the club Randy), I decided on making some changes.  One of the most helpful suggestions Randy made was to reintroduce a period of review for the class.  It would help get new people onboard, but also reinforce skills we hadn't taught in a while to the folks who had been there a while.  There's no time when the foundational skills are useless.

The 4 F's

So I came up with the class format I called the 4 F's, breaking the 90 minute Pekiti class into time blocks.  I'm flexible here, of course, but this helps establish a flow within the class. 

  • 10 minutes  Warm-up and Footwork
  • 20 minutes Foundation
  • 30 minutes  Focus
  • 30 minutes  Freetime


Warm-up and Footwork

I set aside time for warm-up  as an injury prevention measure (not just for me, I swear).  We try to run through some specific stick based wrist / shoulder / arm warm-ups.  If we are working on something else in the evening I think may need warmed up more, we'll include that.  The footwork part is generally focused on the Pekiti Tirsia Tactical Association (PTTA) curriculum.  I also include variations on the footworks as well as have sessions where we do what is essentially Footwork Karenza, exploring how our body moves given a specific footwork pattern.


This is where I dig back into the curriculum again and look at foundational techniques like wall blocks,  5 attacks, or Tri-V striking patterns,  or something specifically relatable to what will be our focus.  This should be newish to the new people but also helpful to the more experienced students.


This is the Meat of the class.  A complex technique like the Full Box drill, segung lebou, or knife tapping fits here.  I try to have an experienced person with a new person when I can, though recently I have also made a point to have the experienced people get time where they can explore things together with people that can push them and help them ask and answer questions.


I try to leave the last bit of class as an opportunity for students to ask for help on anything they are feeling needs a little polish.  This can be as simple as going over a drill a few extra times, or as complex as discussing the best way to get into or out of a technique or situation.

So what's this look like?

For example Thursday I worked the class towards a drill I got from Sensei E at the MSMB event.  For Footwork we worked on moving on the diamond, and specifically doing so Karenza style with no set plan of movement.  For our Foundation, I had people practice doing Wall Blocks.  One feeds, one blocks, then switch.  Then the Focus, we did a 6 count 4-wall block based on the diamond footwork and 6 o f the attacks from Abecedario.  It was a fun build, and I try to do class this way as much as I can, building and layering the individual lessons of the evening into one final thing.  At the end there seems to be this ah-ha moment when people see the whole evening come together.  I like these classes as a student and try to replicate them as a teacher.


How it's going so Far

Overall I like the format.  It addresses the need for new folks to get foundational skills as well as allowing experienced students to explore as they want.  However, I think we could do a little better.  We pride ourselves on being a sparring school, so I am going to trial adding a bit of sparring to every class. 

A New Addition

I've noticed that at the end of every class we have a little time left where people's brains are observably full (or bored?  I dunno  LoL  I hope not) and they start packing up and getting ready to go.  Not much time, like 5 to 10 minutes, but it's there.  This is understandable, as if you come to both classes you're there for Two-and-a-Half Hours.  But what I'm thinking is that we try to add some light contact technical sparring to the end of class.  I'm not talking light and technical as in "Stop crying, I could have hit you way harder..."  but more like I could do this for hours.  Strive to leave a red mark not a welt at most. 

I talked to a very good stick fighter from Canada at the MSMB event the other day named Chris Goard.  He is very much a stick fighter's instructor with a firm grasp and focus on keeping the training relevant to sparring.  He and I talked at length about keeping classes sparring focused but needing to also focus on the technical techniques of the art, and he helped me see some changes in my own personal focus needed to happen, but he also said some interesting things about sparring. 

The most interesting thing he said (and I'm paraphrasing) was that being willing to get hit, and to have big power can get you far in a sparring career, but you will eventually find your plateau.  People will respect your power, and they may find it difficult to hit hard enough to interrupt your game plan, but at some point you will find a fighter that is as powerful as you, and or as capable of dealing with damage as you, but in addition has better technique or tactics.  Power and aggression, he said, can mask or compensate for skill, but only up to a point.  Sometimes power wins, sometimes speed wins, sometimes technique wins, so the more you can focus on all three the better.  If you can't go light and have control and still do well, you are only fooling yourself.

So what I am going to propose is that the last ten minutes or so in every class, folks gear up and get a match in.  Maybe two.  We can fight two pairs at a time.  It will be chill.  2 minutes each.  Light contact, but focused on working on something.  Technical.  I think that every match someone gets will make them a better fighter, so why not cap the night with a match or two.


Whadda ya think?  Sound like a good plan?  Let me know, here in the comments, or in person at class


I can't wait to train with you


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Jennifer Kasper
25 days ago

Great idea , i know I need to learn sparring more and want to but my huge lack of confidence in myself is really holding me back . I do think that’s a good idea though to work on sparring stuff end of class . I do get over stimulated though 😂😂being there for both classes is a lot of brain use for me and it overheats I don’t get bored it’s always fun .

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