Instructor Tips: 5 Martial Arts Awareness Drills

Instructors are always telling their students, “Be aware.” Today, I have 5 martial arts awareness drills that focus on doing awareness, not just telling it. Let’s first talk a bit about the importance of awareness.

We all know that awareness is a key part of basic self-defense. Knowing what is around you and sensing intention are easy ways to avoid bad situations. Any long-time practitioner of martial arts knows this, and probably practices it pretty unconsciously.

Beginning of test

Clearing the mind opens it for awareness of your surroundings.

For your students, though, this may not yet be part of their routine. As an instructor, it is your job to convince them of the importance of habitual awareness.

I was lucky enough to have a terrifying instructor as a white belt. I was 11, and taking Mr. U’s class always made me sore the next day. One day, he sat us down and gave us a lecture that, 13 years later, I still remember vividly.

He asked us if we’d ever watched him leave. We all shook our heads and said, “No, sir.”

“Well,” he said, and proceeded to give us a list of what he did. He looked immediately left and right, out across the parking lot, even gave a glance upwards. He listened. Checked bushes, checked under cars as he began walking.

A couple of weeks later, I witnessed him doing exactly that as he left the building. That’s when I realized how important it was to practice awareness, even when you don’t think you need to.

Here are my 5 martial arts awareness drills. Use them in your classes to help your students figure out what awareness is and how to practice it.

  • Did you notice? Before class, attach a piece of colored paper to the door. Start class by asking the students if they remembered what color it was. For adults and teens, park your car in a different place, and ask them if they noticed where it was. Or, place an odd object around the dojo and periodically ask the students where it is.
  • Where am I? During class have everyone stop and close their eyes. Have them point to an exit, then open their eyes to see if they were correct or not. Ask adults/teens to point to a classmate. This is especially good if they’ve moved around a lot (like during sparring).
  • Where’s my weapon? Another eyes-closed drill: have the students find the weapons they were using earlier with their eyes closed. This one is more about recovering a weapon from storage for use.
  • How could I use this? Have the students get partners. Hand each defender an unconventional weapon (shoe, hat), and have them use it to defend themselves against an attack. Vary the type of attack, rotate objects. Teens and adults can defend against an attacker wielding a knife.
  • Seven Up (see how to play on Wikipedia). It’s a game normally played in school classrooms, but there’s no reason for us martial arts instructors not to borrow ideas from schoolteachers. I like this drill because it asks students to sense intention by guessing which person tapped their thumb while their eyes were closed. To make it more martial artsy, call it “Shichi Up.” Have students assume a horse stance punch, and draw the fist back to chamber when it gets tapped.

There you have it, 5 drills (and ideas for variations) that will help you teach your students to practice basic awareness. As always, you can motivate your youth by making it into a competition and offering a small prize. And, as always, you can create variations on these drills to make them relevant for different age groups.

Lead by example; get creative!

About Sensei/YDN Caitlin

Sensei Yudanjanim Caitlin is a 2nd degree black belt, senior instructor, administrative assistant, and student of Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Arnis at Northwest School of Martial Arts.
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