Instructor Resources

6 Classroom Management Tips for Martial Arts Instructors


Classroom management isn’t just for public school teachers. These 6 classroom management tips for martial arts instructors will help you take your teaching game to the next level!

No matter what they teach, teachers find ways to ensure that their classroom runs smoothly. Good classroom management should also help a teacher prevent disruptions before they occur.

Effective classroom management techniques ensure that your students spend the maximum amount of time doing what they love: practicing martial arts.

Hit the “more” tag for my top 6 classroom management tips for martial arts instructors!

Test and tournament

#1 Greet each student by name as they arrive. Smile!

  • By greeting each student individually, you acknowledge their presence in the class. Kids love the validation that they are part of the group. Making sure each kid gets some personal attention can help prevent disruptive attention-seeking behaviors later on in class.
  • A greeting can help gauge a students’ mood as they enter the class. Knowing where your students are at emotionally can help you help them later on in class–especially if someone is having a tough day! We all know a smile can change a day, so make sure you give kids a big grin as you say hello!
  • At our school, students are expected to bow to each black belt who is present. This is a great time for us to say hello to the student! As an added bonus, this is a great way to help make sure we get an accurate attendance record filled out.

raised hand

#2 Define & explain your expectations.

  • You should have a “no tolerance” list of behaviors, and it should be consistent for all assistants and instructors. It’s important to define and list these expectations, so that everyone is in the know.
  • At our school, for example, we expect students to raise their hands before speaking, not interrupt adult conversations, not argue with their instructors, and remember their own gear, belts, uniforms, and water bottles. Instructors consistently assign consequences (from reminders to push-ups to loss of privileges) for behaviors that are do not meet expectations.
  • We coach the class and individuals on these rules to make sure everyone is on the same page. As a bonus, parents get to hear you explain the principles behind the rules, which helps manage their expectations as well.
White belts working on punches.
White belts working on punches.

#3 Spend quality time with the newbies. Personally.

  • My preference is to have a senior instructor spend time with new students during their first 2-3 classes. We go through the rules, walk them through new routines (like bowing to black belts), and answer questions.
  • New students are sometimes prone to “testing the boundaries.” During the first month of a student’s training, I keep a close eye on them. Not only does this clue me in to their personality and how to best work with them, but it also gives me the chance to talk to them about behavior changes before they become a bigger disciplinary issue.
  • Coach through the learning curve. New students often become frustrated if they cannot do very many sit-ups or keep up with others. It takes time to develop the coordination for hand techniques and new footwork. This time period is the best time to teach students perseverance. You have to encourage them to try, try again, and help them push through failure to find success. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest lessons learned from martial arts, and it is best done right from the start of a student’s training.

Hansens last class

#4 Establish (and balance) your class routine.

  • It can be tricky to strike a balance between keeping things interesting and keeping to enough of a routine to provide structure for kids who need it. Following a general routine (such as warm-ups, small group work, then large group activity at the end) can help.
  • Too much routine can hurt students too! If students are mindlessly “going through the motions,” they aren’t building strong brain connections for the skills they are learning. This affects both physical technique development AND memory.
  • When the routine is going to change, give the kids ample warning. For some children, changes to the routine can be devastating, causing them to feel lost. We print a monthly calendar, and spend a few moments at the end of each class addressing upcoming events.

bo work

#5 Monitor exciting activities, including transitions and partner work.

  • Transitioning from activity to activity is often when challenging behaviors crop up. Whether its lining up with a reminder for silence at the water fountain, or posting an assistant in the changing rooms before and after class times, monitoring transitions helps.
  • A small trick–if I have to go grab a focus pad or other item, I have the kids do sets of jumping jacks, frogs, situps, etc, and then have them hold “waiting stance” when they’re done. (Waiting stance is a horse stance with the arms held out to the sides and they love to compete to see who can hold it the longest, lowest, etc).
  • Most kids need help with time management and self-regulation. If you have kids partnered up or working in small groups without an assistant supervising, glance over to make sure they’re on task. They may need redirection. 🙂
  • You can always set up group work in a way that increases time on task. For example, I grouped kids and asked them to come up with a list of ways they thought an instructor could tell if they were trying their hardest. Challenging them to see who got the most made it interesting–and kept them on task until I called them back into a big group to discuss their ideas.
  • I carefully watch sparring sessions to make sure no two partners are going overboard in the heat of the moment. If I sense too much emotion, I’ll end the round and switch partners before an “accident” or loss of temper occurs.


#6 Use assistants and small groups.

  • Small groups increase the amount of personal attention each student gets. They also increase focus by minimizing distractions. Smaller groups are easier to guide from drill to drill, which increases time on task.
  • Assistants help keep the class running smoothly by reminding the kids of the rules and leading them through drills.
  • The kids really look up to the assistants, many of whom are older siblings. The kids think the assistants are pretty cool, because they can do advanced techniques. Students get so motivated by seeing what they might look like in a few years! It’s a great way to build relationships–and strong friendships among students lead to a better school atmosphere and better overall retention for your program.
summer camp
NWSMA students doing a group activity.

Discipline problems are best dealt with BEFORE they become an issue in your classroom! Reflect on these 6 areas of classroom management–what are some ways YOU use them in your schools?


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