Instructor Resources

5 Tips for Teaching Assistants in a Martial Arts Kids’ Class

Eeek! Sensei just gave you 3 adorable yellow belts. You’re supposed to be teaching them blocks, but you have no idea how to handle kids!

group work

Sound familiar?

Teaching assistants are a vital part of any kids class. They let the senior instructors step back and measure progress, both individual and as a class. They also give older kids & upper belts a chance to exercise their leadership muscles. Plus, it fosters a great sense of community and togetherness in the dojo or dojang!

Click “more” for my top 5 tips for teaching assistants! 

First of all, let’s define your role as an assistant in class. (This is how NWSMA thinks about it. Be sure to ask YOUR instructor to give you a clear summary of her/his expectations for you as an assistant).

As an assistant in our kids class, you are expected to:

  • Lead fun warmups that get the kids engaged with class;
  • Quietly assist individual kiddos during big group activities;
  • Lead drills with a small group of kiddos;
  • Help keep class flowing smoothly without disciplinary hiccups;
  • Uphold high standards of behavior & set a good example;
  • Lead & participate in end-of-class games.


karate stanwood
Sempai Jasmine practicing alongside a younger student.


That’s the what–now let’s look at the HOW!

5 Tips for Teaching Assistants

  1. Check for understanding. This is important; you ARE teaching them after all! Avoid saying, “Do you understand?” Kids can get embarrassed and pretend to understand, even if they don’t. Or, they may not have enough perspective to know what they do or don’t know. Ask in a way that requires them to give the actual answer. (Side note: I like using this strategy during disciplinary talks too. It helps the kiddo own the answer, and assures me they know what the better choice was).
  2. Vary your tone of voice. It’s okay to use a silly voice, or a serious one. Just don’t keep a flat tone! Kids respond to your enthusiasm, and your “teaching voice” is the best way to express that. Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to do your best when someone is counting drills quietly? Count LOUD! Be enthusiastic, even if you feel a bit silly!
  3. Keep them moving. Bored kids get easily distracted. You’re supposed to be teaching them focus, right? Don’t give them the opportunity to become unfocused. Always know what’s next. If you need to stall, give them ten frogs, jumping jacks, pushups, etc. Leave them in waiting stance while you retrieve a focus pad. Have a statue competition. Another tip? If you’re talking a lot, they’ll tune out. Too many words. Give clear, basic instructions, and GET MOVING!
  4. Focus on the big stuff (with patience). Kids are still getting a handle on gross motor movement. I remember trying to do embroidery in 2nd grade. I got very frustrated, even with easy stuff. I went back to it in 4th grade, and voila! It was way easier, because my fine motor control had finally kicked in. Focus on big movements & maybe 1-2 important details (like 4 parts of front kick, chamber hand, correct striking surfaces). Leave the fine-tuning to the senior instructors.
  5. Teach perseverance. This is so, so important. Kids have to learn how to try, fail, and keep trying. If they learn nothing else, if they quit before black belt (or even after it), practicing perseverance will make a huge difference in their ability to succeed in life. How do you do this? Say, “Not quite, try that one more time. This time, hit with the bottom of your foot [instead of the toes].” Let them try until they get it, and then give them a high five! You have officially just made a difference in the world.
taekwondo bow
Sempai Jonas working with a white belt. Nice bowing!

A final note: these tips don’t just apply to kids class. Your teens and adults need your enthusiastic, perseverance-focused teaching as much as the kiddos do!

If you have another tip for teaching assistants, leave it in the comments!

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