• Sara F. Hathaway

Taekwondo Teaching Tips from Eighth Dan, Chief Master Dan Lovas

A background in martial arts training provides many of the essential tools needed to become a proficient instructor. In 1972, when I was seven years old, I began training in Judo and Kung-Fu. For the next twelve years, I took my training very seriously. I dedicated myself to a six day a week regiment. I was nineteen years old when I started training Taekwondo and my discipline to these alternate martial arts gave me a vast pool of experience to draw from.

My passion for Judo and Taekwondo have never faltered. It has now been forty-five years since I first began training Judo and thirty-three since I was introduced to Taekwondo. However, my dedication to learning did not stop there, I now hold 7 black belts in a variety of systems. You can say I’ve been a career student.


My dedication to training and learning these different martial art systems has exposed me to a wide array of teaching methods. For example, Judo is a Japanese system that is very organized with a rigid structure. I always new what I needed to do for my next stripe or to go to the next level. Judo is known for “professional grade” advancement. Professional grade means you can’t go to the next level unless you are currently winning at your current level. A student could achieve a stripe only after executing the movement one hundred times and then demonstrating it in live practice.


Kung-Fu is a Chinese system. It utilizes a full circle teaching method. Full circle means that the instructor can teach everyone in the class the same thing at the same time and eventually you will be exposed to all the content.  One problem I found with this methodology is that no one has the same foundation unless they started at the same time. It took ten years to earn my black belt in a system that could have been achieved in five years with the proper training cycle. Like Kung-fu, Lamaco is another full circle style martial art.


I have learned systems like Silat which had no system at all. After six years of training, I was honored to help create a system that would establish a foundation for new students. The system was adopted and is still used today. However, Escrima utilizes a great system. It is a very disciplined format that is organized into twelve-week cycles.


The system that I have dedicated most of my life to is Taekwondo. It utilizes an eight-week cycle and each week has its own theme. I found this to be the best method of learning for me.


If I were to summarize what I have learned from training in these different disciplines, I would say that all systems have something to offer. However not all deliver an easy to learn teaching cycle. This lack of ease causes a struggle to maintain student retention rates. To achieve acceptable long-term retention rates, there must be a standard teaching methodology. This system must remain the same all the way to black belt and provide an atmosphere in which the student can thrive.


In my early days as an instructor, I always wrote a class planner and stuck to the week of the teaching cycle. I tested 90% of my student base every 8 weeks. I produced a large number of black belts but there was something missing. I didn’t have the connection needed for long-term retention.


The solution, developed over twenty-eight years of Taekwondo instruction, was to create my own system of communication to reach each personality type in every class. The eight-week teaching cycle is maintained but the knowledge of these personality types and understanding how to communicate with them can be a game changer.


I was introduced to the basis for this understanding when I was a fifth Dan. I took a personality test called Myers-Briggs. I had no idea how different each personality group was. I started studying all four personality types, learned how to identify them, how to communicate with them, and how do appreciate their characteristics.


Even kids at 6 years of age show dominant personality types which can normally be identified within five minutes. Once the personality of the student is evident, it is discussed with the other instructors in our school. Once everyone understands how to communicate with a particular student, that student’s learning capacity can be maximized.


I like to start off my classes or seminars with a preview of what I’m going to be teaching and the expectations I have for the session. I believe that most trained instructors start this way as well. However, if one does not know how to communicate to all four personality types they will only reach their type and the rest will be playing catchup. When I address the group in my few minutes of preview I make sure I speak to all four personalities. I do this so that I can get everyone engaged at the same time.


For example, say it’s kick week and the current belt level I’m working with is green blue I would address the group like this:


“The first time I saw this kick I was at the same level and the same week of the cycle you are in right now. My instructor, Chief Master Corrie, who at that time was a third-degree black belt, demonstrated this kick to the class. He kicked a paddle; I was blown away. I remembered I smiled really big. I thought to myself, I wonder if I have the skill set to do this kick. I hope I can do it that well. I can still hear how loud it was when he hit the target. Wow! Was all I could say. In my mind, it looked like a backwards round kick. Then he let us all know that there would be no soldiers left behind. He was going to ensure that all of us would be able to do the kick by the end of the class. I knew I would get it: THE HOOK KICK.”


Let’s break down the paragraph above. My first sentence speaks to the personalities who are traditional and love systems. The second sentence speaks to the personalities who love a story. The third starts to get exciting. The sentence, “I was blown away,” gets these personalities engaged. The statement that, “it looked like a backwards round kick,” made those types of personalities start thinking.


Once I finish the preview, I give the theme, the “wow” factor, and demonstrate the kick at an extraordinary level of expertise. Then it’s time to break it down for the students into four easy to understand parts, chamber, execute, re-chamber and return. I practice with them, have them practice on their own, monitor and adjust them, give realistic praise, and encourage them to continue to practice. When all the school’s instructors are teaching this way the retention levels, with adults and kids alike, skyrocket.


There are three ways I enjoy teaching: static, fluid, and dynamic. Static refers to teaching by count or in slow motion. Fluid indicates half speed. Dynamic means at full speed, utilizing target drills or sparring drills. All three methods should be practiced every class to insure proficiency of techniques.


Instruction should be adjusted according to age groups. Children three to five years old are the Tiny Tigers.  Students, ages six to eight years old, attend regular class. This is an age that needs the tone to be set by the instructor in the beginning of class. Students ages nine to twelve years old typically live in a world of instant gratification now-a-days. They spend a lot of time on hand held devices and are not very physical. With that being said, it’s our job, as their martial arts instructor, to get them moving and motivated. What I found to work best for this age bracket is stimulation. For example, make drills a contest, don’t have a boring class, and move from drill to drill with no hesitation.


The young adults, ages thirteen to seventeen, are my personal favorite age group to work with. They have lots of emotions, and if you understand their personality type you may be the only one that does. That is a very powerful positioned to be in. Young adults at this age are very impressionable and in the right environment you can change the course of their lives. This group is taught the regular cycle with a few more variables of stimulation added to the curriculum. 


Adults compose most of my student base: 70%. adults and 30%. children. The reason why is the level of communication these students require. Senior citizens are a fun group to work with. For them, it’s all about reaction. They are similar to teenagers and I love it.


I have developed and utilized many teaching techniques in my experience in Taekwondo instruction. Dedication to training Taekwondo and various other styles of martial arts has exposed me to many different teaching styles. Knowledge of my student’s personality types and understanding how to communicate with each has been a critical piece to the puzzle. Applying Taekwondo’s eight-week instructional cycle is critical but adjusting the method to which it is applied for each age groups keeps all of the students stimulated. My devotion to training Taekwondo has led me to a rewarding experience in teaching Taekwondo. My passion and drive has created new understandings that can help all Taekwondo instructors excel.

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