Weight Loss & Fitness Tips from a 40+ Dad who lost over 250 lbs

STFD – The 4 most important letters in teaching

Getting out in front of a big class of 20+ students is a nerve-wracking thing. Not only are you dealing with 40 little eyes staring up at you, eager to learn, but there are usually another 40-50 pairs of parently eyes watching intently from around the dojo. It can be incredibly stressful and, even when you know the material inside and out, it is very easy to go mind-blank.

As a teacher, especially one whose students pay for their training, it is a horrible (and very real) problem. It’s also one that happens to the best of us.

I am going to give you a tool you can use to help recover in that time of performance anxiety, when your teaching goes limp. That tool is the most important Four Letters in martial arts training:


Before you ask: no, I’m not talking about Shut The Front Door.

These letters stand for SHOW, TELL, FOLLOW, DO, and as long as you keep them in mind you will (almost) always do fine out on the dojo floor. Let me break those little buggers down for you.

SHOW: Perform the move, form, kata, what. Do it at full power and demonstrate exactly how it should look. This will give the students a foundation for what they’re going to be working on. This is VERY important with kata as well – some students have a major problem “seeing” a kata when only shown in chunks. Give them the entire framework and then break it down into pieces.

TELL: Explain what the move is. If you’re doing a specific technique, it also helps to take it one step further and show what the technique looks like when used on someone (another instructor, an assistant, or even a student). If you’re teaching a kata, explain the purpose of the kata — for example, the Jion kata from karate, is a form based on dealing with grabs.

FOLLOW: Have the students follow along with you as you perform the technique/form/whatever. Starts slowly and then pick up speed.

DO: Have them do it on their own. That’s what they’re in class for – to perform the moves. Get out of the way and let them do it!

If you stick to JUST those pieces, you’ll always be fine when teaching. The students will SEE, they will HEAR, the will MIMIC, and they will PERFORM. To reinforce those things, you add two addition pieces: PARROTING and REPETITION. Have the students repeat everything you say to them – the name of the kata/form/technique, what it is used for, additional information you want them to have. That parroting/repeating will aid in locking that information in their heads AND will show they understand what you’re saying.

I’ve discussed repetition (and how to hide it) in another post but it is worth repeating hear. Have the students perform the techniques (this is a little more difficult with Kata – but works when you break them down into smaller, bite-sized sets) multiple times and in multiple ways: facing forward, facing in different directions, in a circle, on each other (if a technique), on a sensei, on the bags, etc. That repetition will eventually turn into muscle memory if practiced properly and enough times.

STFD. Anytime I start to run into trouble out in the middle of a giant class of blue through brown belts, I go right back to those four little letters. I ask myself: did you SHOW? TELL? FOLLOW? DO? Ten times out of Ten, I’ve missed one of those things and that is how I got off-track.

-Mat Nastos, The Karate Geek

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Karate Geek

Karate Geek

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Mathias Nastos is the Karate Geek: Formerly 450+ pounds, I'm a dad getting fit thru #MartialArts. Nidan in Aikido, Shodan in American-form Karate, studies kali, boxing, BJJ, and judo. Best-selling action novelist.