Rank Up Podcast: My Biggest Instructor Pet Peeves

By Michael Hodge | Instructors

Sep 04

Today I will go over 17 of my biggest instructor pet peeves. I’ve seen my own instructors do these in the past, and not only do these actions annoy me, but they raise a big red flag. Are you doing any of these?

  • Checking your phone during class.
  • Allowing for kids and spectators to run wild before or during class.
  • Doing the same warm up every class.
  • Having your students remain idle during a drill.
  • And we will discuss many more.
  • Question of the week: Do I really need a black belt to provide self-defense classes?”

Welcome to Rank Up with Michael Hodge where I help you to move up to the next rank as a martial arts instructor and on the business side of things. Today, I’m talking about my biggest instructor pet peeves. These are the things that just really frustrate me, really annoy me when I see them happen from people who have worked for me in the past to even those who are going through the certified martial arts teacher course where I’m a contributor and also a grading instructor right now and just anyone else, whenever I go visit a martial arts school.

Pet Peeves = Red Flags to Watch Out For

So the Oxford Dictionary defines pet peeve, “As something that a particular person finds especially annoying.” So whenever I say annoying, and when I call these pet peeves, I don’t just mean I take personal offense to them. They’re really more of red flags. Red flags that you need to be aware of. Maybe you’re doing some of these things, maybe they are habits that you’re just not even aware of and maybe you just took them on from your own previous instructor.

#1 Instructor checks phone during class.

So I’m going to go ahead and jump into the now, the first one is instructor checks phone during class. This one will really piss you off if you’re a school owner and you see one of your instructors do this often. Look if there’s an emergency going on, you need to be checking your phone for some reason, you probably shouldn’t be there for class anyway. Otherwise, if you’re just bored and the whole class is doing a drill and you go over and kind of check your feed, check to see if you got any text messages, you’re totally unfocused. That is not okay. That is not allowed.

The only time we have our phones on the floor usually is if we’re using it to control music or something like that. But there should be absolutely no checks beyond that. Really, I just have mine turned on and then beyond that I’m using the remote for the sound system. So that’s just not OK at all. It shows a complete, not just a lack of focus, but very disrespectful to the students on the floor, even if it’s just the glance, and even beyond a glance, if it turns into something multiple times in a class, just not a good thing at all.

#2 Instructor allows for spectators and non-class children to run wild before, during, or after class.

The second one is instructor allows for spectators and non-class children to run wild before, during or after class. This is really bad, so I’ve walked into schools before where, while class is going on, there are a couple of kids playing and roughhousing and there’s a mom talking on her phone and really loud. There’s someone having a very loud conversation. It’s almost as if there’s not a class happening right now or they just don’t care. Like, “Oh, the class is fine over there. They’re just kind of punching,” and the instructor’s going to have to yell over them, or the students, especially if you’re teaching a kid’s class, especially if it’s ages five through seven or just three to four.

They really cannot focus whenever there’re so many different sound inputs and they’re hearing all these different noises. It’s very problematic and it just shows a lack of structure and discipline in your school. So again, this is before, during or after class. So you think maybe before class you go, “Okay, who cares? Everyone’s kind of playing around. They’re doing whatever they want. Once class starts, I’ll get everyone in line and then they’ll be quiet.” The problem is that you’ve already set the stage that you allow for this type of behavior and if that happens before class, it’ll probably continue during the class and after the class.

So you really need to set the standard of, when people walk in the door, the students know before their class begins, there’s an on-deck area. They walk over and they sit down with their legs crossed. Or if they’re adults, they know there’s a specific space they can go over to start stretching out just quietly. If it’s an adult group getting ready, I’ve had adults kind of talking and cutting up while I’m running a class. I’ll have to walk over and ask them kindly to, “Please keep it down. I’m running class right now.” They wouldn’t want that to happen in their class. But people just aren’t aware whether they’re the adults or the parents of the kids. You’ve really got to set that standard and make it known that’s the culture of your school.

#3 Instructor does not let a student use the bathroom.

So the next one is instructor does not let a student use the bathroom. I’ve seen some really old school stuff where like, “Oh, you can’t use the bathroom, you’ve got to hold it. You can’t drink any water at all,” this and this and this. Now, if you’re running a shorter class, like 30, 45 minutes, I usually don’t even do water breaks either. If I’m doing something like an hour and up, I would, but if the student really needs to use the bathroom, I let them go. I mean, here’s the thing though. You will have students sometimes to try to take advantage of you. That same student will always use the bathroom in class just so they can get out of doing a warm-up or an exercise they don’t want to do. Yeah. If you see that sort of pattern arise, clearly nip it in the bud. Don’t let that happen. Tell that student they’ve got use the bathroom before class starts, et cetera.

But if you have someone who never asked you to use the bathroom, it’s okay to let them do that. They’ll come right back on the floor. But again, typically it’s best to have a culture and rules where people know you need to use the bathroom before class starts and just like we want to have rules that you need to show up before class begins, we don’t want any lateness. But I really don’t like it whenever it’s a very odd one-off and a student is feeling terrible, they need to use the bathroom or whatever, it’s okay to let that happen usually.

#4 Instructor “disappears” between classes.

The next one is the instructor disappears in “between classes.” What I mean by this is that I’ve had some instructors like this too in the past, they didn’t really like … I have a one instructor I’m thinking of, he didn’t really like to interact with people, which is kind of weird. How was he a good martial arts instructor? Well, he did a pretty good job teaching class, but when he wasn’t in class he didn’t really like talking to the parents. He didn’t really want to go out of his way to build that rapport and get to know the siblings and get to know the mom and the dad and all the things that you really want your instructors to do or yourself if you’re the instructor.

So by disappearing, I mean probably going over checking their phone, just kind of ignoring what’s going on around them. Now, if there’s a break that you specifically give your students, I mean you’re going to have students, your instructors such as like, “Hey, you teach these three classes. Then you get a 30 minute break and go to the instructor break room.” There’re some really big schools. They actually have instructor break rooms and things of that. I think that’s just fine, but in between class is a very critical moment, it’s an opportunity for you to go over things in class. Maybe a student needed a little bit more help on it. Maybe a student wanted to tell you something special that happened to them at the school that day. These are very meaningful interactions. If the students just walk right in the door, they go onto the mat, they do class, they walk straight out and there was no talking before and after, whether it be with the students, the parents, et cetera, imagine how drab and how dreary that would be.

#5 Instructor is flirting with the front desk assistant before class.

So the next one is instructor is flirting with the front desk assistant before class. Definitely seen this happen as well, and I want to say that I actually had to let a front desk assistant go and this was one of the reasons why. I mean she did a pretty good job, but this particular instructor was always flirting with her in between classes. And because of that, the instructor, and she also wasn’t getting any work done. They weren’t actually interacting with people, which is what their job was, to serve others, to get to know them is to help them in whatever way. They could say like, “Oh, there’s nothing going on. There’s not a class going on. No one’s paying me for something. The phone didn’t just ring.” We want to be a little bit more proactive than that.

We want to be out at the forefront, doing what someone needs for us before they even have to say it. Right. So yeah, flirting, having this sort of relationship dynamic going on in between classes or at your school in general just isn’t a good thing. If they have a relationship outside and I don’t even know about it and they’re seeing each other outside of the facility and it doesn’t affect anything here, which again, it probably would, but it wouldn’t be as big of a deal. But yeah, that’s a problem. And that’s definitely a pet peeve of mine.

#6 Instructor does the same warm up every class.

The next one is instructor does the same warmup every class. Now, some of you traditionalist, you’re like, “Hey, that’s how we’ve always done it. This is just the way I was taught. We do this particular set of exercises and it’s tradition for us.” So again, this is from my perspective. I like freshness. I like to change it up. I like to disguise repetition. As a student, I also had instructors that pretty much did the same thing every class. There’s sort of a comfort to knowing what we’re doing and this and that but on the other hand, I prefer variety, in general. I prefer muscle confusion. I prefer changing things up so it really is a pet peeve of mine. Any of my instructors that work for me would, I would always want them to be changing the warmups.

Now, we have different types of warmups. You can cycle back through them. It’s not like you have to think of 10,000 different types of warm-up exercises and never use the same one again. But especially if you don’t do a good job planning your class in advance, you tend to fall back on what you know and what you know gets recycled and redone and then your classes are becoming quite stale over time.

#7 Instructor doesn’t know every student’s name.

Let’s go to number seven. Instructor doesn’t know every student’s name. I absolutely make it a point that I know every student’s name that walks onto the floor. If I don’t know someone’s name. I don’t feel like I communicate with them very well. I feel I don’t have as good of a connection with them because I can’t properly denote and reach out to them. So if you don’t know your student’s name, your beginners, you could have them write their name or excuse me, write their name for them on their white belt or on the sleeve of their uniform or even have some sort of a name tag or sticker that works out.

I take this to the extreme, whenever I do a mass introductory lesson, which is whenever you teach a lot of new students all at once in an introductory lesson, I always make sure I learn all the student’s names, even if it’s 15. I walk down the line, I get to know each child, I say their name, I say it again and like everyone’s so amazed by the fact that I’m doing this and then I have fun with it. I start mixing up the kids’ names on purpose, and they think it’s really fun and a good time. But it’s really important to me because when I know student’s name, I feel I can connect with them so much more. And it’s very important that your instructor knows their students’ names and that you do as well.

#8 Instructor doesn’t follow the stages of teaching properly (no full speed demo – and way too long of a breakdown).

Number eight is instructor doesn’t follow the stages of teaching properly. Now if you don’t know what that is, it’s a particular format that we use whenever we teach a new technique. We do a pre-frame just quickly selling what we’re about to teach and then we do a full-speed demonstration and then we do a high-level, mid-level and low-level breakdown with some repetitions and then we actually go into drilling the technique. The big thing here that’s my pet peeve is not seeing a full-speed demo. You’ll have an instructor that will talk about, “Okay, guys, we’re going to learn this next technique,” and then they’ll go on and on and on about how they learned it from a long time ago and this and that and this is how it’s done, and they start walking you through every movement super-slow and five minutes pass by and then you finally start to do it.

You still never seen the technique at full speed. You still don’t actually know what the high-level of execution is supposed to look like. It’s like someone teaching you a kata one step at a time and spending three weeks doing it and then you finally know it all the way through, and you do an okay job. If they just showed you the kata at 100% effort at the very beginning, first of all, you’d be much more excited to learn it because you’re like, “That looked amazing. I want to get to that point someday,” and number two, you actually know what it should look like whenever it’s done properly. So always do a quick pre-frame and then do your full-speed demonstration of what you’re going to teach as you would want your students to be able to do at some point and don’t have too long of a breakdown. Don’t stand up there talking for several minutes, have a brief breakdown, which is where you show it piece by piece and then also have your students then stand up if they were seated and then actually have them moving with you. Okay.

#9 Instructor does not use listening positions.

That leads me to number nine, instructor does not use listening positions. This is really a problem, especially with kids, but also with adults. If you’re teaching something, you want to be at the highest level, you want to be standing and have all of your students around you on their knee. If you’re going over a more detailed, important topic where you’re showing them the technique that they’re going to work on next don’t have everyone just standing around, kind of shuffling back and forth. This is especially bad with kids. You want to have them on their knee, or for a very long conversation, just have them seated with their legs crisscross.

So it’s important to use good listening positions and to realize that everyone’s eyes should be on you and it makes it easier for everyone to focus on you if you’re at a higher level than them physically speaking, you’re actually higher up. They’re all looking up. They’re all listening they’re through all focus and then once you’re ready for them to move, you had them all stand up and get moving. That way, there’s not the shuffling around and kind of looking around to the corner and seeing what’s happening in the waiting area and this and that.

#10 Instructor has students remain idle while waiting their turn in a drill line.

So number 10 is instructor has students remain idle while waiting their turn in a drill line. I really don’t like doing this in my classes. I have my students moving the entire time. We don’t have down-time. If we’re doing drill lines, which is where you have, let’s say five students lined up. When they get to the end of the line, they get to punch a mitt or do some sort of interaction with another instructor, or they hit a big Wavemaster or training bag. What are they doing until it’s their turn, right? They have to wait for other kids to go before it’s their turn. Are they just standing there? Are they just kind of lollygagging? What’s going on? So I have my students doing jumping jacks. I have them doing running in place. I’ll have them practicing the block. I’ll have them practicing knees, different things where they’re getting actual movements that are useful to keep their body moving that could also have relevancy to the technique you’re going to do at the end of the drill line.

#11 Instructor makes announcements quietly and only to the students.

Number 11 is instructor makes announcements quietly and only to the students. So whenever you make your announcements at the end of class generally, you’re actually announcing this to everyone, especially if you’re teaching a kids class. You’re not just telling the kids, you’re not like, “Hey, kids, just so you remember, graduation and testing’s next week, you need to pay your $50.” They’re not the ones who are going to pay the $50, or if you’re talking about some special event next Saturday, you might very well want to get the kids excited about it, but the parents need to also know about it. So making sure that you’re addressing the students and also the spectators or the parents all at once when you’re making announcements is very important.

#12 Instructor walks on the mat without a class plan.

Number 12 is instructor walks on the mat without a class plan. This one really gets to me. If you don’t have a class plan, your class isn’t going to be as good. I mean, you’re just going to be teaching off a personality. You’re going to be teaching off of habits. You’re going to be teaching off what you’re comfortable and what you’re used to. You might think, “No, no, I’m going to be able to pull something out of my hat, and it’s going to be awesome.” You’re going to recycle things. You’re going to go back to what you’re used to. That’s just human nature, okay?

So if you plan a class in advance, it doesn’t take that long. You’re going to be able to have an awesome warm-up. You’re going to have a different type of drill. You’re going to be able to think of things that you wouldn’t have thought of, and you’re going to have a much better class experience for everyone. You want this to be the very best part of their day. You want them to look forward to coming to martial arts class. They might not enjoy their job, they might just want to leave school, but they’re like, “Man, I can’t wait to go to martial arts class. It’s going to be so awesome, just like last time.” And it’s fun, and it’s different and there’s community and there are people that love each other and care about each other and that are pushing one another in a positive way.

#13 Instructor gives an unequal amount of attention to his/her students.

Number 13 is instructor gives an unequal amount of time to his or her students. This can happen sometimes whenever an instructor doesn’t realize the fact that they really, really, really like this a student, and by A student, I mean a star performer, right? They’re always choosing this particular student to be the example. They’re always choosing this student to help them hold mitts or whatever and then you have C students that usually get a lot of attention because they’re cutting up, they’re making mistakes, they’re getting all these things pointed out that they’re doing wrong, they’re misbehaving and you have these B students, which is the bulk of your class, that aren’t the very best and aren’t the very worst and a lot of times they don’t get that attention. We want to make sure everyone gets highlighted sometimes. We want to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity to help out. We’re going to make sure that everyone’s getting their name called. Okay. We have to have it as closes to an equal amount of attention as possible to all of the students in our class.

#14 Instructor uses his class to show off.

The next one is instructor uses his class to show off. So I’ve seen this before where an instructor just really uses the class as a stage to show off how fit they are, how fast they are, how high they can kick. Now, don’t get me wrong, whenever we do a full-speed demo for something, we want to inspire our students. We want them to think that we’re awesome. We want them to be like, “Whoa, this guy’s the best. I want to be a black belt someday as well,” it’s really not that that’s a problem. It’s about the demeanor and almost the stroking of your ego that I have seen at times.

So this isn’t really one of the bigger pet peeves I would say for me. But I wanted to point out, we don’t want to just purely always be showing off or be hitting our students really fast and hard during the demos just to show them that we’re superior, and we don’t want to use this as an opportunity for us to prove ourselves constantly to our students. They have our respect. Show them that you do have that grace and humility while at the same time you’re a high-level performer in the martial arts style that you do.

#15 Instructor teaches a class within a class.

Number 15 is instructor teaches a class within a class. This is really especially about an assistant instructor, this one absolutely frustrates me and really pisses me off. Whenever I’m teaching a class and I have an assistant or someone that’s helping and they decide to, because a student isn’t doing a good job, so he’ll start working with him separately over in the corner. Now, you might be thinking, “No, that’s a good thing.” Like, “I’m glad that he proactively chose to go help that student.” What happens is that I will lose the group dynamic.

I would prefer that he give one-second compliments and corrections and once we go into a drilling section where we turn the music on, for example, and we’re doing drilling for five, seven minutes, that’s when we can get some very detailed practice and help. But that teaching isn’t happening while I’m also verbally teaching, that’s whenever there’s music, that’s where everyone’s all getting repetition at the same time and if that student really needs more work, offering to help with that student after class or even offering to set up a free private lesson is something that we would do sometimes if a student was really behind, but not teaching and talking out at the same time and there creates this weird dynamic where that student doesn’t really know, “Should I be listening to this instructor or this leadership team member or the head instructor? I’m kind of confused.”

#16 Instructor teaches outside of the curriculum or belittles a team member (other instructor).

Number 16 is instructor teaches outside of the curriculum or belittles a team member such as another instructor. Oh, this one is really, really bad. It’ll be a cancer in your school if it ever happens. This actually happened to me. The first instructor that ever hired to work for me, he had a lot of martial arts background, was a much younger guy at the time and he would literally say things like, “Oh, this is the way I do it. This is how I turn. This is how I do this kick. Sensei Michael wants you to do it this way, but this is actually the way I do it.” I would actually hear him say these things as I was in the same class. Or I would walk by and watch the class he’s teaching. There was just this level of disrespect. It was absolutely ridiculous and, of course, it didn’t take too long for me to let him go.

But belittling someone and especially publicly like that or teaching outside of the curriculum, teaching something that’s totally different from what is mandated by your school if you work at a school for example, is incredibly problematic, it’s very disrespectful. You might very well think that a certain technique is much better than the one you’re teaching. That’s a discussion you should have with your head instructor or that’s a discussion you should have with other people in your association before you make the curriculum change. Once you make the curriculum change, your whole team can be on the same page and you can all present that to your student base, but you shouldn’t be doing it in one-offs where you’re disrespecting one another.

#17 Instructor openly disrespects other martial arts styles or schools.

And finally, number 17, instructor openly disrespects other martial arts styles or schools. So it’s okay to have some friendly banter if you have a group of instructors that work with you, kind of playing around regarding one or the other martial arts schools in your town or another style that you saw on YouTube that you thought was kind of silly, but not openly disrespecting another style or really having a closed mind. I mean it’s easy to go into an MMA School or a very modern martial arts type school, maybe like Krav Maga and hear people talking bad about TaeKwonDo or Karate and things like that.

But whenever you meet an instructor of Krav Maga or MMA or Muay Thai or something like this that has great respect for the traditional arts, I have even more respect for them as a person because they realize there’s value in all martial arts styles, there’s value in all schools, there are values in all different perspectives. Those are the sort of people that I want to be with. I want to be with people that have an open mind. I want to be with people who respect and care about others and they don’t just think that their way is the best way. Right? It’s their way or the highway, and that’s just a pet peeve of mine.

So I hope that you didn’t take this episode as totally negative, but rather as an opportunity to see if any of these things are happening in your own instruction right now and if you should really reconsider why you’re doing them. Sometimes, like I mentioned earlier, we get into habits and we pick up these habits from our previous instructors and we just think they’re totally normal. But if I could enlighten you a little bit as to why some of these things are problematic and how you can change and become better I think I did my job today.

Question: “Do I really need a black belt to provide self-defense classes?”

So I’m going to move on to today’s question. And this one’s from Ralph Hughes, thanks for sending it in. “Do I really need a black belt to provide self-defense classes?” It’s a great question. So in short, the answer is no. Self-defense classes can mean so many different things. It can be you doing a women’s self-defense seminar at the local community center. It could be you running a special self-defense group class once a week at your church, which I know of one of our certified Krav Maga instructors that do something similar to this. It could be a wide variety of different applications. Even if you run a full self-defense studio, if you have a lot of relevant background training but never actually earned a particular rank or belt in a style, you could still very well be a legitimate self-defense instructor.

So the question is, “What is your martial arts background? What other experiences do you have?” Perhaps you have military experience, perhaps you’re a bouncer, maybe you’ve been in a lot of street fights, you know real self-defense, but you’ve also been appropriately trained. Maybe you’ve done things like Krav Maga or Chi Kudo or you’ve done different styles that maybe you didn’t get belted in. So you could still provide self-defense classes. But what you won’t be able to do is rank your students in a particular style. So you might have a background in Krav Maga for example, but a lot of other things too, but you never actually earned a black belt or you never actually earned an instructor’s certification in Krav Maga. In that case, you wouldn’t be able to rank your students up and say, “Hey, you just passed this test. You’re now a yellow belt or a level-one rank in Krav Maga through me,” because that wouldn’t make sense. You’re not actually a black belt in that style. And that’s what I wanted to point out.

So if you’re just doing general self-defense classes and the goal is fitness, it’s self-defense, it’s self-protection, and your students really aren’t trying to earn an official rank in a particularly recognized style, you’re going to be just fine. That doesn’t mean you can’t provide some sort of level advancement. You might have a beginner and intermediate and advanced class. You might have even just a beginner in an advanced class and you have to go through certain things to get promoted to that other class. You might wear a different colored t-shirt just to show your authority or really your rank in the class, even if it’s not an official style that has been created. So, hopefully, that answers your question, gives you a little bit more perspective on if you really need a black belt or not just to provide self-defense classes.

Hope you guys really enjoyed this episode today. As always, please send in your questions. I look forward to helping you out any way I can. Keep learning, keep training, and keep spreading abundance.

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About the Author

I am a Lead Instructor at the Global Martial Arts University. I live with my three energetic kids on a prairie in Texas. I also lead The Abundance Projects.

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(2) comments

Scott September 7, 2019

I have had all bad martial arts experiences at local studios here in Houston; contracts you cant get out of, rude and disrespectful instructors, cell phone use. Plus some of your other red flags.

I am so much better than you instructors. Get a free intro and sign up and then get left out and treated like a paycheck.

In fact at my latest studio I had a problem because the men’s door locks automatically but the ladies doesn’t and there is no key, so just go to the ladies. I find this unacceptable and distasteful and when I said something about the there not ever being a key it was my fault for any number of reasons, not saying something sooner and I was now being rude.

    Michael Hodge September 8, 2019

    I am really sorry to hear that you have had such poor experiences! Wow, I can’t believe people actually behave in this way and somehow stay in business.

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