Demonstrating to a class

When I demonstrate something to a class, I will occasionally invite an attack of any kind, not knowing how my demonstration will work out. Why do I take this "risk"? Because it adds pressure and ensures that I am staying honest to the students and myself.

Me demonstrating kicking in the "melee range" - see from about 2:45 onwards.

I will also frequently allow the students to demonstrate on me, knowing that I'll cop a smack that I would otherwise be handing out. Why? Because again, I know it will keep it honest and real. The other risk with this approach is that I loose any veneer of "invincibility" which an instructor can manufacture by always being the one dishing out blows. Again, this is a big "loss", yet I do so because I don't want to rely on "veneers".

Me demonstrating a throwing technique. Note from 1:57 onwards where I allow a student to demonstrate on me.

How do you all feel about demonstrations to a class? For example, should a teacher invite a limited range of attacks (grabs or cross punches) only to deal with them (however impressively) with a multitude of responses none of which can be responded to by the student (who obediently and doggedly sticks to a futile game plan of persistent grabs/punches even when he/she would, in reality, adopt a very different approach)?

An example of a demonstration where the student (uke) offers a token attack and then submits to a flurry of responses

I have seen a lot of this, and it makes the teacher look very good. But I can't help feel that unless it is clearly expressed as no more than an artifice - a mere method of illustrating a principle - then the danger is that the students watching will get an inflated view of the teacher's ability and hence of what he/she is teaching. To me this is a very dangerous pedagogy and can give false confidence to both the student and the teacher.

We are all aware of the powerful psychological advantage an teacher has over his/her students. How prepared are you to lose this advantage in the interests of honesty and reality?

One of my colleagues on the Traditional Fighting Arts Forum wrote in answer to these questions:

    "... after seeing two great clubs with a superb teachers disintegrate completely I can certainly appreciate the need for a bit of the "I say, you do because I'm the boss" mentality. Perhaps it's not quite what you are talking about, but I think the air of invulnerability can help maintain class discipline. It's all too easy for power to devolve to strong personalities in a club. Then rifts start forming, students start leaving and it all goes pear shaped."
I think the "I say, you do because I'm the boss" mentality has a lot more to do with maintaining the correct teacher/student relationship based on respect than it does on veneers of invulnerability.

You can maintain this relationship using very subtle behavioral devices. Just as the best school teacher doesn't have to shout to get attention, so the best karate teacher doesn't have to bully to be respected.

I agree there is a fine line: a teacher should not lower him/herself in demonstrating. That is counter-productive. If he or she has a weakness (and we all do), this weakness should not be continuously on display as it might detract from his or her good qualities, resulting in loss of confidence and the breakdown of the teacher/student relationship. For instance a teacher with a bad back doesn't need to engage in hard and fast sparring with his students. However the teacher doesn't need to make his/her students stand still while he slaps them around either...

In other words the teacher must not use ploys to create a false appearance of efficacy and power. A good teacher should be impressive enough to his/her students just by being him/herself. What you choose to show of your true self is what counts - not what you choose to lie about yourself.

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. Well said. But I don't think many martial arts instructors will have enough courage to be that honest and transparent - especially those who really do need to embrace your message. Colin

  2. I saw those clips before, and my impression was 'What a waste.'

    Can't speak of the level of training you are discussing, as the type of exercise you are discussing seems really only applicable to senior students; to invite an open attack form a junior student is really no challenge and at that point a direct learning exercise for the student.

  3. Hey there, Dan.
    I really liked the article and especially enjoyed the video clips. I just wanted to bring to your attention that the second clip was removed, but i did find its replacement on your youtube channel. So, if you could attach that video to this page (however you do it, i don't really understand the complexities of computers), that'd be cool. It was this one,

    Keep up with the insights!

  4. A veneer of invincibility impresses only the unskilled. Any student who gets good enough - or anyone with ability watching from the side - wouldn't be very impressed.

    My two cents.


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