Karate Student Feedback – Complaining, Critiquing, or Concerning?

We karate teachers are a unique breed.  We have a knowledge and skill set that many others don’t possess.  A karate teacher is part martial artist, part teacher, part life coach, part psychologist, part physical therapist, part EMT, and part fitness coach.  That’s a lot of parts.  Most of us are experts in martial arts, proficient in teaching, and knowledgeable at best in the other areas.  With all of this expertise, when karate student feedback is received it is often dismissed or ignored.

Please note that I am using a full-time martial arts instructor as a reference.  There are surely part-time instructors who have a full-time day job in one of these other areas, making them experts in that field.  I would argue that they are not at the same level of martial arts expertise as the full-timers, but I digress.

Unfortunately, there is one more part that I left out.  And that part is ego.  Many instructors have tremendous egos.  Because of those egos, instructors think that they are also experts in all of those other fields I mentioned, and that can be dangerous.

Karate student feedback or complaining?
Karate student feedback or complaining?

If you’re anything like me, you are constantly making course corrections in your curriculum, teaching methods, class structure, etc. to get the results you are looking for from your students.  Some of these corrections are big and some are small.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they are utter failures.

People dislike change.  Anytime there is change, there is someone who wants to tell you about it.  Because we are masters, grandmasters, or some other title, we tend to see this as complaining since we are so knowledgeable and wise, there is no way we can be wrong.  However, we need to have a little more of an open mind when these situations come up.  Let’s look at some examples that will hopefully illustrate what I am trying to say.

Example 1:  Complaining, Critiquing, or Concerning?

You decide to add some more fitness training into your classes because you feel students need some more conditioning.  After a few weeks a student says he can’t do the fitness because it is too hot and we shouldn’t do it on hot days.

At first glance, this sounds like complaining.  If it is 70 degrees inside and you have fans or air conditioning running, then you most likely have a complainer.  However, what if the student has an underlying medical condition that causes them to overheat?  This would then be concerning rather than complaining.

Are you listening to the karate student feedback?
Are you listening to the karate student feedback?

Example 2:  Complaining, Critiquing, or Concerning?

After class, the parent of a student approaches you and tells you that a certain exercise you do is unsafe because her aerobics instructor told her not to do it.  Sounds like a classic example critiquing.  Whenever we think we know something important, we want to broadcast it and make sure everyone knows we know it.

While this is likely just someone wanting to throw in their 2 cents, it could be concerning.  Perhaps the aerobics instructor is a world-renowned physical therapist that just spoke at an international conference on the subject.  Rather than immediately dismissing the notion, a prudent action would be to listen and gather a little more information before making any assumptions or taking any actions.

Example 3:  Complaining, Critiquing, or Concerning?

A student lands awkwardly after doing a jump kick and drops to the ground with knee pain.  You tell him to put some dirt on it and walk it off.  Toughen up wimp, stop complaining.  Another student, who happens to be a medical doctor, tells you he thinks the student may have torn his ACL.  He’s critiquing your decision.  You are the master instructor of the studio.  You know what’s best for all students in every situation.  Again, this turns out to be a concerning situation as the student probably has a severe injury.

In my career as an instructor, I have seen broken arms, dislocated shoulders, torn ACLs, torn Achilles’ tendons, and even a cardiac event.  Thankfully, all of these students made full recoveries.  Even though I keep active CPR and first aid certifications, I am not an EMT.  In all of these situations, there was either a doctor, nurse, physical therapist, or EMT amongst the other students or parents in the facility.  I put my ego and desire to be the grand poohbah of the studio aside and yielded to the professionals.

We are not the grand poobah of everything
We are not the grand poobah of everything and need to take student feedback seriously

So, what is the moral of the story here?  When a student says something that sounds like complaining, we can’t let our egos take over.   Take a step back, assess the situation, and make a logical decision that ensures the safety and well being of your students but that also stays in line with the discipline, respect, and honor you are trying to instill in your students.

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