Disrespectful student at seminars

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OldManKarate AikidoI’ve taught at many seminars. From groups of two or three all the way to packed rooms of forty or more hard attitude sweaty men. Having a student who disturbs the harmony of the class is not uncommon. If you teach at an event you will eventually come across that one student who knows more, listens less, and requires you to prove everything. The question is, ‘how do you handle the situation and bring the class back under your control?’

There are various approaches—some may include direct action such as striking the poor misguided student with a hard fist to the face or verbally lashing out with insults and mind games. I will admit I have used a little pain to gain compliance. A gentle nudge to the trouble maker typically stops the problem. One time I yelled, kiai, in a student’s ear when he asked me what I would do if he tried to escape from a locking technique he insisted I practice on him. It shut him down fast. Overly harsh? Not really by terms of the old guy teaching the young dude a creative new way to handle a situation. But then, my group considers me a bit on the grumpy side. They keep telling me to rename the website Old Grumpy Martial Arts.

Humorous discussions among those instructors who teach at seminars are always filled with verbose ways they might handle the disruptive student. Iron fists, foot to the head, I’ll get him after class—fun talk but they actually yield little in positive return.

What is truly missing from most discussions about the disruptive student is the student’s real need for the class. Insecurity runs high among the martial arts community and in my opinion most men and boys who join the arts do so because of some latent insecurity. Understanding this can be important when dealing with the disruptive student. Feed their ego, yeah I said it; make them the most important thing in the class. Feed the ego of the insecure and they will typically rise to the occasion with positive accolades.

Where this can go wrong is if you let them teach your students at the seminar. Never give up the floor to the naysayer. You can ask questions, have them ask you questions, but don’t give up your position of power. And make absolute certain that you not let the student dominate the time of the other students.

I’m not presenting the idea that you don’t try to shut them down with more direct methods if they will work, but I do mention this ego stroking for a reason. You as a teacher must teach the full spectrum of attack, defend, and diffuse. What better way to teach the rest of the class some classic de-escalation techniques than to neutralize the back of the room big mouth.

Okay, we’re all tough guys and on rare occasions it might be necessary to go hard on the guy. You are at a martial arts seminar and the tone might dictate an iron fist to the head.  Could you justify this action to the criminal court system? Would doing this actually make Mr. Student realize the importance of the martial arts seminar?

You’re not going to change the disruptive student’s personality in a few short minutes so maybe a more proactive approach needs to be attempted. How do you prevent these types of students from attending? Hold small intimate workshops—no seminars open to anyone willing to pay and attend. Build on the exclusivity of your training. This limits your cash flow but it might be a consideration for getting an annual seminar launched. Limit attendees to invited guest for the first year or two. Then open up attendance to the wider market.

Another proactive approach is to always take your own uke or demonstration partner. If a problem arises, send the uke over to work with the problem maker. Lots of times I have found this technique is the best. Mr. difficult gets personal attention which feeds his ego and keeps his mouth shut.

In reality, problem makers are a minor annoyance and can typically be shutdown with a quick validation either verbally or with a little one-on-one coaching. So keep you options open and remember that learning to diffuse the situation is part of your martial skill and needs to be practiced.

Here is an example to say to the loudmouth person. “That’s a great point and I think you will find we are closer together in our views than might be apparent. However, we have a lot of material to go through, but I would love to hear your point of view after the seminar.” Something like this gets them off their soap box without dismissing them outright. Is it BS? Yep, in its purest form.

This is my favorite.

Setup a hard force drill and pair Mr. Problem with the meanest looking, bone bruising, ex foot ball player. After a few hits from the muscle bound gorilla, most problems tend to magically disappear.

Yeah, it’s on the physical side, but I’m the old man now and can get away with it.

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Updated: April 20, 2017 — 11:51 am

2 Comments

  1. Excellent article, John.

    I have been lucky for the most part with students attending seminars, but it might be a male/female thing (males challenge males more than they challenge females?). I have had one or two who want to show “a better way”, and I’m open to see their technique to critique. The trick is to have a sharing atmosphere while still keeping control of the seminar. Not a democracy. If their technique if faulty, I’ll show them why. It’s often difficult to demonstrate, because you can’t “go full throttle” at a seminar like you can on the street. It their technique has merit, I welcome it.

    What helps is to address this issue at the beginning of the seminar, saying how there are hundreds of techniques, and to determine which one is absolute best is next to impossible. Too many variables. At my intro speech, I say, “There are always the ‘Know-it-alls’… please don’t be one. If you wish to share an alternative technique, please show it to me privately and respectfully when students are practicing.”

    Believe it or not, I have had more problems with Guest Instructors. I had one Guest Instructor show his very specific way of doing round kicks, and then showing why all the other ways were wrong. He never considered (or maybe he did) that I, and the other instructors, taught one of his “wrong” ways. This fellow was extremely sure of himself. When the other Guest Instructors taught, he pulled my pre-teen student off to the side to show him some unrelated stuff. Apparently, the other Guest Instructors bored him. My challenge is to weed out the “My Way or the Highway” type of instructors while still maintaining composure to set a good example to the attending students.

    Like you, I have found that the Guest Instructors (and high-ranking students) who, IMHO, have the best technique and can handle themselves on the mat (and the street) have a more open attitude, are more polite and respectful, than the over-confident “know-it-alls” and those who view themselves as superior. Those who listen learn. Those who talk don’t.

    Thanks again for an insightful article.

  2. Thanks for the comment Amy.

    You point to a real issue that can arise. The obnoxious guest instructor. I have had a few bottom feeders and have actually had to take the class back from them.

    If I look back to my early years as being a guest instructor, I cringe with some of the things I said and did. — memories best told around a camp fire far removed from civilization.

    That might make a good post. ‘Stupid things I have said to martial arts classes.”

    Ki Balls anyone? ‘I can feel the power!’

    Our how about ‘Push down on the floor’

    – ouch

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