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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.