By Kathy Olevsky
Most martial arts school owners have humble starting places. There are a few who were given the opportunity to take over an existing, thriving program. But, for the most part, we all start in a small, single-instructor setting. The struggles of that type of program are universal from one style to the next, and we all face obstacles.
It is certainly not uncommon to find yourself in a conundrum because you are not feeling well, but you know that, because you are charging your students money for classes, someone still has to teach. I’ve talked to many school owners who don’t know how to resolve this issue. In our early days, we had one instructor and one person who answered the phone. Sometimes it was the same person. When one of us got sick or had a family emergency, it was hard to know what to do.
You have to begin somewhere. One method we found to develop assistants was to start using people in leadership roles during class. This became part of our environment to teach students to be helpful to each other, rather than oppositional. We would select a different person each class to lead the warm-ups and stretches. This routine was standard, so after doing it a few times, most anyone could lead it with minor assistance. This step would sometimes turn up students who had great leadership skills. The next time, we might use them to stand in front of a group practicing techniques together. We called that position Buddy Leader.
As students developed these leadership skills, it was easy to tell who was receptive to taking on leadership roles. In those interested students, we began to nurture those teaching skills further. When we first started, we were using low-level belts to help in some classes, while the true black belt instructor was the one doing the teaching.
As our program grew, it was relatively easy to have a green belt lead all the warm-ups and stretches without the help of the main instructor. In the early days of our small dojo, we decided to reward some of those students with an assistant instructor belt: Century’s red belt with a black stripe through the middle.
If the students were willing to donate some of their time to assisting, they would come to classes that they were not scheduled to take, and act as assistant instructors. In their own classes, they would wear their true rank belt. After we initiated this assistant program, it was simple to get a few people who were interested. The assistant instructor belt was great recognition.
There were times when something went wrong and we had to use the assistants to actually teach. We did not have extra black belts at the time, so the assistant instructors offered an easy solution. They knew the pattern of the first thirty minutes of a class and it was easy to give them a plan for the other thirty. It was not a permanent solution, but it was a welcome idea to hold us over, in an emergency.
Of course, those assistant instructors most often became our black belts. They earned their promotions with a significant amount of teaching experience already under their belts.
We don’t believe in having green belts or teenagers teaching classes on a permanent basis, but there is nothing wrong with using them as assistants while you are overseeing them. So for those dojos who are struggling with your new program, start looking for your diamonds in the rough!
Kathy Olevsky can be reached for questions or comments at [email protected]
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