Finding the right curriculum for your school could literally be the difference between you thriving in business and you going out of business.
Many people have a narrow view of what a curriculum is and how important it is to the success of your school. You don’t simply have a Taekwon-Do curriculum, a Kung Fu curriculum or a Karate curriculum. You have the art that you teach, but in addition to what your teach your curriculum is HOW you teach it. It’s the “HOW YOU TEACH” that determines your whether your students are frustrated with or excited about training. It determines how quickly they can learn and can motivate them to achieving greater success!
There are many great ideas out there. But for ITF schools the problem has always been adapting new ideas to a very strict, linear, ITF format that is proven and successful into a successful business model without sacrificing the integrity of the art.
Over the years there have been many curricula made available to instructors claiming to make your life easier as a school owner. Most of them were designed to systematize the art in such a way that you could almost guarantee that every student would be able to test when the time came. They were designed to make students feel good so they would stay and keep training. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but when you start to water down aspects of your art to keep people happy or you become more concerned about everyone testing over whether or not they are truly ready to test, then you have a problem.
12-15 years ago, the big breakthrough in martial arts curricula was the invention of the Rotating Curriculum! This allowed all beginners (first three levels) to work on the same material so everyone would be doing the same thing in class and no one would ever have to sit down or wait while other’s did their rank specific material. This was supposed to keep everyone engaged, excited, and you’d only have a third of the material to teach. Then the same format would follow for intermediate students and advanced students. For example, you would have 10th, 9th, and 8th gups in the same class all doing 10th grade material. After the next test cycle they’d all do 9th grade material and during the next test cycle they’d all do 8th grade material. So by the time they got to 7th gup they would have covered everything, but may not have learned it in the right order. Imagine learning Dan Gun before Saju Jirugi!
For other arts, this seems to work as they have much more freedom with what they teach and when they teach it. Also in other arts, the material may not differ that much between beginner levels. For ITF Taekwon-Do, it won’t work.
The other problem with this approach is that no one really knows what they are supposed to be learning at any given time. In the moment you may know that you are a beginner in curriculum 2, but if you ask a black belt what pattern a 8th gup does, they wouldn’t know! They could tell you what the “beginner patterns” are, but many things get lost in the process. Leaving you with black belts who really can’t help lower belts unless they look up what that rank is supposed to be working on at any given time. Also, black belt testings only consist of what was learned between 1st gup and black belt. No one in responsible for all the material from white belt to black belt. Can you say “watered down?”
There’s a few good concepts in it, but overall it’s a terrible strategy for an ITF school.
The latest development in curriculum design is having the classes being organized around stages of development. So everyone is grouped by ages rather than ranks (4-6, 7-10, 11-14, 15+). The hurdle here is that students would be divided up by age and all ranks would be in every class. This actually makes a great deal of sense in many ways and I’m looking more into it as I write this.
Then there’s those of you who are tinkerers. You are constantly changing your curriculum every six months or so thinking that some day you will find the holy grail of curricula and life will be easier. The good news about that is that you are working hard and committed to your students. The bad news is that you are making life miserable for them. The more changes you make, the less the upper belts know about what lower belts are doing and this invalidates whatever it is that they already know. They know what they learned as a green belt, but may have no idea what you are teaching current green belts.
So is there a perfect curriculum?
There is, however, the right one for you. If you’re happy with your current one, stick with it! If not, there are many others out there so you’ve got some research to do.
For the last six years or so, we’ve used a curriculum that was a hybrid of a rotating curriculum. Students trained Mon/Wed or Tues/Thurs and specific things were covered on those days. On Monday and Tuesday we covered patterns and step-sparring while on Wednesday and Thursday we covered sparring and self-defense. Saturday classes were review classes in case anyone missed a class during the week. Students could attend these to make up a class or if they just wanted to get in some extra training.
Everyone learned the appropriate pattern for their rank, but we were able to rotate kicking requirements, step-sparring, self-defense and breaking.
This model allowed us to know that everything was being covered. Each week we knew that the students were getting their material and we gave them goals along the way. We have a 12 week test cycle so by the end of the 4th week they were supposed to know their pattern, by the end of the 7th they should know their step-sparring and by the 10th they should know their self-defense. These weren’t hard requirements but they were guidelines that helped students and parents along the way towards testing.
This worked well, but not well enough for me. We still had 10-15% of students who were having trouble getting their material down and really pressing the last few weeks before testing to ensure they were prepared. Most of these weren’t kids that, in my opinion, should have been having trouble.
So rather than blaming them, I made it my problem.
I began researching other curricula, finding out what new ideas they are trying out in the schools systems, I’d look at other sports and disciplines and anything else I could find where children were being taught something.
From all that research I realized that we had been more focused on making sure the instructors covered all the material that needed to be covered, rather than making sure that the material was presented in a way that made it easier for the students to learn.
The good news was that we didn’t need to change any of our requirements. What needed to change was how we presented the material.
The method described above covered everything they needed to test, but they were constantly getting it a little bit of everything all the time. They never really had the opportunity to focus on one thing for an extended period of time and really develop confidence with that one thing. So we took those guidelines I mentioned earlier and made them more than guidelines.
The class during the first four weeks of the test cycle consisted of a new and exciting warm-up (up to this point we were still doing old, stagnant, boring static stretching at the beginning of class), fundamental techniques and patterns. That’s it.
Students had 4 weeks to learn their pattern and earn a white stripe on their belts.
The next three weeks were warm-up, fundamentals, pattern review and step-sparring. Then they earn a white strip for knowing their step-sparring.
The next three weeks were warm-up, fundamentals, pattern review, step-sparring review and self-defense. Then they earn a white strip for knowing their self-defense.
In the remaining weeks leading up to testing we review everything and work on breaking.
Now, instead of learning a little bit of everything all the time, they were able to focus on one thing, develop confidence with it and had a goal and incentive. The white stripes allowed the students, the instructors and the parents to know if the child was progressing and if they would be ready to test. Now there was no question.
One of the coolest things I saw after we made this transition was in week 3 when I was at the school picking up my son from his class. The next class was a beginner class of 7-12 year olds. There were about 12 of them on the mat and every single one of them was practicing their pattern. A few of them were doing it together but most of them on their own!
Why is this amazing? Because as instructors we’re always telling them they should be stretching or practicing while waiting for class to start, but as normal 7-12 year old kids do, they usually want to run around, play and goof off with their friends. I was amazed at how they just got out there and started working… without being told!
But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The whole school had been focused on patterns for weeks, they had confidence in what they were practicing and they all wanted that white stripe. The kids didn’t change, but the atmosphere of the school did and it shows in every class.
Like I said before, there is no perfect curriculum, but there is one that is a fit for you and your school. This one just happens to work really well with ITF Taekwon-Do!
Keep your eyes open for next week’s article where I share my Facebook secrets for retention, interacting with parents and generating new business!
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About the Author:
Mr. Karstadt is the founder of 1 TKD Consulting and owns the longest running ITF Taekwon-Do school in Arizona, Karstadt Taekwon-Do in Phoenix, AZ with his father Master David Karstadt. He has been training since 1984, earned his Black Belt at the age of 8 and is currently an internationally renown intstructor teaching the culture, discipline, leadership and business skills of Taekwon-Do in classes and seminars to Instructors around the world. He has been a member of eight U.S. Taekwon-Do Teams and has traveled to 14 different countries competing in Taekwon-Do. He has won numerous medals at the World Championships and in international competition, most notably winning the 2004 World Championships in South Korea with two gold medals and the Men’s Team All Around Trophy. Mr. Karstadt currently resides in uptown Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and three children. Mr. Karstadt can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org