Teaching Approaches


An important component of the Balintawak based approach to the martial arts is that the student is taught how to instruct. The material below documents the teaching methods area in the knife curriculum. This goes beyond just the teaching of a physical art, and puts teaching into a broader framework. Anyone wishing to teach the art with my blessing needs to have mastered this part of the curriculum.

Professional Responsibility

As a teacher of self-defence, even as an amateur, you have a duty to your students. You must honestly inform them about the strengths and weaknesses of what they are learning, and give them a realistic appraisal of what their ability is. You must not over-represent the worth of the art, or your knowledge and ability. You must always try to improve both your teaching methods and the curriculum. Do not give your students a sense of false confidence. Do always try to discover improved practices.

Planning and Structuring the Curriculum

In this document, I give an extended outline of the curriculum. I have not given techniques in any depth at all, and I have not presented a structured curriculum that will immediately allow teaching at various levels. However, this has been done for stick-fighting, and the progression for knife is quite similar. As a teacher, you should have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish. Students should also have clear idea of what is in the program, and how they might progress through it.

Lesson Planning

Within the context of a broader curriculum, your need to have some structure for individual lessons. It helps to have a lesson plan for each class. This may be written, but if not, at least know what you hope to accomplish, what you wish to cover. However, be flexible, as student attendance can be erratic, and you might need to modify your plans on the fly.

Teaching Methods

I have created this initial model for teaching Balintawak. I think that it will be reasonably practical. It codifies my current methods.


The model gives the instructor’s and students perspective’s. It assumes that you teach a bit at a time, and then cycle through again, maybe within the session, but definitely in subsequent sessions. Each time, you give a little more depth and refinement.


The Model


















Go through each phase and repeat as necessary, with more depth at each cycle until the material is mastered. Each phase implies that the instructor does certain things, and the student must follow the instructor’s guidance.


As a tangential point, memorization is not a separate phase. Assume that memorization, including remembering motor skills, occurs at all phases.


Models are all crude approximations of the ever-fluid under-lying reality. They serve as a guide only, but there are some very clear implications for teaching coming from this model.


1- Demonstrate/Observe


Demonstrate only enough at one time, no more than the student can absorb. Demonstrate slowly. Demonstrate repeatedly. Make sure that the students can see the technique. Show from a couple of directions if need be. The demonstration may be visual, but usually it will involve tactile components. The student will need to feel the forces being used.


The student must observe closely, and actively try to understand what is being shown.


2 – Explain/Understand


Use words to point out certain feature of the technique. Don’t try to “boil the ocean” by giving too much information at once. There will be repetitions in the process, so don’t try to get every last detail into the explanation. Start with the concrete, and leave advanced principles, generalizations and abstractions for the advanced students. Make sure that the student understands what you said. Question them. Observe them.


The demonstration will normally be accompanied by the explanation, so calling them phases is a little misleading. They do over-lap.


A rule that sometimes is used in writing is:

– tell them in brief what you are going to say

– say it in sufficient and appropriate detail

– summarize what you just said


Don’t get into the inevitable discussions about “what ifs” until the technique has been functionalised by the student. Use clear language, and a vocabulary appropriate to the audience. Check for comprehension. Ask for feedback.


3 – Drill/Functionalise


You need the student to learn the technique in progressively more and more demanding contexts, with more and more intensity, unpredictability and resistance. This is often referred to as making the training more “live”. Injuries however, can accompany live training, so balance risk against benefits wisely. Injured students can’t train, amongst other negative consequences. This term “functionalise” implies that you can actually make the technique function against a competent resisting opponent, with some measure of consistent success. See Appendix D – Aliveness in Training for more details.


Our Balintawak drills inherently offer somewhat live training, and the intensity can be easily increased. Adding some protective gear to the mix can allow a greater degree of liveness. You need to strike a balance between skill acquisition and injury.


4 – Coach/Integrate


I chose the term coach only because I could not find a better one. After the technique has been made functional, you still need to make sure that it is integrated into the student’s toolkit so that he can execute it whenever a suitable opportunity presents itself. It becomes a working part of his vocabulary, being used in practice. The instructor observes the practice, and makes recommendations about how a technique could have been executed in a given situation. The instructor will make suggestions for specific training to improve the skill level.


I found an article that uses the term “decontextualize” that captures some of what I mean. See below at http://www.humboldt.edu/%7Etha1/hunter-eei.html#decontex .


This material (link) on “decontextualization of learning” really gets at my points about my learning model, and specifically the “integration” phase. I think that the main goal of the “integration” phase is to make the skill part of your working arsenal, usable in any appropriate context. You might have “functionalised” the skill in the context of fairly circumscribed play, but it won’t necessarily ever be deployed. The integration phase is meant to take you to the stage where it is actually used automatically and spontaneously, or “internalized” in Dom Lopez’s terminology.


From the article:


“…. It is likely that decontextualization of learning is the most important and least practiced function of teaching for latter application. The lack of transfer of knowledge/skills to “real life” is likely the main reason why graduates do so poorly on state-wide and national tests [even when they “know” the answers: the questions aren’t asked in the context in which they were learned. It is important that we present and re-represent the material to be learned in as many different ways/contexts as we can…and at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.]”


Respect and Decorum

It goes without saying that an instructor has a right to respectful words and actions from his students. It equally follows that student to student interactions should also be governed by good manners. Conversely, an instructor must show the same consideration to his students and fellow instructors. The golden rule is a good guide. As my old Scottish Grandmother used to phrase it: “Do as you would be done by.”


Training should be conducted with a realistic appraisal of risk. Training needs to be safe. This means that students must attend to the instructor’s words, and also put consideration for their own and their training partner’s well-being first. Macho behaviour should not be tolerated. Proper safety equipment should be worn. Unsafe techniques must be practiced with extreme care. The instructor must always monitor the students for safe training.


It has become common place for organizations to ask students to sign waivers of liability before starting a program. You should consider having legal advice available when drafting such a document.

Criminal Records Check

You might consider asking students that you are not familiar with or who do not present adequate reference to have a criminal records check.. Use your intuition as well as logic in making this assessment. If you have a bad feel about someone, refuse them as students.

Rejecting Undesirable Students

You will from time to time make an error in judgement about someone as a student. You will then have the unpleasant job of asking them to quit the program. This is generally tough for most of us, but it is better to face up to the task rather than let a problem fester.


A teacher needs students. You want good students, persons with integrity, and persons who will persevere at learning the art. The reality is, most people starting the program will not last very long. So, you really do need to bring more people into the program than you might suppose, just to get the odd one who will actually stay the distance and complete the program. You also need to do upfront due diligence and filter out the thugs. In order to do any of this, you must make people in the community aware of your program, and make the offering seen attractive. This is a document on teaching, not marketing and sales, but recruitment failure will mean that you have little future as a teacher.


If you do not keep your students, at least some of them, long enough to learn the whole art, you will find that you are missing a feeling of accomplishment. You may succumb to despair. This is not a treatise on how to keep students, but on teaching, but keep in mind that you may have little future as a teacher if you can not retain students.

Fees and Collection

If as a teacher you are also in charge of collecting fees, make sure that you are timely, fair, and consistent. Do get suckered by people who are always delinquent. Give them warning, and suspend them if they do not comply with the rules. If you work within an organization where a separate person handles fees, consider yourself lucky. Keep good records.


Regular attendance allows an instructor to actually teach in a structured fashion, according to a curriculum and lesson plans. It also enables student progress. I have no great insights into how to promote regular attendance; it is probably the number one frustration that I have as a teacher. However, you will find that teaching is so superior with regular attendance that it is worth trying different strategies to encourage it.

Motivation of Students

A number of people work best if they have clearly articulated broader goals and more specific objectives for success. You might consider trying this with your students.

Methods of Communication

Communication is a topic well covered in many different places. There are numerous courses in speaking, and in active listening. It is worthwhile that an instructor study this area with some diligence. Courses are readily available. I have taken some, and I recommend that any instructor do likewise.

Student Learning Assessment

An instructor needs to know how much of the curriculum the student has mastered. A student needs to know what he has accomplished, and what remains to be done. Assessment can be formalized assessment, or casual day to day observation. In any case, the student progress needs to be assessed.

Teaching Effectiveness Assessment

An instructor needs to know how effective they are at teaching the curriculum. The opportunities for teacher assessment are not as apparent as those for student assessment, but various strategies could be employed. These could include student rating of teaching, and exit interviews. They could include some measure of student achievement. Without some understanding of what is working, and what is not, the instructor will have more trouble improving.

Program Assessment

The program should be assessed from time to time, to see what should be added, what can be discarded, what is working, and what is not. For an more in-depth, if somewhat formal, look at this see Appendix C – Evaluation of Martial Arts Techniques – An Engineering Perspective.

Equipment and Facilities

It is nice to have large comfortable gymnasiums, with good temperature control and lighting, change rooms, and showers. In fact, you may be teaching from your own back yard. Regardless of the venue, you should make sure that the equipment used for training is top notch. Weapons, safety equipment, striking equipment, and other items should be available for classes. Either students provide their own, or the instructor provides these things, but they need to be there.

Self-motivation and Growth

Instructors seldom teach self-defence just for profit. Sometimes there is no profit at all, and usually it is minimal. Instructors usually teach for love of the art, and to see students grow and master the program. Instructors need to see growth in their students, and they need to encourage self-motivation in their students. I doubt that anyone can achieve any skill in any thing if they are only practicing the skill during class time. Generally, the only people who become good martial artists are those who can’t stop working on their art. This may be something that the student brings to the table, but perhaps a good and inspiring instructor can help bring this quality out in a student.