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How to Write Martial Arts Lesson Plans That Increase Retention

By Mike Massie

Lesson plans are something that every instructor should use to help them organize and teach better classes. By planning ahead, you can insure that your classes are more exciting and that you are covering the material your students need to progress. 

I feel they are so important that I never let an assistant walk out on the floor without one. In addition, I give my instructors basic guidelines they must follow so I know they are planning their classes properly.


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The following is adapted from the teaching plan guidelines I hand out to my helpers and assistants, and should give you a good idea of how to structure your classes effectively:

(Note: time frame is based on a 45 minute kid's class)

Warm-ups: First 5 minutes of class

Warm-ups need to be exciting and fun. If you do the same old thing every day for the class warm-ups, students will tire of the routine after a few classes. In order to avoid boredom, change your warm-ups every class. Some ideas for variety in warm-ups are:

Calisthenics - Basic Movements - Isolating Movements from Forms & Self-Defense - Warming-up with a Fun Drill - Relay Races - Balance Kicking - Rolls and Falls - No-contact Sparring Drills - Incorporating Self-defense Techniques - Sparring Combinations

Make sure that you do some form of movement that incorporates either moves that are similar to the ones that will be done in class, or uses the same muscle groups that will be used during class

Follow the warming-up activity with basic stretches if the warm-up activity was not vigorous enough to make the students break a sweat.

Basics: Next 10 minutes of class; may be incorporated into warm-ups

It is best to start the class with Basic movements and incorporate those movements into the warm-up; however, you should change the format of the class every now and again by practicing basics last, perhaps on the pads or bags. This helps alleviate boredom.

When practicing basics at the beginning of class, it is most important to practice the basic movements that the students must learn for their belt rank requirements. Therefore, Basic movement practice in each class should mainly consist of techniques that are derived from the belt rank requirements at each level (basic, intermediate, and advanced).

Forms: Between 5 & 10 minutes of class

It is not always necessary to go through an entire form every class. Sometimes it is more beneficial to focus only on those particular movements that the students are having the most difficulty with. However, isolation and repetition of “problem areas” in the form is most helpful after the students have learned the entire form.

Pre-arranged Sparring Drills: Between 5 & 10 minutes of class

Pre-arranged sparring helps students develop good form in fighting techniques. It is one thing to be able to perform a perfect technique in the air, but it is quite another to be able to perform it on a person. Pre-arranged sparring drills allow students to learn how to apply their moves in “real time”.

Etiquette and Discipline must be observed when practicing pre-arranged sparring drills. Be sure that all students bow and measure their distance when they start their technique, returning to the proper position after every technique.

In order to develop good form, isolate the movements from each technique and incorporate them into the Basic movements portion of class. Then, the movements will be more familiar to the students when they perform them with a partner.

Self-Defense: Between 5 & 10 minutes of class

In self-defense practice students are allowed to modify moves to fit their body type and style of fighting. However, good form and focus in techniques should still be the rule in practice. Encourage students to focus every technique to the specific and correct target, using the commensurate speed and power required for each movement. Also, emphasize proper control, just as in pre-arranged sparring drills.

Mat Chat (Kids and Young Teens): 3-5 minutes of class

Mat chats are useful for teaching the philosophy and intangible benefits of the martial arts. Rather than just lecturing in generalities, choose a specific topic (like humility, courage, etc.) and explain what it means.

Then, tell a short anecdote about a famous person or briefly relate a personal experience that illustrates the principle you are trying to relate. Finally, get the students involved by asking them questions and allowing them to give you feedback regarding the lesson.

Fun Drill (Kids Only): 3-5 minutes of class

Fun drills are a great way to end kids classes. Kids are short-sighted and tend to remember the last thing they experienced in class. By ending class with a fun drill, you will ensure better retention by allowing the kids to relax and have some fun after a good practice session.


Mike Massie has been a full-time school owner for more than 15 years of his 25 years in the martial arts, and has started two successful martial arts schools from scratch. Mike provides business coaching for instructors who are starting their own martial arts schools via this website.