How to Teach Skills and Drills

Teaching: New Student Orientation-Empower Kickboxing

Teaching: Martial Arts & Self-Confidence

Teaching: How to fight a southpaw

Teaching: Sentence Analogy for Combinations

Teaching: Key Point on All Combos

Teaching: Sentence Analogy for Combinations

Teaching: Complete Empower Kickboxing Class

Comparing Traditional Blocks to Empower Kickboxing 

Communication Skills

Communication Skills 2

by John Graden | Audio

Communication Skills 3

by John Graden | Audio

Communication Skills 4

by John Graden | Audio

Communication Skills 5

by John Graden | Audio

How to Give Clear Directions

What to Do vs What Not to Do

When giving instruction, be careful of the language that you use. Avoid giving instruction that defines the behavior by the negative. For instance, “Don’t drop your guard” tells the student what NOT to do but doesn’t tell the student what TO do. “Keep your guard up” is a more clear instruction. Better yet, “When I say guard up, think of holding two phones to your ears.

Even when you are using more proactive, positive language the message may still be vague. For instance, “Pay attention!” Does the student understand how to pay attention? Has anyone every taught that to him/her? Does she know your specific expectations for pay attention such as Eyes on You? The command “pay attention” provides little guidance because it fails to teach.

A more clear direction would be to teach students early that facing the instructor at parade rest with eyes focused and remaining silent is how you pay attention to the instructor. This provides useful guidance. It is easy to remember, solution oriented, and hard to misunderstand.

Without telling the student what to do, an instructor can’t really tell whether the student has complied which makes it more difficult to hold him/her accountable. A student may protest, “But I was paying attention!” Students sense and exploit the lack of accountability. The time spent in this void of clarity is a waste of precious learning time.

When the student has clear instructions to follow, compliance is clear and easy to define for the instructor and the student.

Four Keys to Giving Clear Directions

1. Specific. 

Effective directions are specific. They focus on manageable and precisely describe actions that students can take.

2. Concrete. 

Effective directions are not just specific; they involve clear actions that any student knows how to do. When directing a student to pay attention, he/she may or may not know how to do that. But if the instruction is to, “Put your eyes on me,” that is something no student can misunderstand or not know how to do.

If the student appears to struggle, get more concrete: “Turn your body to face me. Look at me with your eyes. Listen to me with your ears. If you have a question, raise your hand.” These are real things: physical, simple, commonplace. There is no gray area or prior knowledge required to comply.

3. Sequential. 

Effective directions should describe a sequence of concrete specific actions. In the case of the student who needs help paying attention, I might advise him, “John, turn your body to face me. Look at me with your eyes. Listen to me with your ears.”

4. Observable. 

The instructions give John actions that the instructor could plainly see him do. This is important. The instructor provided him with a series of steps that were specific and simple enough that any student could reasonably be expected to do them.That leaves John with little wiggle room to stray.

What to Do allows you to distinguish between incompetence and defiance by making your commands specific enough that they can’t be deliberately misinterpreted and helpful enough that they explain away any gray areas.

However, it’s important to distinguish between incompetence and defiance. If I ask John to pay attention or sit up or get on task and he doesn’t, knowing whether he will not or cannot matters. If he cannot, the problem is incompetence. If he will not, the problem is defiance. I respond to these situations differently.

Motivational Minute Videos

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Martial Arts & Self-Confidence
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The Impostor Syndrome
How Martial Arts Changed My Life
Fire, Ready, Aim
How to Redefine Your Life
Black Belt Leadership

Short Motivational Speeches

Are you a whiner or a winner?

When you bump into someone and they ask how you are do you say, “Okay” or “I’m fine.” with no inflections in your voice? If this is your usual response, you are a “whiner.”

Or do you say, “Great”, “Super”, “Marvelous!” with inflections in your voice that reinforces what you are saying? These are the words, actions and tone of voice of “winners”.

   Whiners say, “I’m too (fat or stupid, short, in experienced, afraid, disorganized, weak, etc) to do something.” Winners never believe they have any kind of handicap that will keep them from accomplishments.

With the Black Belt Attitude, you use positive words that build your mental fitness and public image.

Black Belt Excellence

True success in life only begins when you make the commitment to become excellent at what you do. We call it the commitment to Black Belt Excellence. Without that commitment you’ll always perform at low levels and never achieve your full potential.  There are no rewards in this society for mediocre or average performance.

Great achievement in life only comes when you become outstanding at what you do.  Anything less than a commitment to excellence is an acceptance of average or below average performance. Unless you make the conscious commitment to become excellent at what you do, what you are doing is unconsciously accepting that you are only going to become mediocre.

Our goal as martial artists is to not just become black belts in martial arts but to become academic black belts, black belt employees or corporate black belts.

Black Belt Attitude

The black belt attitude is an attitude of high personal and professional standards or what we call black belt excellence.  Black belt is a metaphor for being the very best that you can be in any given situation.  In school, how would a black belt sit and listen to the teacher?  How would a black belt clean their room?  Would a black belt be respectful and courteous? Do you want to be known as someone who has a black belt attitude or a green belt attitude?  The best thing is that you don’t have to have a black belt to have a black belt attitude.

Black Belt Attitude Controls Rage

Anyone with the Black Belt Attitude knows that it is possible to control rage because a Black Belt replaces negative thoughts with positive thoughts. A Black Belt works hard to keep negative thoughts from entering the mind so is not inclined to ever go into a rage over anything. A Black Belt has patience, empathy, consideration and love for others. A Black Belt does not jump to negative conclusions. A Black Belt will think the best until proven wrong and, by always thinking the best, will not feel anger quickly. A Black Belt is proud of the fact that he/she is always in control of emotions and tempers.

Black Belt Listening

“A person with a black belt attitude listens, a person with a white belt attitude just waits until it’s his turn to talk.” It’s  often true that listening is the most neglected skill of communication. Many people hear the words, but don’t get the message, simply because they are just waiting for their turn to talk. Listening takes concentration and an interest in what the other person is saying and what they really mean. How often do you catch yourself waiting until it’s your turn to talk? How can you improve your listening skills?

Black Belt Dia Phoron

Dia Phoron is the Greek phrase for excellence. It simply means “Follow through.” Lots of people have great ideas and little follow through.The world is full of great starters. These are people who start projects, start diets, start martial arts lessons.  The key is to follow through, Dia Phoron . It’s the last 10 – 15% of a project that the 95% of people without follow through drop and leave the field wide open to those of the discipline to stay with it to the end.

Do you want to reach excellence in your life? Then try a little Black Belt Dia Phoron.

Aim Your Arrow At the Moon

A wise man once said, “Aim your arrow at the moon and you may hit an eagle.  But if you aim your arrow at an eagle, then you may only hit a rock.”

When setting goals make sure that you do not underestimate yourself.  In fact, set your goals a little higher than you initially intended them to be.  In other words, challenge yourself to go the extra distance.  It’s a proven fact that you can usually always do a little better than you think you can.  As the old saying implies, when you set your goals high you’ll still get what you wanted even if you happen to fall a little short of the target.

“Yeah-buts” live in the forest.

Is there someone around you who always responds to your ideas with “yeah, but.”  We call those negative people; “yeah-buts” and “yeah-buts” live in the forest.

Sometimes people won’t even bother to suggest something because a “yeah-but” is just going to shoot it down. They can create a current of negativity that is hard to overcome. If you start making an effort to surround yourself with positive people, you will find the attitudes of positive people to be very contagious.  Start to today to surround yourself with positive people and you’ll start to soar with the eagles high above the “yeah-buts” in the forest.

Watch Your TV

Transforming negative words into positive words is a very important process of developing a black belt attitude.  We call this transformational vocabulary (TV).

Have you ever noticed how many people use the word “problem”? And how many times it gets said every day? The really sad fact is that often when the word is said, we discover afterwards that there wasn’t any problem after all.  Wouldn’t you rather face  challenge than have a problem? Wouldn’t you rather have an interesting situation than face a problem?  By watching our TV we can control our attitude in dealing with life’s challenges.

This week, keep track each day of how many times you hear the word used and how many times there really isn’t any problem after all.

Always strive for perfection

Black Belt Excellence is built on the premise that anything less than a commitment to excellence is an acceptance of mediocrity. Unless you make the conscious commitment to become excellent at what you do, you are  unconsciously accepting that you are only going to become mediocre.  Great achievement in life only comes when you make the decision to become outstanding at what you do.

Every excellent performance builds your self-esteem and reinforces your self confidence. That carries over into all areas of your life. If you only do things in an average way you don’t get anything. You don’t get the charge. Always strive for perfection.

Incremental Learning

Black belt and motivational leader Brian Tracy teaches us that the key to success is the law of incremental learning.  We must realize that we cannot change any one area of our life 100% overnight.   However, we can make a 1% change in 100 areas of our life on a consistent basis.  Your progress in martial arts is a perfect example.  You know you can’t execute like a black belt yet, but if you set a goal of making a one to two percent improvement every week in your stretching, your technique, and your conditioning, you’ll see a huge difference in one year and an incredible difference in three years.  You’ll also avoid any frustration that someone might have if they didn’t understand this important principle.

Where else can you apply the law of incremental learning to your life and also enjoy incredible results in the next 3 – 5 years?

Short-term goals

Short-term goals are really just little accomplishments that get you to your main goal.  Their purpose is to help you to stay on track.  And depending upon the magnitude of your main goal, they can project anywhere from one day to several months into the future.

For example, think of each of the under ranking belts in your belt system as being a short-term goal.  Then, think of your black belt as being the reward you get for successfully completing all of the little goals.  As you can see, the successful achievement of a major goal is almost always preceded by a series of minor accomplishments.

Long-term goals

Last week we discussed the importance of short-term goals.  If you remember, their purpose is to get you closer to your long-term goals.  These long-term goals can span from six months on up to many years.  An example might be earning your black belt, getting a promotion at work or graduating from college with a particular degree.

Whatever your goals may be, the first step in achieving them is to clearly write them out on a sheet of paper.  Normally, this takes about twenty minutes to do.  First identify a long-term goal.  Then, underneath it write a series of short-term goals that will logically get you to the main goal.  Be specific and post the sheet up when your finished.

Your Thoughts Are What You Will Become

What you constantly think about is what you will become.  For example, if you continuously think about becoming a black belt, then you’ll begin to do whatever is necessary to reach that goal.  Subconsciously, you’ll begin to see yourself as a black belt before you even become one.  You’ll start training

It’s important that you concentrate on the things that are most in line with your goals.  If you think of yourself as being successful and read things about other successful people, then soon you’ll start doing what other successful people do.  So focus your thoughts on ideas of what you eventually want to become.  That’s the first step in getting there.

Ben the Black Belt

Benjamin Franklin would have made a great black belt teacher. He once said, “I never knew a person who was good at making excuses, who was good at anything else.” He couldn’t have said it more perfectly regarding people who just don’t follow through. “I’m too busy;” “I didn’t know about it;” “I can’t do it.” Those are just a few on the long list of excuses conjured up by people who often don’t want to admit they don’t have the courage, strengths or skills to do it. You don’t need any excuses for trying. Black Belts always give it a try!

Believe in yourself

If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will believe in you. Become a “I can do it!” person. Once you have a dream, start planning how to fulfill that dream. Do not let others discourage you because, if you let them, they will. Part of your plan may be to start researching or you may want to find a mentor who can help you. If it will take money, start putting aside a specific amount each week in an account that will draw interest. Successful people know you must “Pay yourself first”. Whether it is $5.00 or $500.00, deposit it in a separate interest bearing account and don’t touch it until you need it to help fulfill your dream. With the Black Belt Attitude, you believe that miracles do happen and dreams do come true because you can make them happen. And you make them happen because you believe in yourself!

Are you supportive at school

If you see someone struggling to understand a subject, that comes easy to you, do you offer to tutor that person?

Would you give up your free time to help this person understand the subject? Would you do it if you weren’t paid to tutor?

How would it make you feel if, because of your help, someone made the National Honor Society? Would you take pride in the fact that it was because of your unselfish help that they succeeded?

When someone else succeeds because of you, do you think it makes you a success, too?

With the Black Belt Attitude, you love to see someone improve and become good at whatever they are trying to achieve.   

The mind that functions in absolutes

Are you a person who, if you don’t have anything about which to worry, you make something up? Do you always think the worst of every situation? If you failed to win a tournament, do you say to yourself, “I failed. Therefore, I am a failure.” and from then on, you feel you are a complete failure? With the Black Belt Attitude, you realize there are no absolutes in life. No one is absolutely ugly or absolutely beautiful. No one is totally stupid or totally brilliant and no one is an absolute failure. Every person has their victories and defeats.  A person who sees life as an absolute will always be in a sense of depression because they can never measure up to their own expectations. As a Black Belt, you don’t see the world as black and white; you see it as gray. You will never worry about what may happen tomorrow because your focus is on what is happening today. You never waste your time and energy on worrying about what may never happen.     

Are you supportive of your team?


If you see someone “snowed” under, do you offer to help them or would you rather the boss think they can’t handle their job so you’ll look better? Are you the person, when asked to help someone else who answers, “That’s not my job.” When you know the company is on a tight schedule and needs you to work overtime, do you work without being asked or expect overtime? You keep going until the job is done because you know it is vital to get the work out on time. As a Black Belt, you never hesitate to offer help and when someone asks you to help, you do it willing. You support your boss in every way because you know that, if the company succeeds, so will you when you give your all.

Just Like Me

If you want to take a simple approach to critiquing yourself, just ask the question, “If everyone in the world was just like me, then what kind of world would it be?”  In other words, would you feel comfortable living in a place where all the people behaved as you do?

This same idea also works well when trying to maximize your performance at work.  If you’d like to rate yourself as an employee ask yourself, “If everyone in this company was just like me, then what kind of company would it be?”  Would you buy stock in that particular company?  If not, then you should try to improve your level of performance.

Avoid Self-Pity

When you are criticized, your feelings are hurt and you feel very uncomfortable. Stop moping! It will pass. Get busy with something to get your mind off of it. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Self-pity can destroy you. It can erode all of your ambitions. With the Black Belt Attitude, you know disapproval is rarely, if ever, permanent. Good relationships never end over an argument. Good friends are able to quickly forgive and forget. If someone is the type to hold a grudge, they are not worth your time or energy. When you run up against a person who holds a grudge it is that person’s problem, not yours. With the Black Belt Attitude, you will always make an effort make peace but when the other person refuses to forgive and forget, you go on with your life and never feel rejected. If worse comes to worse, you will never be alone because the person who cannot forgive or forget is not the only person in your life.

Be a Good Listener

A successful person knows the art of being a good listener is their first step up the ladder of success. Henry Ford once said, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle, as well as, from your own.” Listening to others is vital to diversity in your life. When you won’t listen or accept others’ point of view, you become stagnant and have a one-track mind. With the Black Belt Attitude, you have an open mind and an open ear to all new ideas and innovations.

Be Honest With Yourself

You are unhappy with your life and you know you must make some changes. Are you the type of person who can take a good look at yourself with an honest eye and recognize the choices you must make? Can you honestly look at the options you have to change your life and change it? If you can, then you know you have to take a long look at what direction you are going to go and start making changes today.

You have to find something that will motivate you to make those changes. What would motivate you? More money? Better working conditions? Better grades in school? Maybe you are overweight and you realize that the exercise you do in Martial Arts is not enough to take off that weight so you must commit to start eating properly. As a Black Belt you can be honest in evaluating your life and you are self-motivated.

Always Be Reading Something

Did you realize that about 60% of all Americans never read even a single book last year?  That’s sad!  Apparently we don’t realize the importance of reading.

It’s a proven fact that successful people read.  They constantly feed their hunger for new information through the use of books.  Self education is key.  And one of the best ways to expand your knowledge foundation is to read.

Find a non-fiction book that interests you either at the library or the bookstore, and bring it home with you.  Each day, reserve about fifteen to thirty minutes of quiet time and read it.  The idea is to always be reading something.

Are you all knowing?

Are you a person who has to always be right? Do you close your ears to your children’s ideas because they conflict with yours? Do you fail to listen to your employees who may have better ideas than you do about how to increase your business? At school, do you bore your friends by constantly trying to impress them with your vast knowledge?

If you are a parent with Black Belt Attitude, you listen to your children without making judgments because you want them to share their thoughts with you.

As an open, supportive parent, you will be the one your child seeks out for advice. As an employer with the Black Belt Attitude, your employees feel free to make suggestions.

In fact, you ask them to write down any suggestions they may have and you reward them for the good ones. They feel they are a part of your team working together. As a result, their production levels are high and you never have a retention problem.

If you are a student with the Black Belt Attitude, you listen to your classmates and friends and learn from them.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Action is the root of accomplishment.  That’s why successful people tend not to procrastinate and are rarely ever lazy.  They act on things as quickly as possible and ensure immediate results.

Unfortunately, many people know what they should do but opt not to do it.  In other words, they fail to take action and merely talk about doing something.  How many times has someone told you, “I’m gonna….” and then they never do it?  The fact is that actions speak louder than words.

For example, a lot of you have told me that you are going to earn your black belt.  What actions will you need to take in order to make that happen?

Look For Solutions

Many people spend the majority of their time complaining about an issue or situation that they are uncomfortable with.  By doing this they are only adding to the problem.  A much more efficient use of their time would be to look for a solution.

Never spend more than 10 percent of your time on the problem, and always spend at least 90 percent of your time on the solution.  People who do this already are “solutions oriented” individuals.  They have the ability to remain calm and focused in the midst of challenges or emotional “storms.”  They do not overreact or complain.  As a result, they usually derive a quick solution to their problem.

Critical Success Factors

Critical success factors (CSF’s) are the things that you absolutely, positively must become good at before you can reach top performance.  However, you must know precisely what these CSF’s are before you can begin improving them.  For that reason, identifying them should become a major priority.  Usually, you can find about five to seven of them associated with each of your goals.

     CSF’s can be strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  As you know, your strengths will help you reach your goals quickly.  But your flaws and imperfections will always hold you back.  In fact, your weakest important skill will always set the height of your success in any area of accomplishment.

Think Like A Champion

You may not be entering the Summer Olympics but you can still be a champion. If you help others less fortunate than you, you definitely have the right stuff and you are already a champion. You don’t have to win a gold medal to be a champion. If you encourage others around you and you never envy anyone, you have the right stuff and are already a champion. If you always have a smile and a warm word for everyone you meet, you have the right stuff and are already a champion. If you make others feel they are champions and you always bring out the best in others, you are made of the right stuff and are already a champion. If you live your life with the Black Belt Attitude, you have the right stuff and are a already a champion.