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Ideas To Improve Teaching Martial Arts Online 

By Nina Thompson and the PAWMA Community


Who would have ever thought they’d be taking or teaching online martial arts? It seems so counterintuitive. And yet, mastering teaching in this format is key for some of us to be able to keep paying rent on our spaces until we can meet in person.

Thankfully, other minds have tackled this problem as well. Sigung Michelle McVadon taught a class during our amazing first online camp. During that class I had fun, I learned, I “punched” and interacted with a sparring partner. We had a little discussion, and we learned ways to give feedback. I was moved. Here is the link to her handout. This classer was inspiring and made me want to think deeper about what we can do to keep our schools alive during this time.

Nina creating online content

Teaching martial arts online well is key for us to be able to keep our training communities together and hopefully retain students over this bizarre time. I’ve been participating in several online classes and have distilled my observation into three ideas. Online martial arts has to be fun,  it has to be interactive, and I think we need to find a way to create community. 


Everyone has a different sense of fun. Most of us have some sort of games we play when we’re in person. They are just as important during online instruction. Here are a few games:

Sensei Says

This is Simon Says but with basic blocks, punches, etc. This is a great tool to provide leadership to students during class and to review basics in a more interactive way.

A Run In The Woods

This is an imaginary “run in the woods” where you happen upon different obstacles and have some very fun reactions. As you are running you might happen on a branch and have to duck (i.e. plank position and bear crawl under the branch). You might run about a lion and have to roar and put your hands up in tiger palm. And as you run up on a bear you might have to play dead. Try changing who is in charge of yelling “branch” or “log” to give younger or beginner students a way to contribute to each other’s growth. This imaginary situation that makes working out more fun! In this scenario, students get to do a modified burpee, practice reaction time, and help develop community by engaging lower belts in an active training roll. (Thank you to Hailey Holm for this activity.)

Obstacles and actions:

Branch: Duck and crawl  (get into plank position and crawl/walk on hands and toe tips under the branch)Log: JUMP! Jump high over the log

Tiger: Arms up tiger palms and ROAR!
Bear: Hold still


Anyone can login to a YouTube martial arts class. We want our classes to feel interactive.

Breakout Rooms

During Sigung Michelle’s class we were given a task of creating a “set” to respond to a particular attack (right hand round house). Then, paired up with a partner and sent to a break out room to practice. The attacking partner performed the technique and then gave the corresponding body response to my defense techniques. I had an amazing partner and it was tons of fun. 

Socratic Questioning

We want to build skills but we also want to improve the critical thinking of our students. Especially around personal safety. Keeping students engaged through meaningful quick 60 second discussions, not lectures, is a big part of keeping students engaged.

Individual Feedback

One of the sister dojos to my own has a teacher that is incredibly good at cycling through different activities during class. He has a list of all his student’s name next to his computer/TV situation. He rotates through watching and giving feedback on each student. For example, if we are all practicing the kata Jion, we all practice, however, he will call out, “Okay I’m watching Mohamed this time." Mohamed performs the kata with fair warning he’ll be observed, and then receives feedback (good posture, remember pulling hand needs to be strong, etc. etc). I don’t know what that looks like for your training but I have faith you’ll work it out…

Sigung Michelle did something similar but in breakout groups. First she gave one aspect of the form or kata people were working on (example, being grounded in stance). People were partnered up by the Zoom breakout room feature, then each person watched the other in the form and gave feedback. Then, at the end of that she had one volunteer perform a form/kata and if there had been time we all would have given feedback.


Many students enjoy feeling part of a training community. If students log on but have no way to interact with each other, and no way to connect outside of class, they lose that connection to community. Here are some ideas about how to build community.

Building Community Outside of Training

Thanks to the internet this pandemic isolation isn’t as bad as it could be. Some groups are having funny Tik-Tok competitions. One is by creating videos where people “hit each other” videos. (here is one our PAWMA board did for last camp). Another way is by connecting through social media. Asking everyone to share a video online, a quote, their favorite martial arts scene,  or asking them to answer a fun question online. Seven Star has started some social hours to keep people connected. And lastly, the my award for best effort goes to Didi Goodman who, amazingly, put on a virtual tournament. I attended the tournament and my favorite part was the “best home workout” video category. Then she held a viewing of the winners. It was AMAZING and was likely a tremendous amount of work. The judges met online to watch. What a fun thing for the students and for us to use this extra time we have! 

Building Community in Class

There are so many reasons why we need to spare 5 minutes out of class to bring in community building during class that I don’t even know where to start! It helps us feel seen and heard in our communities, it helps us feel that “part of something bigger,” it helps shy people begin to claim their voice, and a myriad of other reasons. 

Check Ins

These are a quick ways to bring every voice into the online space.

One Word

First, ask everyone to move into gallery view and ask students to share one word to a) summarize what they’ve learned today b) summarize their week c) describe how they are feeling. The instructor can call on each person, which is fastest. However, I like the idea of asking each person to pick who goes next. This helps participants learn, practice, remember other student’s names.

Check In 

Again, in round robin, a fun check-in question can really lighten the mood. 

Serious Questions:

1. What do you want to focus on today?

2. One question you have ?

3. What katas/forms are you working on in self training?

4. What martial arts weapon have you always wanted to learn?

5. Why do you train?

Fun Questions:

1. Favorite martial arts movie?

2. Favorite martial arts actor?

3. Do you sleep with socks on or off?

4. Creamy or crunchy peanut butter?

5. What language do you wish you spoke?

Lastly, we want to hear from you!

Please take our online poll so we can share even more ideas for folks to build up their online practice!
P.S. Even if you don’t want to share ideas you can still go on and read other submissions!

If you want to read more on this topic our previous newsletters have had articles on this as well:           

Teaching online with Shifu Kore and Renshi Lori

Teaching During Social Distancing

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