Approaches on Teaching New Beginning Students

The very first thing that is required of anyone teaching brand new students is to understand their motivation for being in kendo.  This helps you in responding to the individuals needs as well as giving you clues into the group think.

Firstly, with the little kids – do they want to learn kendo or do their parents want them to learn kendo? If it is the parents you need to create a situation that makes for two critical items:

  1. It is fun
  2. They are bonded to other “friends” in the class.

If it is by the child’s choice then you can go to point 3 which also applies to adults.

  1. Make it challenging.

Teaching teens means do not embarrass them and build a relationship with each one.  This relationship will get you through the critical first couple of months.  Show interest in them as an individual and build loyalty and trust by showing you are interested in their learning, you are vested in them as a person.  Teaching adults is different in that they make a conscious choice to learn kendo.  Adults have busy lives and want a bang for the buck! As an instructor you need to swamp them and push forward.  They need to feel progress even sometimes when there is none.  Keep pushing forward and then circle back and revisit weak points as much as necessary.  Send them home mentally and physically challenged.  Lastly for all students especially adults treat them with respect.


Take the class list and memorize each individual and get a picture in your mind of each student.  This helps them to know they are important to you as the instructor. Learn everyone’s name on or before the first day.

Maintain a sense of humor and let them know failure is an option and will probably happen frequently in the starting months of kendo.  Making mistakes is OK and expected.

Never teach to the lowest common denominator, if someone cannot keep up leave them behind, sink or swim.

Constantly correct the small details, they are building muscle memory and habit, letting something incorrect persist insures that will become their habit and the longer it persists the harder to fix. Once in bogu fixing things is doubly magnified in the difficulty of modifying behavior.  Once they are doing keiko correcting and implementing change is very hard and do you have time to concentrate on an individual if you have a large class that needs your attention.  Attention to detail, be repetitive, be consistent! The first few weeks keep to a limited number of items to correct. Remember they need to hear it 40 times (hands up, feet straight, heel off the ground, correct grip, smaller steps). Do not be reluctant to nag them into submission.

When correcting explain the correction in at least two versions, try to understand how the individual learns.  If it is a large class this is even more critical and if possible get help but make sure the helpers are a help. The overall message needs to be uniform and consistent.  It is and undesirable situation when the instructors contradict each other, it makes your whole operation suspect.

Provide the students with a lesson plan and goals.  Try to state the goal of each class at the beginning of the class.  This helps to focus you and the students toward the same objective.  Having a lesson plan also lets the student know what is next and what they will miss if they are not at class.

Publish the reigi and enforce it, especially build this in juniors so when they become sempai they provide the structure and leadership for the club.  Remember this is America not Japan and we are doing cultural blending.  Some of the reigi is inherent for Japanese it is not for non-Japanese.  They did not grow up with some of the items as cultural norms.  Extra definition to create the why maybe necessary and will help cement the concept in their minds.  State class policy at day one such as cell phone usage, water breaks, sitting, cleaning the dojo.  Everyone breaks together and do not leave class without telling you ahead of time.

Do not be afraid to challenge the students as to why they are taking kendo.  Worse case is juniors whose parents want them to do kendo and the child does not.  They are a waste of resources in time, money and effort.

Do not be timid about enforcing correct behavior, a couple of students can tear down the dojo discipline and learning environment.   If incorrect behavior is allowed it is teaching by example to the others especially the juniors.  Set high standards, be sincere in your teaching and show the students you care about them.  Teaching beginners is an excellent way to improve your own basics and knowledge.  When you have to show and explain how it works you gain a greater understanding.  Remember you are a mirror, every bad habit you have the beginner will copy, they are generally less quick to copy what you do correct.

Kendo is primarily visual learning, the student watches and copies your example.  The student needs to understand that silence on your part is acceptance, too many compliments create false impressions of progress.  On the opposite side do not be afraid to recognize correct and serious effort.  Even adults respond to positive recognition in the class context.  Handing out silly gifts from the Dollar Store designated as FABULOUS prizes can produce a greater level of effort on the students part.

Those who practice kendo learn that most input to the student is in the form of correction.  It does not hurt to inform the beginning student of the “traditional” kendo methodology.

5 Dan written test 7/30/89

Jeff Marsten 7/30/89

Question “A” 5th Dan exam

The attitude required for instructing kendo.

The attitude of the sensei encompasses many facets of the student-teacher relationship all at once.  The sensei must be a leader and an example of correct thinking and correct behavior both inside and outside the dojo.  He must always demonstrate that he is trying hard to do his best.  If you are doing the best you can then no one can expect more from you but it is always necessary to reach deeper and keep learning.  The sensei continues to learn because the students will teach him as he teaches them.  Just as it takes 2 people to practice kendo the teaching is a shared experience.  Ken & Michi, it is through constantly striving to improve your michi that the sensei will learn and lead.  If you teach kendo you are responsible for how your students turn out, you must bring out the best in each student through hard training and a good example of life.  If a student’s behavior is poor than the sensei is responsible to correct him and change his behavior.

Kendo is not a sport in which you try to beat someone and win a trophy.  Kendo is a way of life to try and develop yourself.   When you have a match you are responsible whether you win or lose because you are your opponent.  When you lose it is because you need more training but should never consider your partner as someone to beat,  you must constantly test yourself to strive to be better and continue progress throughout your kendo life.


I found this the other day in the book The Sword of No-Sword which I had pulled out to re-read a couple parts.  I shared it with my students who thought I should publish it here.

2015 Shinsa Seminar

On July 11th, 2015 there was seminar on taking the promotion examination for 3rd through 5th Dan.

A total of 34 individuals attended and the feedback was extremely positive.  Because of this another seminar will be planned that will include the material from the March seminar on being an examiner.  The next evolution will be multiple days with a lot more emphasis on drills and preparation.  Participants received blank Root Cause Analyse forms and Pyramid of Objective forms to help work on their problem areas and goal setting.


7-11-15 shinsa seminar



Instructors: Robert Stroud, Kyoshi Nanadan, Tatsuhiko Konno, Kyoshi Nanadan and Jeff Marsten, Kyoshi Nanadan.
Location: Sno-King Kendo Club (Bitter Lake Community Center Annex at Broadview Thompson Elementary School)
13052 Greenwood Ave N Seattle, WA 98133
Date/Time: TBD
Cost: TBD

Email: for any questions regarding the seminar.
Payment instructions are on the form.

There is practice available on Friday night at Bellevue Kendo Club: 14224 Bell-Red Road, Bellevue WA

For location maps see the Sno-King and Bellevue Kendo Club sites