Student lacking control


Master Black Belt
Feb 22, 2002
Reaction score
Melbourne, Florida
I'm sure many of you have come across this. I have a new student who is very stiff, rigid and hard. On top of that he trys very very hard, too hard and gets easily frustrated. He has the best of intentions, but he is potentially dangerous to my other students. The other night when practicing disarms, just before the drill, I stressed safety (for example: in reality you would launch the stick into the face as you punch...but do it out to the side for safety) Cthulhu was actually demoing it as I was instructing. So what happens next is the stick launches into his partners lip and splits it open requiring a trip to the emergency room and several stitches. I know that it was an accident with no bad intentions as he was profusely appologizing.

You don't know how many times I've said relax just have fun, or your trying to hard, or if you give that kind of energy the flow drill is not going to work and we would do something else to counter it, etc., etc. i am going to talk to him about it as well as the guy whose lip got split open. He is a good guy, but if he is a menace to our club and doesn't start understanding, I may have to let him go or isolate him to solo drills while everyone else plays.

Sorry this sounds like a dear Abby letter! Any advice would be appriciated.

I dont have any advice as such as I am a student still. On the whole Student lacking control thing I do have another example.

Last night was my first night back at class for two weeks and my teacher put me in charge of two new students. Now one is a BIG Mauy Thai dude and the other is a SMALL Kenpo dude. Now I started them off doing Heaven Standard Earth (Double stick drill) and the little guy couldnt get the technique right because the big guy was hitting the sticks so hard. I told him to move over to the side and said this was how I wanted him to do, basically a lot smoother and softer. I gave the small guy some new sticks cuz the bigger guy had mashed the original ones. Now all was going fine cept about a minute into the excersise I snapped the small guys sticks :( The bigger guy then thought I was taking the piss and showing off, but I didnt feel like I was hitting the sticks hard. The big guy then refused to listen to anything I said because he though I was mocking him.

To cut a long story short I now have to go back to basics with my self control cuz if I had been going hard I might have hit his head on the comeback :(
As a student who instructs new comers, I will often tell a joke and try to get them to relax. I get yelled at by my sensei for not being serious enough. I find that this breaks the ice with those who try too hard or whatever. However, I have no experience with sticks (seeing as I'm a karate-ka) so I can offer no advice there. Try to know the guy a little better maybe and learn to relate to him that he doesnt have to go all out to impress you. Just my thoughts, may not be worth much.
I've run into this before. My solution has always been that I partner up with that student for a while until they relax. By partnering with the instructor, they may not feel as competitive, and may relax a little. This could backfire, and make them try even harder, making them even less controlled. Regardless, by partnering them up with me, through my experience I am able to curb his ability to hurt me, and I am able to constantly correct the student to emphasize relaxation. When they see that by being relaxed, you see results, they usually become more inclined to work on their relaxation & control.

I also think that it is necissary sometimes to outright tell a student that, "Hey, when we train Modern Arnis, we are training in a potentially deadly art. We are using weapons, we work with bone breaking techniques, and so forth. Therefore, when we train, our #1 concern MUST be safety of our partner, otherwise we would literally injure and kill each other in class. Even when 2 really experienced arnisadors play, although they may seem to be going fast and hard, I gurauntee that it is their developed relaxation and control that allows them to play in that manner. The bottom line is: you need to start putting your partners safety first. If I think that you are not exercising control because your not putting your partners safety first, then I am going to have you work in isolation without a partner until I am convinced that you won't be a danger to others in the class."

They may or may not like you telling them that you will put them in isolation, but too darn bad, in my opinion. It's Arnis class, not etiquiete school. I have to do my job as a teacher, and ensuring the safety of the other students is part of this job. Usually, the student has always understood this.

I am able to take this sort of care, however, because I keep small class sizes. If you have a large class, then make sure the student is partnered with another instructor, or an experienced student who will be able to minimize the damage that this student can do.

This is a problem every school and instructor ends up going through; the fact that weapons are being used just makes it all the more critical that safety be paramount. In my experience, if a person can not "play well with others", it is usually for one of two reasons:

1. The person just can't get the technique, and is honestly making a mistake - this obviously happens mostly with beginners.

2. The person is a jerk, and is in class to prove himself -- usually this is the guy (or gal, but usually, guy) who has just enough prior training to be dangerous, and has a chip on his shoulder large enough to qualify for national monument status.

I feel sorry for #1; at this time in my life, I really can't stomach #2.

Call me a jerk (I've been called worse :D) but I favor a more active approach.

This has always worked for me:

For #1 - Explain to him/her that the paired drill is a more advanced concept that they cannot participate in until they demonstrate control. Start with techniques in the air, and then striking a non-person (like a heavy bag). Usually it doesn't take long for them to figure it out.

For #2 - Warn them once. Then, if it happens again, pair them with someone you trust who is their own size. Worse comes to worse, make it you. Everytime the person hits them, have your second (or you) tap them as well (lightly - let's not kill them folks!). One of two things will happen - either Mr. #2 gets the message and flies right, or he leaves. Either one is fine with me, as I wouldn't want to train with someone who's out to hurt me or my training partners, regardless of what he's paying.

I saw this often when training judo. A couple of hard o soto garis usually get the message across quite well.

Keep close attention to the partners he chooses, as well. If he's only making the mistake with certain people, it may not be entirely his fault (I'm assuming he's a #1 here). Perhaps people are tensing up, as they may be afraid of his reputation?

Obviously the above assumes you're an instructor. If you're a student, it is your obligation to tell your instructor about it, regardless of how much of a jerk it makes you feel like. You'd feel even worse if someone got hurt because this guy was never taught, wouldn't you?
As to being stiff, and hitting too hard, I don't think it's usually due to the person being a jerk. A lot of times, the new guy is stressed, and they just clench up. You tell them to relax their arm, and they really, really can't. A new class is very stressful.

For example, in a class I was in yesterday, I got rotated with a new person. We were practicing either split entry or pak sao / chun choi on a jab. He was punching wide. In that case, I don't think I would want to split enter with the slip to the outside (since his punch was wide). I tried to help him get the 'track' of the punch right for the drill, to come from the center line to chin, not around. I told him to relax his arm, so I could move it to a "better" on guard position at his center line. He just couldn't relax it. I felt as I was forcing his arm. Very strange, but it happens. He was a nice guy, and appreciated the help, so he wasn't being a jerk. He just was too wound up.

That often translates to no control, and accidental hits due to overcompensation to a strike or some technique.
Another possible cause of the problem is that the student in question has his 2nd dan in TKD or TSD. Basically, he seems to have trouble 'deprogramming' himself so that he can flow. I know I had the same problem when I first started the FMA.

IMHO, learning to relax and to go slowly are difficult skills in an of themselves and deserve to be taught before learning anything else. I would not let my student continue with the drill unless he or she can perform the first strike of the drill in an appropriate manner. We then move to the next strike in the sequence, etc. One reason for this approach is that often the student is so focussed on getting through the drill that he or she concentrates on the last movement, with the result that everything up to (and including) the last movement is sloppy and uncontrolled. Hence, I try to get the student to concentrate on the doing the first movement, strike, block, etc. exactly the way I want them to perform it.

Generally if you stress the importance of relaxation and control as attributes that are more important than the drill itself the student will understand and will focus more on these aspects than trying to master the drill, combination, whatever. One of my teachers makes the point over and over to beginners that "If you can't do it slow, you'll never be able to do it fast." This is valuable advice that I find myself repeating to my students as well.


Steve Lamade
San Miguel Eskrima Association
I have found that some of the hardest people to teach are ones with former martial arts experience. Ones who come from a Kung Fu or any of the indonisian systems are already able to flow and already have the loose, relaxed body movements. Every wedensday I teach FMA to a TKD group. It is a constant battle to get them to flow and relax. But this is when the stick drills realy come into play. Single and double sinawalies and heaven six drills realy get them going and aventualy they will loosen up.
I agree with Paul completely. It is important that if you do have a student that has bad control that you should partener up with him. As the teacher you already have the skill and ablility to read him and antisipate/ compansate for his lack of control. You can correct him as you do the drills. Where as if he is with one of the other students he is just going to smash fingures and hands.
I find that this is also good training for me as well. Especialy teaching some one who is realy erratic. Keeps you sharp and on your feet. But tell him that its not his fault, everyone is different and as with all things it just takes time.
When I took Tia chi, they called me robo chi. I was so stiff. My only other training at that time was combat jujistu. We had circular movements but not like tai Chi and I could not go slow. The form was to take 20 minutes to do, idealy. I got it up to 8 minutes. But I fell to my former training. As Bruce said," You have to empty your cup". But muscle memory is hard to change at times. So do flow drills, over and over. then add the foot work. and after a while they will be flowing and alot looser.
There is as with all things some people who just cant do it and never will be able to do it, and are not suited to do. I have had a few people over the years that I have told strait up, "Go by a gun and call it even"

Your friend in the Combative Arts, Redfive
Originally posted by Cthulhu
Another possible cause of the problem is that the student in question has his 2nd dan in TKD or TSD. Basically, he seems to have trouble 'deprogramming' himself so that he can flow. I know I had the same problem when I first started the FMA.


Amen- I'm 1st dan in Kenpo, just starting Taijutsu. I'm not as stiff as some, or rigid, but I am used to using my frame in a certain way. The moves in Bujikan are fundamentally different.

But I need to be mindful of that, and realize my uke will not respond as expected. Which is a very good thing- to break from patterns of thinking. Learn to expect a surprise, and meet it with a relaxed mind so the body can do it's work. Why have pre-conceived notions on top of the adrenaline dump from an attack? Now there's a bad combo.

I am very fortunate that I'm being instructed by an ex-kenpo practitioner who can see exactly what I'm doing, and deconstruct things in a way that I can understand, to "get" what they are doing. Plus the others learn, as we compare/contrast the two styles. We all benefit.

Ego can be a problem, too, in starting fresh in a new pond. The need to assert yourself when you suddenly feel incompetent. It's a good thing to be outside your comfort zone and to be challenged. But it isn't easy. I fall back on my flexibility to compensate for my inexperience in Bujikan, this guy may be falling back on his power- physically, or a dominating demeanor if he's used to competing.

You could try some very basic psychology, allow him a brief bit of spotlight while you are working with him, to make him more comfortable, and possibly more malleable.

Just my thoughts- I have never instructed, so be advised I'm talking out of my @$$.

I usually work with the new students. And if tey have a control problem even more so.

If the control problem is only with other students. I slowly let them know it is better to work with each other.

Many Good Posts!


Thanks everybody for your input. Alot of good stuff. The guy in question isn't a bad person (no bad intentions), he's just having a hard time relaxing and gets flustered very easily. It has been going pretty good pairing him up with some of the senior students in the class. It is partially the seniors fault that he got hurt as well, its good training for them to feel that kind of energy and to always be ready. One of the seniors actually came up to me and said "I remember when I was like that", almost like a lightbulb came on. The seniors also relate well on a peer to peer basis with him kinda like telling him " I did the same exact thing..the way i got over it was..."

Its just this one happening, but I should have seen it coming. I will now both keep a closer eye on him when he is working with others as well as spend more time with him one on one. It always looks like he is struggling and having a terrible time, but after class he always tells me how much he enjoys it and wishes he got into it sooner.???

I can tell him to relax all day, but until he relaxes he won't be able to relax. Huh?
I can tell him to relax all day, but until he relaxes he won't be able to relax. Huh?

:rofl: I like that last line,'s funny cause it's soooo true!

Ego can be a problem, too, in starting fresh in a new pond. The need to assert yourself when you suddenly feel incompetent.

Good points Jill. I actually LIKE the incompetent feeling of starting fresh. I find enjoyment in that feeling, even during the fustrations, because I know that I am learning something. It's not just about knowing something, it's the whole process of learning and exploring which I enjoy.

I started TKD when I was 7. Arnis when I was 13. I was very lucky, though, because my major TKD influences (some national and state champions) where all arnisadors as well. So, learning to relax wasn't a huge problem for me.

It was more of a problem to learn how to not suck, because I came from TKD.:p (lol only kidding TKD guys!)

This is a very helpful topic as there are two older students in the club that I attend who are very stiff and at times frustrating to work with. They both have prior MA training - one is 1st dan karate and the other has some grappling/ judo in his background. They are both over 225 lbs and believe me, you can feel it during sinawali. Blam Blam Blam Pound Pound Click (you can guess what that means).

Now, I think they are just nervous and when told to 'relax' they do just the opposite. Plus, the one fellow' simply can't seem to let go of his 'block-punch-block-kick ' linear game. He tends to feel that if he isn't performing at a speed of less than mach 2 he is a failure and I know that he doesn't get that attitude from the club. It is all in his head. So, teaching him is interesting as it involves a lot of patience and searching out his mental blocks because he really is a nice guy (they both are) who suffers from terrible control. No knife training in his future for quite some time. I also think students progress at different rates and it is not too fair to hold someone's progress up to another's in comparison.

Anyway, thanks for the info. It is very helpful as this is a situation that I have been struggling with for some time.

Just thought I'd bump this thread and give an update! The student who was lacking control has been with me for 2 years and has made great strides. He has smoothed out considerably, is more relaxed and will actually be performing in an upcoming demo at a Filipino Cultural Fair. Something that I believe has helped him (besides consistent training) has been touching hands with senior students and other instructors, then working with new students. He can now understand the different energies and what is asked of him. He can see how he used to feel. The "middle child" really has the best of both world's...seniors to guide and juniors to train.
A great way to impose control is to limit a students choices while sparring. Don't let him do his signiture move. Make them stick to the lesson, be it controling the distance or a move specific drill.
I had a student who was like this. He was overzealous about it all, wanted it to be perfect right off. What I did was I chose to be his partner and work with him personally. If he is working with me, he usually takes care to do the technique properly instead of too fast or with too much power. I know that this can be difficult if there are an even number of students. But, when you can't work with him personaly, you can step in, use him as the dummy. Do the technique correctly and incorrectly, being sure to point out why certain uncontrolled moves do not work. Then show it to him on another person. It takes more one on one to get these guys to calm down.
Some are just naturally strong and they find safety in that (maybe comfort is a better word...) My best student is like this; it literally took him 5 years to reach the point where he could relax enough to let sensitivity and technique take over from since that breakthrough he has REALLY made strides. It took time, patience, and was helped by the fact that he was dedicated, really wanted to learn, and trusted me to get him there.
On the other hand, there are those who have, as noted above, chips bigger than all outdoors on there shoulders. We usually try to run those off. said:
On the other hand, there are those who have, as noted above, chips bigger than all outdoors on there shoulders. We usually try to run those off.

Funny you should mention that, when this particular student started, he brought a friend with him who was even stiffer. We really didn't need to run him off, he eventually got so frustrated he quit.
Tension (mental/physical) is usually a product of fear. Whether that fear is of death and injury, looking bad, making mistakes, getting 'beaten', losing a competition (even if you are the only one competing).... but fear is really the big tension machine overall. Take some one on one time away from everyone else and talk to him. Find out what the students says, thinks and feels about this overtension and lack of control. I have found that the best thing is patience and encouragement. Be his biggest fan when he demonstrates particular control and soft muscle motion. Reinstruct when he feels tight. Recommend some self relaxation techniques and some 'self talk' or 'power words' that might help him along the way. There is a great book on this called "working without, working within: Tao of Sports" ( I am pretty sure this is the title. Books at home, I will double check) by a Sports Psych who collaborates with a Tai Chi "dancer" (his term).

Overall, though it is the instructor's responsibility to ensure a safe training environment. Paul J.'s suggestion of taking him on as a permanent training partner until he shows some progression is the second step after a private counselling session where you talk out what might be the source of the tension and outline some strategies on dealing with it. If it turns out to be an attitude problem (which it doesn't sound like), then ejection might be the only way.

I had a student fresh from Society for Creative Anachronism fencing in my class. NO control, TONS of pride and SERIOUS personallity problems. After about 3 months of having him openly criticise instruction and instructors (me and others), use excessive force during class and demonstrate a 'take your head off' intensity in sparring (no pads, no eye protection, padded sticks w/limited targeting - which he regularly ignored) that was inappropriate for the goal I decided to ask him to leave.

I had many conversations with him about the ABC's (Attitude, Bearing and Control) privately through the course of those three months but he didn't improve. After he was gone, I actually had other students (his personal friends too) say they were surpised I let it go for as long as I did. The whole class mood improved greatly.

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