Still learning from a World Kenpo Karate champion…


June 25, 2024

If you haven’t seen our first blog post, it’s worth tracking back to read the background and our first three takeaways before you carry on with this post.


When you’re ready… we are going to start this one with celebrating success…


3. Celebrate success


The team has had some successes over the years in competitions, which is particularly noteworthy given the size of the club. This success is celebrated but is also balanced with a firm belief that there should be no bragging or ‘big personalities’ in the group. The message is that success is the result of hard work and is open to anyone who tries. This includes a dedicated area in the Dojo with photos from the event (showing happy children interacting, not just receiving medals) and a chance for younger children to see and hold medals from large competitions to inspire them with the possibility of their own success.


L&D takeaway: Do you celebrate success within the organisation, or are you concerned about presenting ‘winners’ and demoralising others? Can you find a way to use success to motivate others with the idea of the possibility rather than focusing on specific individuals?


4. Personalisation


If everyone is different, then we need to come to where they are, not where they should be. For Sinead, this is about identifying someone who might be struggling or feeling overwhelmed and giving them a little bit of extra attention. If they need to learn 10 moves but can only do three, compliment them on what they did well and then walk away. It’s about positive reinforcement rather than focusing on the negative, as that leads to anxiety and frustration and removes the fun. So, you focus on the positive and keep building on what’s working.


Another important feature of personalisation is fighting style. It’s important that everyone feels comfortable and plays to their own strengths. Sinead often explains that she smiles a lot during her fights. I always presumed this was because she was just having fun and didn’t take it too seriously, but it’s actually because she is really nervous and that’s how it manifests. People find it really off-putting, though and it can put them on the back foot during a fight. The point is, rather than create uniformity, play to the strength of the individual and let them find their way.


L&D takeaway: We know personalisation is the key to learning. We also know it’s hard in organisations when you’re tasked with teaching large audiences. But can you think of ways to break down learning into smaller chunks that learners can learn from and progress through at their own pace? Some might move quickly, while others take longer. Both are praised for their successes and motivated to continue.


5. Gamification


Gamification is the process of taking elements and theories from game design and applying them in another context. This might include things such as points, badges and levels. Most martial arts also use gamification where badges and levels are the belts and tips act as the points. Sinead builds on this by using visual representations of things around the Dojo. So, there is a wall in the Dojo showing names against belt categories (shown as a hierarchy) and details of any competitions they are completing in that shows where people are placed. Sometimes, it’s about friendly competition, but often it’s demonstrating what practice and time can achieve.


L&D takeaway: Are you using gamification across your activities to build engagement? Whether that’s within elearning resources, training sessions, or using leaderboards, coupled with the importance of celebrating success, could be a way to raise engagement.


6. Scaffolding


If you’re unfamiliar with the term scaffolding, it involves providing structure and guided support to learners as they acquire new knowledge and skills (Vygotsky, 1978). It encourages the active engagement in the learning process. One of the models used is referred to as the ‘I do, we do, you do’ model. So, you start with the instructor modelling the task, they then work with the learner together on the task before allowing the learner to complete the task independently. Sound familiar? Sinead’s teaching methods often use scaffolding principles.


This isn’t just about learning new skills though, it’s also about building confidence. Taking a 50-year-old man with no experience in Kenpo to winning a gold medal (yes, she did this, not once, not twice, but three times!) starts with finding measurable goals for them in a number of areas. For example, flexibility is an important part of martial arts, but it isn’t easy to measure, so she may set a goal that starts with being able to touch their toes that they can work towards.


L&D takeaway: Goals should be at the heart of all L&D offerings. What are we trying to achieve? How will we know we’ve reached the goal? In a martial arts setting, it’s about being able to measure personal achievement. For us, it’s about measuring our impact on the organisation.


7. Repetition and consequence


Much of martial arts training is repetition. The practising of techniques until they are muscle memory and you can do them in your sleep. These techniques are built up in little steps over time and practised as you go.


For example, you learn that if somebody throws a left punch, you block it with your right hand, move under it, and punch from underneath. That is the sequence that will develop muscle memory. In a fight, you will remember that as a hand is coming towards your face, your body should remember to duck and go under even though nobody’s telling you what to do in that moment.


The key is to allow that practice in an environment where nobody’s telling you it’s right or wrong. But you may feel the consequences because if you step back instead of forward, you get punched in the face. The lesson is learnt pretty quick and over time, not repeated. You have learnt by consequence.


L&D takeaway: Do learners have space to practice each step of an activity and learn from their mistakes? This is more of a cultural question for managers, but could L&D emphasise and support this type of behaviour through manager training and resources?


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