Recently, I was working on one of the Bamboo Spirit flow drills with one of my students in class. This student had no martial arts experience before joining but has taken to Modern Arnis with zest!

As we were going through the flow drill, he struggled to remember the sequence. I was not concerned with this as I was confident that he would eventually grasp the sequence. The main concern was that he was stiff and strong-arming his way through the flow drill.

In this situation, most martial arts instructors would say, “Just relax!” It makes sense for us to say this to students. We hope that, by magically saying “relax”, the student would automatically relax.

Voila! He’s got it!

Except the command to “relax” almost never works.


Telling a student to relax is just too abstract for many.  They’ll say to themselves, “But I am relaxing!” not realizing that they are not. Consequently,  frustration sets in as they hear the instructor repeat the relaxation mantra for the umpteeth time.

How do you teach a student to relax?

You, as the instructor, need to take concrete steps to enable the student to relax.

Going back to the student who was having difficulty with the flow drill, I did the following:

(1) Go Slow: I told him when we were going to substantially slow the drill down. Nice, smooth, slow, and deliberate. In doing so, we killed two birds with one stone. First, going slow helped him memorize the sequence of the flow to his satisfaction. Secondly, slowing the tempo got him on the road to relaxing.

(2) No muscle tension: I asked him to be loose and not to put any muscle into the drill. For example, there was one section of the drill where he would really stiffen up. To address this, we reversed roles in this section and I stiffened up considerably during this section. He immediately understood my point. Understanding what he was doing is the first step. The next step is getting rid of the muscle tension or stiffness. Therefore, that means repetitions.

(3) Tons of repetitions:  It goes without saying that many repetitions go a long way to mastery of a technique. This applies to guiding the student toward relaxation. I guarantee you that the more repetitions are done, the more the student will relax.

(4) Mental breaks: Often, the student will get mentally tired and their form will start to break down. As a result, they get more tense and frustrated. At this point, I will call for a brief mental break. I will tell them to shake it out and empty their head. Then we will immediately resume the drill.

These steps often help to address the relaxation issue and get your student on the road to mastery!

If you are a student aware of relaxation issues, try going through the aforementioned steps to see if this works for you.

Bottom line, telling a student to “just relax” is often unhelpful. It’s a lazy way of teaching. Just throwing out verbal instructions and expecting the student to “get it” will not cut it.

It is far better to take concrete steps and guide the student through the steps I outlined above. Always works for me!

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