A couple of caveats: This is not about WHAT I teach, or WHY I teach children.


This post covers HOW I teach Filipino Martial Arts to children, and this post mainly focuses on the 5 to 8-year-old age range.

Moreover, I will focus on the technical aspects of teaching children based on my experiences.

If your experiences are different, I’d like to hear them!

Over the years, I have learned that several methods of teaching are essential to success in teaching Filipino Martial Arts to children.

The Steps

(1) One move/step at a time.

I taught 5-year-old Joaquin part of heaven/redonda sinawali for the first time last week. Because he had only recently started but showed signs of being a quick learner, I decided to teach him this drill. I focused on the first move, just to get his stick from one side to the other. We did this several times.

The first move that Joaquin learned. We did several repetitions of this before adding the 2nd move. Video here.

Then Joaquin progressed to the second move. We did “1, 2” a few times. The kid caught on quickly.

Lastly, Joaquin learned the third move. This is a bit tricky and I’ve had to learn how to coach kids through this. Moreover, kids respond to different instructions. Some get it when they hear “hit and bounce back.” Others do better with “hit and go under.”

For the younger kids, the first three moves are enough to absorb in one class. The next class, I’ll coach them through the next three moves, going from the left side to the right side.

For the older kids (7 and 8-year-olds), they get the entire sinawali sequence down in one class. 

In any case, my experience has been that breaking the material down is key to learning success. Moreover, as the students learn each move, they become more confident about their physical literacy skills. I use this approach in virtually everything I teach.

(2) Appropriate Terminology.

Over the years, I’ve learned that terminology can trip kids up.

A good example is that kids got confused over the difference between “jab” and “reverse punch.” The confusion continued through several classes.

As an experiment, I decided to change the terminology of these two techniques to see if it made any difference. I replaced “jab” with “front punch” and “reverse punch” with “back punch.”


Learning basic hook punch. 

BOOM! They got it right away, terminology wise. When they are in a ready position, they know which hand is in front and which is the back hand.

Are they pros at punching? Not by a long shot. These are 5 to 8-year-old kids after all and learning how to move their bodies. They are quite enthusiastic and quick learners, though!

While not terminology related, I have adjusted instructional phrases to get the point across with a fair bit of success as well.

(3) Constant reminders.

Most of all, they need constant reminders. A good example is the footwork during the block, check counter drill.

Video here.

As you can see in the gif above, I employ basic one step footwork. I step with the right foot against angle 1 and with the left foot against angle 2.  

I have drilled this MANY times with the kids.

It’s common to see a child do this without any footwork. Often, I’ll stop and say “let’s start over and MOVE YOUR FEET!” They’ll nod and proceed to move correctly.

I will continue to remind them over and over until they get tired of reminders!

I knew I was getting through when Lauryn, in a recent class, said to me “don’t remind me to move my feet. I’ll do it!”

So, yes, constant reminders are a big part of this class but an important component of an instructor’s toolbox.

(4) Reinforcement through games.

Some martial arts instructors oppose games in any way, shape, or form. They often say that classes should be run in a traditional way, implying a preference for old-fashioned “iron” discipline.


Kids get bored if you’re “all work and no play.” Consequently, learning becomes less fun. What I often do is reinforce their martial and physical literacy skills through games at the end of class.

A popular game is “Simon Says.” Lately, we’ve been focusing on the angles of attack. Nathan, my assistant instructor, and I throw every trick at them. An example would be for me to execute angle one while saying “give me angle 6.” The kids have learned to listen to what we are saying instead of copying our moves.

We’ll often throw in the sinawalis, footwork, punches, kicks, blocks, pushups, jumping jacks, wall squats, and other essential material during “Simon Says.”

The kids eat it up big time and get a good workout at the same time!

(5) Contests.

Tell a kid to do ten pushups, and the results may go either way. They may either do a great job or just go through the motions.

Mention the word “contest” and BOOM; you get something else entirely.

I’ve been amazed at how competitive 5 to 8-year-old kids can get, and I’ve taken advantage of that to stress good form.

For example, I’ll announce a pushup contest. I will tell the kids that the winner will be chosen based on their form.

Note that I do not pick a winner based on the number of pushups they execute. I’m looking for correct form in any contest that I announce, whether it be angles of attack, sinawalis, pushups, jumping jacks or whatever comes to mind.

Based on my experiences, I use contests liberally to emphasize the importance of good form, focus, concentration, and fun!

(6) One on One.

Finally, I try to work with every child during class. This way I can monitor their progress and see if they’re ready for the new material or reinforce existing material. I encourage Nathan, my assistant instructor, to do the same. Working with each child is an excellent way of ensuring the continual progress of each child in class and that they are executing techniques correctly.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 10.51.21 AM

I try to work one on one with every child in every class.


In summary, all the above worked together well in teaching the 5 to 8-year-olds. My teaching is constantly evolving, and I’m always thinking of ways to improve myself as an instructor. While I’m a better instructor than I was several years ago, I feel as though I still have much to learn and experience is the best teacher!

I  focus on the technical aspects since my aim is instilling real confidence in the children through competency in physical literacy and technique. If I can’t teach them proper technique, they will only have false confidence, and I will not have done my job as an instructor. My goal is for them to become strong, confident teens and adults.

Over to you, what would you add to the above list? Let’s hear your comments!


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