My instructor recently spent six weeks visiting family and friends in his homeland, so it was my responsibilty to instruct the childrens class while he was away.
Teaching kids can be quite testing, especially keeping everyone interested and challenged at the same time! On top of that you are dealing with a variety of ages and experience. One thing I had noticed over the last few years and especially the last few weeks is that it is difficult to inspire the correct attitude when punching and kicking in kihon or kata regardless of the amount of explanation and emphasis on correct technique - punching and kicking air just is not reality. At this point you might say that is why we practise partner work which is fine for aiming and control, however, unless you drill 100% full-contact it is still not 'real'. Many old-timers will be thinking to themselves at this point that is the reason why we have makiwara (Makiwara - How to Build and Use) - and indeed they would be correct for those who practise diligently and probably daily, but is also not the reality for most kids/adults training in this modern world where they might come twice a week for an hour or so.
Anyway, the week before my instructor returned I decided to try some shiny new re-breakable boards I had recently purchased to see how the kids would react to that as a training exercise in 'real' punching and kicking. To be honest I did not have a lot of confidence that there would be much enthusiam for these new training tools.
As it turned out I COULD NOT BE MORE MISTAKEN.
The class started normally enough with a good warm-up and then straight into kihon. At this stage I quizzed the kids as to whether they thought their punches and kicks were well executed and powerful. As usual I got a chorus of positive replies - they all thought their technique was fantastic. I then introduced the re-breakable boards. I was not surprised to see a bunch of blank faces. When I verbally explained what they were the reaction was less than enthusiastic. There is nothing quite like 20+ kids giving you their best withering looks! At this stage I thought a demonstration was necessary, so I asked one of the senior kids to step forward, hold a board and prepare for my strike. Of course smashing the board with an appropriately devastating kiai had the desired effect and the kids suddenly got very enthused indeed. I lined them up and got them striking the boards using a choice of palm strike or closed fist. Of course the success rate was very poor, suddenly the kids had to rethink everything they thought they knew and that their punching was in fact less than fantastic. The looks of frustration and devastation and eventually determination were a sight to behold. After a while the board started to break, kids were getting excited and every success was met with a gale of clapping and encouragement. Obviously there were also tears and tantrums and of course some minor injuries and bruising (not only to egos).
It has now been almost a month since the introduction of the boards and frankly I am convinced they should be a standard tool in every dojo - and not just for the kids. Before class we used to have a bunch of maniacs running wild around the hall and now we have kids wanting to break the boards instead. They organise themselves and have a great time busting the boards and progressing to the next colour/level. The biggest pay-off though has to be that everything is improving. Finally they realise what real punching and kicking actually require and I see the positive results flowing into kata and every other aspect of their training. On top of that the adults have started to get into using them and that is inspiring improvement as well.
I consider them a complete success - if you can grab a set get them, you will be amazed.