There are so many things that go into being a great sensei, a great coach.  You have to understand:

  • what you are teaching
  • how your students learn
  • how to use their learning styles as you teach
  • what needs they have at the moment, and 
  • the role your students need you to fill.

Knowing The Material

 Its obvious why your coach would need to understand the material.  If I don’t know how to do a side kick, it would be impossible for me to teach you how to do one.  The better your coach knows the subject the better they can teach you that subject.

Learning and Teaching Styles

Understanding how a student learns and then how to teach them is less obvious.  Each student is going to learn a little differently, mostly falling under one of four categories. In terms of learning to do that sidekick from earlier.

  • Some people will need to see the kick done.  
  • Some people will need it described so they can think through the sidekick.  
  • Others will need their coach to move their leg through the motions so they can feel how the kick should be done. 
  • The last group will just need to do it to be able to do it.  

While only little things will change from group to group and no one will fall solely into one category,  a good sensei will adjust their teaching style depending on the student.

Student Needs

As a coach, students’ needs are important to understand for a very simple reason,  if you, as a student, do not feel that your needs are met you will not learn anything. 

If your hungry, if you don’t feel safe, or if you feel like you don’t belong then you are not learning as well as you could and it is up to your coach to make sure you are checking all the possible boxes. This means that your coach’s role is easy.


Your coach should be a  safety blanket first. A good coach understands that every student in their class is trusting them to keep them safe. If what they are learning is dangerous, that trust is what allows a student to improve. 


Beyond your safety, your coach needs to make sure you feel like you belong with the group.  If you feel like an outsider you will probably check out of the class, and keep your burning questions to yourself.  You will then miss out on the knowledge and understanding gained by having a casual conversation with other students or the coach.  I cannot tell you how many light bulbs I have watched go off in my students’ heads because of an off topic conversation. Your sense of belonging is affected by the group dynamic, how safe you feel, and how well your coach understands the material they are teaching.

“When people ask me about what I learned from martial arts, I don’t talk about favorite punches or kicks, or about fights won or lost. I talk about learning self-discipline, about ethics and manners and benevolence and fairness.”

Jonathan Maberry

Strive to Improve

The final mark of a great coach or sensei is a need to continue to learn.  Your coach should strive to improve themselves and their teaching. A Sensei that has stopped trying to learn will have little to teach you.

The role of your Coach or Sensei is to be a partner in your fitness and training.  They should celebrate each success with you. They should be a reference for you. Your coach is not the end, they do not know everything, they should be questioned, and they should not be done learning.