Decreasing Stress, Encouragement, Karate, Learn to Appreciate, Motivational, Philosophy

Game Changers

I was in class the other day and a young child said, “Sensei, are we going to play a game today?” Little did he realize that the games that we play are actually a very good way to practice martial art skills and techniques. These fun drills keep kids excited and engaged. The younger children do not have big attention spans, so keeping them active is a necessary component of class.

On many days, we run relay races in class as a warm up. We create two or more teams who battle to see how fast they can run to the bag, kick it, run back, and then sit with crossed legs while waiting for their entire team to finish. Whatever line finishes first, and sits quietly and neatly, wins.

With a piece of chalk, one of the instructors draws a line on the floor to count the wins for each team, then sets up for the next race and the next set of winners. Sometimes the teams are changed up so all children have a chance to compete against different peers, or to balance out an uneven team that is stronger than others.

Groups are randomly designed based not on skill or rank, but on simple characterizations such as the color of their eyes or hair, or their birthday month. This way the teams are diverse, and there are no bad feelings about not being chosen for a certain team.

Adult martial artists do not often run relays or play games. It is a bit unfortunate because in a way, adults are too occupied with the serious parts of life. It would be good if adults, like the carefree children, could blow off steam with some fun interaction. But, adults see games differently than children.

Would it be fulfilling to be on a team where your strengths balance the weaknesses of the group? Would it be exciting to collaborate with others and create a synergy that helps the group become whole? While a martial art practice is very individual, there is always an opportunity for students to work together to strengthen each other.

What would happen if adults did play a game in class? How would they react? They would bring all of their experiences to the game, good and bad, and impose their well-controlled and unnecessary limits. Some would not want to win, because it would divide a friendship. Some would be too competitive and overbearing because winning is all that they care about. Some would not even try to win because of lack of confidence.

An unexpected game would bring out the best in some, and the worst in others. What we all forget is that in reality, we are all on the same team. If we work together, our team will be strengthened. Each of us  can make a difference in our world by using a martial art mindset, sharing martial art positivity, providing martial art instruction, and encouraging martial art interactions. We have the power to make a positive impact through our training and our teaching.

Every member of the martial art team can be encouraging and helpful, humble and tactful, and hopeful and positive. We are not competitors against each other, but competitors against the difficult situations that constantly arise in our world. We can help to diminish the negativity and destructive behaviors we see in our world today through our martial art impact. We have the power!

Are we going to play a game today? Yes. It is called the “make a difference” game. This game is very good practice not just for martial arts, but for life. All of us can participate, and the best part is that we all win. Friends, we are game changers.


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The Martial Arts Woman book shares the stories and insights of more than twenty-five women in the martial arts, and how they apply martial arts to their lives.

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Andrea F. Harkins is a writer, motivator, life coach, martial artist, and public speaker. Her book, The Martial Arts Woman, is now available at


7 thoughts on “Game Changers

  1. Sensei I did games with my adults and I masked them as strength and technique drills they laughed and trained hard I always did them at the end of class.To bring added excitement as well as to hit the cardio and flexibility.Adding games also unites the class and instills long lasting friendships and respect.Do not limit the fun to the kids.Hey we need a good piker upper.LOL

  2. We do that with the children as well. When teaching knife defense, we wear white shirts and cover our plastic knives in colored chalk, then we go to town. The least amount of chalk on a shirt is the winner. It’s a game to them, but they are learning how to not be cut by a knife attack.

  3. Osu and thank you! This is why I like attending the intermediate class – it’s mostly kids, so I get to play games 🙂 It means I’m tired before advanced class, but I don’t care because when I was a teenager it did me a world of good to train alongside adults, so now I get to give that support to my young kohai.

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