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Managing behaviour through martial arts

It's a bad idea to challenge your students to a duel, but there are plenty of other ways to use judo skills to boost classroom control

It's a bad idea to challenge your students to a duel, but there are plenty of other ways to use judo skills to boost classroom control

Have you ever considered using the ancient Japanese art of judo to manage pupil behaviour?

Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that low-level disruption should be met with an ashi guruma (leg wheel), or that late homework be punished with a obi otoshi (belt drop). Rather, Zen Buddhism has had a major influence on the development of modern judo and an alternative version of Buddhism's Four Noble Truths on overcoming suffering can provide us with inspiration for behaviour management.

Noble Truth 1

Get the basics right: get to grips with your opponent and always keep your balance

The importance of the basics really cannot be overstated. In judo, as in teaching, if you get the main principles right and stick to them, you cannot go too far wrong. The first principle in a judo contest is to establish your grip. Pupils are not opponents but they do need getting to grips with. The way to do this is by cultivating strong relationships. Everything turns on this.

Equally important is to remember the three F words:

Keep fit: always stay on top of the latest thinking in the profession. (The chances are that you are doing so, as you are reading this publication.)

Move fast: keep the pace of your lessons quick and avoid predictability.

Stay focused: remember why you came into the profession, and remember also that you are making a difference, regardless of how you're feeling on any given day.

Related to and underpinning all this is the need to maintain a healthy work-life balance. My busiest days are the most important days to attend judo training. Quite simply, I owe it to my pupils not to reduce myself to a teaching machine; if a set of books gets marked slightly later than planned, so be it. My greatest gift to them is a healthy me.

What is your judo? You need to know what it is. And if you don't have a judo in your life, get one, fast. You owe it to yourself - and to your pupils.

Noble Truth 2

Pick the right partner to lever others' strength

In judo, as in any sport, if you want a good laugh, train with a white belt - a beginner who will make you look good. If you want a workout, train with someone of similar ability. But if you really want to improve, seek out the black belt who will give you a hiding and make you look rubbish by comparison.

That is as true in teaching as it is in life. We can all feel better about ourselves by comparing ourselves to the wrong people.

I have always made it a priority to seek out and deliberately be around the very best teachers, who excel at behaviour management. You should do the same.

Observe them (formally and informally), question them, think about their practice and how it differs from yours, and allow them to mentor you.

Noble Truth 3

Plan for the unexpected: push when pulled

Always give yourself plenty of options and exit strategies in your planning.

Teachers can sometimes feel like the mouse in the old classic cartoons, desperately trying to push the door closed as the larger and stronger cat attempts to push it open.

The "push when pulled" mantra is often heard by judo beginners from their coaches. Judo teaches us that it is never about simply hitting harder than your adversary, but rather about moving with the momentum created by an opponent.

I am reminded here of a principal in a further education college in the North West of England. He introduced a recycling skip for aluminium cans and a weekly prize draw (funded by a soft drinks company) for the people who used it. Students had to scratch their initials into the base of each can before placing it into the skip. Literally overnight, what had been a huge problem for the college was solved: students not only willingly placed their own cans in the skip but went around picking up others' litter to increase their own chances of winning.

That is the work of a judo master.

Noble Truth 4

Get the crowd on your side: create your own fan club

Again, this goes back to the basic principle on which everything else turns: relationships.

Be proactive and cultivate them at every opportunity - with pupils, their parents and all other stakeholders.

Christian Pountain is head of RE and director of spirituality at a secondary school in Lancashire

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