I am increasingly under the impression that martial arts classes are really tough places when it comes to practicing Interpersonal Skills. I have failed miserably once and already more or less given up on the whole class because I could not make them understand (or accept) my point. The experience was quite frustrating and I write it down hoping that somebody can tell me what I could have done better.

More than a year ago I joined judo class because I wanted to learn certain judo throws. Learning those beautiful throws was my only goal. I did not want to participate in judo tournaments and I could not care less about judo belts. At that time I was a beginner in judo but also a somewhat experienced grappler who already trained many years with live resisting partners pressure testing my techniques. So I wasn't the typical beginner (if there is such thing).
The judo class was quite hierarchical and I ended up doing exactly what everyone else were doing which pretty much seemed to me to wasting my time. Sometimes I did have the opportunity to briefly practice the throws I wanted to learn but usually we quickly rushed to other techniques.

My biggest frustration came from this constant jumping between techniques: experience has thought me that if I want to learn something like a complex throw I need to practice it literally thousand or even tens of thousand times. As Bruce Lee famously put it : I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. But we usually got 10-12 reps and we moved to a different technique. First I tried to address the problem explaining what I want and why. The instructor said 'Yes' but nothing changed. Then a couple of training later I jokingly said 'As I said I'd prefer boring trainings for me, boring trainings are good, whoever wants to amuse himself, should go to cinema instead'.

I also approached several class members saying: 'let's learn this together'. Some initially joined, some even admitted that my approach actually makes sense, but the next class their enthusiasm was over and we ended up doing the 'normal' training. (Maybe I need to add that doing +100 of reps of these throws are physically challenging, requires and improves strength and stamina. But isn't challenging yourself is the very reason why one would attend martial art/combat sport classes??)

As for the instructor whenever I brought the issue up it fell on deaf ears. I told him that I do not feel to make any progress (which is not only a feeling but also a fact because after wasting my time for a year I am in no way better position to perform these throws on a resisting opponent than I was at the beginning.) I have the feeling that whatever I said was dismissed as a white belt can't possibly know it. Having said this whenever we did newaza (free sparring on the ground) I made a human pretzel from anybody present (including the instructor) but that was attributed to my physical superiority and not my grappling background.

Long story short when it was getting clear to me that I could not get my thousand repetitions my enthusiasm started to wither away and started to skip class. I am technically still a member, but I do not really bother to visit class. So I have every right to call this experience a failed experiment. I didn't learn the throws, I didn't make new friends, didn't even improve my interpersonal skills, I achieved nothing...

So I am wondering, how could I have best emphasized to my instructor, that I would rather practice only specific techniques (i.e. I need way more depth and less breadth), in a way so we would have been able to find a compromise?

Added difficulty: I am a foreigner in this country. I am fluent in their language and fairly familiar with their habits still cultural misunderstandings can occasionally happen.

My class is quite a low budget one with limited schedule. It does not offer private lessons.

  • 2
    I have no way to evaluate how impressive your take down is, but that's irrelevant. What you did doesn't show good people skills, no matter how right you were. Practice and putting in the work is important, but most beginners don't train to become champions. Perhaps take an advanced class then?. I still don't get what you are asking here. Are you asking how to take over a martial arts class from the teacher that other people are paying for and apparently enjoy more than your approach or how to find someone to practice with? Maybe this is just about making friends?
    – Raditz_35
    Nov 24, 2019 at 18:33
  • No way I want to take over the whole class. If other people enjoy it, that's really fine for me. I just want more flexibility when it comes to MY participation. When I invest time (and money) I would rather do things that I am convinced to be useful. For this I would need one single training partner for the second half of the class. That's all. BTW my takedowns are not that impressive at all. It still works in this class, even on the instructor.
    – Bogo
    Nov 24, 2019 at 18:41
  • @Bogo I edited your post, trying to get it having a specific goal. If this misrepresents you initial intend, feel free to roll back to the prior version of your post.
    – dhein
    Nov 25, 2019 at 8:21
  • At every one else: Please note that comments are not supposed for discussing with OP that their view is wrong. If you think, what OP is asking for is not achievable, write it down as an answer and keep in mind that it might be a frame challenge which should satisfy the requirements for that kind of answer. Don't answer in comments! Not even a frame challenge!
    – dhein
    Nov 25, 2019 at 8:23
  • Are private lessons available? I think it's very unlikely that you're going to get an instructor to change the format of a group class without significant support from the rest of the group (which you've failed to get). Nov 25, 2019 at 20:10

2 Answers 2


So, I have background in Martial Arts. And I understand how you feel. I am the kind of person that goes for the grinding kind of approach, tons of repetitions until I learn the technique, I don't care soo much if it is fun.

Having said that, you won't be able to get any instructor to do exactly as you want, however you can make it so it is a bit closer to what you want.

In order to do that, you need to consider a couple of things.

  • First the dojo would die without people, and while you enjoy that kind of training, sadly, most people don't.
  • In one dojo there are students from different levels, so you can't only practice the technique that is for one level.
  • Practicing the same technique too many times can lead to Repetitive Stress injuries.

So you don't want the dojo to die because otherwise you wouldn't be able to practice anymore, and you don't want to be selfish and practice things that only are good for you. Even if you are very fit, no one does a gazillion repetitions of the same technique in any sport in one go. Because you could seriously hurt yourself. Muscles, your body in general, need to rest. And specially in sports like Judo where you are straining joints and ligaments.

That is why most teachers actualy work a variety of techniques the same day to cover all these bases.

I always wanted to learn Judo, I haven't gotten the opportunity yet. Judo is not so much about the throws per se, but about the incredibly control of your body and your opponents and a firm grasp of your center of gravity. I am not judo expert, but from the documentation and films I watched, that is what I understood.

So Judo, like I would say most martial arts, is an holistic discipline, what I mean that is not a discipline about, doing throws and then going home. All techniques work in conjunction to get better in all of them at the same time. It is a bit counter-intuitive. But the variations of techniques help you understand better the mechaniques of the control of your center of gravity and your opponent's. You can see a great demonstration of what I mean in this video (sorry for its video quality) (I said all this based on my experience with Aikido and Iaido and the information I have read and watched on Judo.)

In some Martial arts they even say that once you get your black belt you are ready to start learning. Meaning you have a good grasp of the basic techniques and now you can truly understand them.

I hope my explanation helps you understand why you actually are not wasting time doing several techniques.

So why did I say all these? To set the basis of what you can change and what you can not. It is clear you won't an instructor to dedicate a whole class just for one technique. However there are some things you can do:

  • No one can force you to compete: So when you join a dojo if there is a competition element you should mention that you like the sport and want to learn the techniques but you are not interested in competition. But, don't belittle the competition aspect; because that woud get you at odds with the teacher. I don't like to compete myself. I like martial arts but I feel bad if I hurt someone and in general in competitions that is more likely to happen. I learn for the art itself.
  • Care more about belts: Not as bragging rights, but actually because to get a belt you have to learn certain techniques. So if you want to focus on them, you can tell the teacher you want to practice more to prepare for the belt, and they may set a sparring partner so you both can practice the techniques for that belt. They are usually happy to obligue in those situations. I don't care about belts and in general I am more than happy to do what teachers told me. So they woud push me to get a belt and in order to do that they would set students of same levels to practice together the techniques of the belt.
  • To practice again a technique: It is not likely they will get students to do the same technique 300 times, but if you learn a technique on day 1. Then you go home and try to remember how it is and you have doubts. The next class you can tell the teacher your doubts and he should be happy to explain you and you could even request to practice the same technique today again.
  • Make friends: If you stay long enough in a dojo you will start to make friends and most likely you will be able to practice with them some techniques in a more intensive way. But in order to get there you have to stay for longer.
  • Out of class practice: Some dojos are open outside class hours. If your dojo is like that you could ask if you could come and practice with a friend to get better. If the teacher is ok with that you can ask other students if they want to join. Take into account they may not allow it because of safety concerns.
  • Home dojo: I don't know how much room you have at home, but to create a small dojo at home is not that hard you just have to buy the foam for the falls and once you have that and have stayed longer at the dojo you can mention it to other members and they will probably be happy to go and practice with you.
  • Private instructor: Like other people mentioned you may be able to get a private instructor and that way practice more the throws. I must say though, I don't think is al that common.

Teachers are in general more open to students that show interest and respect their style, so they are more likely to adjust to favor those students when they ask something. If you are new to a class and start demanding things to people that has been practicing for ages, they can feel insulted and actually work against what you want. Even if what you ask seems really reasonable.

Patience is key in martial arts. If you think about it, repeting 10k times a technique is a form of patience. Following your sensei instructions is also a form of patience.

I think to get really good in a martial art you have to practice in your own time too. Not just once or twice a week during a class. So if you stay longer in the dojo you should be able to get friends to accomplish this.

One additional note. I think you will find this behavior in every dojo, but some dojos focus more. Some training hours will work better for you. If the class is formed with students of all the same level they will practice more the same techniques. And certain teachers are more into repeating more times the same technique. So you shouldn't feel obligued to stick with this particular dojo.

Side note about Martial Arts and Interpersonal Skills:

You said a Martial arts dojo, apparently is not a place to practice your IPS. Well how you interact with other people depends on the context.

From my understanding, martial arts are highly hierarchical, at least japanese ones. The people with more experience are supposed to take care of the ones with less experience (kohais) so they don't get hurt and learn. In turn the new people are supposed to respect the ones with more experience (senpais) and the teacher (Sensei). You can see more about that here. So it is actually rude, that you, a kohai is questioning his senpais and sensei.

Is even ruder if you do that in front of other kohais. Respect of the senpai/sensei is really important in these settings and you should be really mindful of how you express your opinions and by no means you should openly contradict your senpai or sensei in a open environment. You can discuss in private but you shoulnd't say things like you said "I like boring trainings, if you want to have fun go to the movies". I don't think you are in Japan, but this cultural aspect of martial arts is practiced in some or other level in most dojos.

Of course all the people in a dojo are humans and it is not a dictatorship so take this with a grain of salt. However you can see how you can actually practice IPS. Just in a specific way that is suitable for the environment you are in.


Your situation is like this:

  • you only want the cherry from the top of the cake;
  • the instructor wants to be professional and do a proper job.

Why do I make this distinction? Because judo, just like most other physical activities, requires more than just mechanically repeating some movements. Judo being a "violent" activity, is (potentially) dangerous even if it is done properly. Done improperly, it is a recipe for diaster.

Any of the following (or both) might happen:

  • you will be seriously injured (or worse);
  • your opponent will be seriously injured (or worse);

Either way, someone might want revenge / prosecution / ... And that is exactly what your instructor wants to avoid: the trouble of doing his job recklessly.

If you ever watched martial arts movies, you will understand that:

  • the guys who lose only train the way they want;
  • the guys who win do all the "boring" stuff.

OK, they might be movies, but reality is there: fighting is a lot more than just about a "throw".

I am not involved in martial arts, but I teach argentine tango for beginners. I was able to see how bad people usually dance tango, and I feel on my body when my partners believe that they are experts to do the cool stuff, while I have to break my back supporting their weight and acrobatics.

To bring some fresh air, during my classes I concentrate 90% on technique. If they want figures, video streaming services are up and running for many years. I do not even negotiate with them.

The only "concessions" I make:

  • I always make sure that I work with them closely, so they never feel forgotten;
  • I occasionally introduce new small elements, which will improve their technique.
  • whenever they are ready for something big(ger), we study something bigger.

Overall, I am happy. At the and of the day, nobody will be able to accuse me of teaching bad things. The students who keep coming are happy, and the students who stop coming, are probably happy too - doing something else.

If you still want to "persuade" your instructor to teach you only what you want you have 2 options:

  1. you keep asking your instructor to teach you cool stuff, while the other students do the boring stuff;

  2. ask the instructor to do private classes with you, during which he will work with you on the topics you want.

Potential results:

  1. Most likely, you will not succeed. Worst case: he will forbid you to attend his classes.

  2. For the "right" amount of money, he might accept. Worst case: he will not agree to do the private classes, but you can still attend normal classes.

An "original" option is to try to find a different instructor, who is willing to do things your way, without needing the effort to convince him.

My definitions of terms (based on my own observations, and based on information occasionally picked up from books / internet):

fun = whatever you want to do, regardless of the quality and regardless of the expectations of the other people; sometimes (usually?) regardless of the consequences

boring = doing things properly, learning all the dimensions of the effort (body, mind, soul, emotions, reasoning, compassion, patience...)

Another alternative

I just realized that there is another alternative. It is what the true leaders and masters do.

Become your own instructor.

  • You already mentioned that you do not want to attend competitions, so complying with some specific regulation is not a concern.
  • The instructor you work with is anyway not suitable, compared to your standards.
  • You can become the creator of a new style of martial arts.
    • this in turn brings an array of other benefits.

This should have been the choice from the beginning, considering your statement in the comments:

there are many things I disagree with based on my 15+ years of martial arts/combat sport expereince

15+ years are more than enough to go from absolute zero to winning championships. Winning championships (most likely) gives you the right to be an instructor as well.

This just came to my head. Think about it in this way:

  • Were you ever an instructor / trainer for any discipline? How did you handle the people who did not want to comply with the "layout" of the training?
  • If you never were an instructor, how would you handle such situations?

Did you / would you organize a class where you would attend twenty people, each of them doing something else? Would you be proud to have that chaos in your yard?


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