Can You Really Teach Confidence?


Can You Really Teach Confidence?

Schools today talk a lot about teaching confidence. They have words of the week and life skills training, which is great. I wish my instructors had taught me about goal setting when I was a kid. But I don’t think confidence can be taught. It’s too experiential and situational.

I do think schools can present experiences that will help students to gain self-confidence though I don’t think student creeds and screaming “Yes, Sir!” are ways to do it.

For instance, Joe Lewis taught me that confidence as a fighter comes when you are hurt and/or exhausted, not when you are fresh. When you learn to stay dangerous despite being at a disadvantage, your confidence builds.

Confidence comes from experiencing those times that even though you may not win the fight, you can survive it. That translates to all areas of life and has helped me tremendously.

But it wasn’t Lewis’ saying that to me that taught it to me. His saying it to me helped me understand the process, but the process is what taught it to me. The process was years of full-contact sparring with him in a 12-foot ring in the Florida heat with no air conditioning. There were times he hit me so hard the room changed colors. But I never went down, never quit, and never missed a workout.

Regardless of your background and what techniques you were taught, what are the principles of martial arts that are important to you? How do you want to express them in your curriculum?

How can you create a recipe that instills those principles in a dish that keeps the students coming back for more?

For me, the principles were respect; tenacity; technical execution to honor the arts; the ability to defend yourself against nine out of ten people your size; physical conditioning; and the attitude of positive self expectancy.

1. Respect

My school was based upon ideals of respect and courtesy. We expressed this in many ways, from how we addressed each other to how we bowed in and out of class.

2. Tenacity

The never-quit attitude is critical to gaining self confidence. You’re tired? Rest when you get home. You’re banged up? Pain is part of the training.

3. Technical Execution to Honor the Arts

We honor the rich history of the martial arts by working as hard as we can to execute the techniques as well as possible.

Acceptance of a sloppy side kick is like an exhibit of a sloppy painting in a museum. We work to honor the arts by constantly working to improve the quality and efficacy of our techniques.

4. Self Defense

The martial arts are fighting arts. To me, the principle is peace through superior firepower. We never abuse what we’ve learned, but if we need to write the check, we have the money in the bank.

The problem is most systems teach terrible self-defense skills.


This is why I am such an advocate of Cobra-Defense for self defense training. which is law enfor

cement based and not martial arts based.

5. Physical Conditioning

Using the Phase 1 – 3 methods of teaching, we were able to make sure that our black belts were in excellent shape

6. Positive Self Expectancy

This is the attitude that if you work hard in a smart direction, good things will happen. It’s the idea that if you do good things, good things come back to you. It’s a resilient optimism that if you work hard and stay positive, things will work out better than if you didn’t.

Rather than saying to yourself, “What did I do wrong?” we say, “What will I do better next time?” Now that we have the principles that are important to me to teach, how can I use my curriculum to instill them in my student body?

John Graden
John Graden is the founder of the Martial Arts Teachers’ Association (MATA), NAPMA, Martial Arts Professional magazine, The ACMA, and author of the best selling books on how to run a successful martial arts school.


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