This paper is still in progress and finishes with notes from the original outline and will be updated as sections are completed.

Managing ADD and ADHD in the martial arts class.

Robert Barton 

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). We hear about them all of the time and we see children and adults who are medicated and otherwise being treated for these issues. But a lot of us really do not understand these issues and so we see many martial arts instructors mishandling children who have these challenges. The result is that most children with thee disorders will end up quitting a martial arts program. This is a sad state of affairs because a martial arts class provides an excellent setting for a child to learn to compensate for the problems. An instructor who can mange these issues and these children can be a valuable asset in the education of these children while an instructor who is not qualified can end up doing a great deal of harm to the self image of these children.

As with anything the first step is understanding but prior to even trying to understand the issues of ADD and ADHD we need to examine the underlying difficulties that we often see instructors and teacher having. The first difficulty comes from the fact that these issues are not obvious and cannot be seen. A child with a handicap or illness which can be seen and noted would never be penalized for being ill by a teacher but when we can’t see the problem we often lose our awareness of the issue and the ADD child ends up being blamed and punished for something that is completely beyond his or her control. So the first step that we have to take is to understand within ourselves what our challenge is and remind ourselves constantly how to do this job. We must be aware that just because we cannot see a challenge or illness does not mean that it is not there. We must get rid of our inherent tendency to ignore that which cannot be seen and realize that these children are suffering from an illness. It is an invisible illness and so these kids are rarely given the benefit of understanding. We have to hold in our minds the awareness that these children are in need of accommodation and that if we can accommodate them we can help them and have a lasting positive effect.

Next we must become aware of our own tendencies toward frustration and anger. We have to recognize when we are getting frustrated with a situation and be able to think it through and recognize that it is always the situation that is being difficult and challenging and not the child that is difficult and challenging.  When we can keep this in our minds we can keep ourselves from identifying the child as being difficult which allows us to better deal with and accept the individual and not start to blame the individual child. So difficult situations develop in classes, illnesses can contribute to these difficulties, ADD and ADHD are illnesses that can contribute to difficulties, we as instructors should handle these types of difficulties in a non-personal way that does not blame the person who is ill, we can incorporate strategies to do this and we can help the students learn strategies that do this. Through all of this we must never blame the student and we need to keep focused on the goal of teaching and help people to develop. ADD and ADHD are two of the most difficult disorders to deal with when teaching martial arts and we must recognize that difficulty and then we must accept it as a challenge and take it on.

Next in our preparation is to decide that we as instructors will develop the skills to manage these sorts of issues. We are teachers who try to help others to develop we should ourselves always try to continue our own development. One way to maintain our own development is to learn to manage a wider variety of people and to be able to teach many types of people. As we grow in our teaching ability we will also grow in our understanding of our art. We become better martial artists.  We must learn to do class development that can manage a wide variety of individuals and so expand the types of people who can enjoy success in our schools and our martial arts family. When we are able to include many types of people in our art and our success we are stronger and have a wider human resource and varied abilities.

All too often, ADD and ADHD are treated as discipline problems and children are punished. ADD and ADHD are not signs of a lack of discipline and punishing children for the characteristics of these conditions is counterproductive and cruel. ADD is a brain condition which causes a person to exhibit certain characteristic behaviors ADHD is basically ADD with the addition of hyperactivity. The common characteristics include inattention or wandering mind often with ‘daydreaming’ we also see impulsivity or reduced inhibition and occasionally the tendency to become so focused on one thing that they ignore the world. Roll into that equation the fact that these conditions are often seen in conjunction with higher than average intelligence. So you have child that presents with a lot of brain power and who is very bright but can’t seem to rule his or her mind. And because the child is smart and has trouble ruling his or her mind teachers often think that the child should be able to and just doesn’t want to or lacks discipline. The fact is that these children often have very good discipline and are trying very hard and staying focused as much as they do is an amazing feat.


What is ADD and ADHD not a discipline problem should not be treated as such applying the wrong tool and the wrong force.


What are the challenges presented


How can we help… what do we want to accomplish….. what is success

Disruptive behaviors




Teaching strategies

Lesson organization and planning….

Class like adults.





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