The Value of Private Lessons

When we join a martial arts school to take on the amazing journey of self-discovery we always have a motive as to why we decided to join.  Maybe we wanted to learn a method of self-protection, or maybe we wanted to build our confidence, or maybe we needed to learn how to focus better?  Aside from what got us in the door we soon find that we reap so many other benefits if we have a good instructor who runs a reputable school.


When I joined it was originally because I wanted to be like Chuck Norris. I loved watching his movies when I was young and I wanted to learn how to punch and kick like him.  Of course I had no clue of the many different styles out there and I happened to be lucky enough to get into American Kenpo. I have cross-trained a lot, but American Kenpo is the most street dominant art I have found, but the other systems I have done have made my personal style of Kenpo much better.


My journey led me into amazing things and now I am a full-time instructor (and have been since 2006) in a small town and have had great success at helping students become all they are capable of becoming. I’m proud of my students who work extremely hard to reach their full potential.


When I was on my original journey, although I had a goal of becoming a black belt, I did not focus on the belts and did not care too much about them.  I was happy when I passed my test for a new promotion, but I was more focused on being the best I could be.  I knew that if I wanted to be the best I was capable of I needed more than just two group classes a week.


I practiced at home every night and I enjoyed it. I couldn’t wait to get to my next class to not only learn, but also improve on what I had already learned; again, not for the belts.  They didn’t matter to me and they still don’t.  I knew the belt wouldn’t save my life.  Every street situation I’ve encountered, bully altercation I had, or the times I had to escort people out the door as a bouncer, I didn’t have my belt on me and the belt had nothing to do with the knowledge and skill I had to overcome those situations appropriately and effectively.


I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard at your material for your next belt.  I’m also not saying that the belts have no value or no meaning, because they do.  I’m just saying that you should work on constantly expanding your knowledge and your skill, and if you do, the belts will come with the territory.  Remember, any time you get a higher rank you need to act and look the part.  I have found that the majority never look the part or act the part.  What does this mean?  Usually it means the person is a belt chaser and is too focused on them missing all the important info needed to obtain that status; or the person’s instructor doesn’t have the standards that some others may have and will promote someone as long as the student cuts the instructor a check.


I don’t know about you, but if I got my black belt and I couldn’t kick above my knee (especially if it’s in a kicking art), or I got my butt kicked in sparring by under belts, or I was unable to defend myself in a street situation, my opinion is I should not be wearing a black belt.  The truth is, however, just because someone is a black belt doesn’t mean he can fight and it also doesn’t mean she will be successful in a street situation.  It should mean that, but unfortunately it doesn’t.  For me, however, it does mean that and my standards for black belt are pretty high.  With that said, a black belt should also be humble and respectful, and should always look for a different alternative than fighting. What you have in your mind and in your heart are what matters most, however, and a black tangible piece of cloth has nothing to do with that.  Black belt to me is a concept and a mindset that you become, not what you wear.


I feel you should set a goal to become a black belt, but to become the best black belt you are capable of becoming.  So how can you take the best step of getting there?  It’s simple – private lessons.  Private lessons give you the one on one time with your instructor so that he can know exactly where you are, assist you with what you need to work on, teach you the material in a timely fashion, constantly assess you and tweak things to allow you to progress promptly and the best of your ability.


Some instructors provide 30 minute sessions and some do 60 minute sessions.  Personally, I prefer 30 minutes, because you can get a lot accomplished one on one in 30 minutes.  My suggestion is to try to get at least one private lesson per month.  It will be well worth it.  At my school, I have students who get private lessons once per week, others who get them every other week, others who get them once per month, others who get them once in a while and others who never get them.


The truth is my best students get private lessons and usually get them often.  My policy, however, is that no student is allowed to get more than one private per week.  I have only a certain amount of time slots that I want filled throughout each week and I want all my students to be able to have the opportunity for private training if they choose to do so.  If I have a handful of students getting two privates per week, that takes away from someone else wanting to fill a slot.


I have always invested in private lessons from my instructors and I still do once in a while.  In fact, I have had the privilege of having private lessons with some of the best and legendary martial artists in the world including the great Joe Lewis and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace among others. Without my private lesson training, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.


My challenge to you is this: if you are a martial artist and have never had a private lesson, try it.  There is no harm in doing it once to see what it is like.  Of course, if your instructor isn’t a good teacher it won’t matter, but still give it a go and see what you think.


About the Author:

Michael Miller is a real world self-defense and personal protection expert who holds a 4th degree black belt in American Kenpo (a modern reality based system of self-defense based on logic and reason), and also teaches boxing, kickboxing, Joe Lewis Fighting Systems, Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu, and Modern Arnis. He is also a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and boxing trainer/coach. He operates his full-time school, Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo, in Bradford, Pa. He is also a writer who has been featured in Inside Kung-fu and Black Belt magazines several times as an authority in his field and is the author of the Legends of Kenpo biography series.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh in writing with a minor in sociology.  He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 814-368-3725.