Monday, June 1, 2015

The Teaching Triangle and Paper Airplanes - a Leadership Class Lesson Plan.

(c) #MartialArtsTrends 2015
There are many competing soup to nuts leadership lesson plans out there, and I have used dozens of them over the last 20 years.  As with most things, however, they never really lived up to expectations or to what my own goals and character dictate as necessary.  In this lesson plan, we use a technology that is used by many, but was taught to us 20 year ago by Greg Silva of United Professionals.  This presentation is a result of that original information modified by the experience of teaching over 20,000 students since then.

It might seem that leadership is a result of gifts and talents being brought to bear on any particular situation.  Though your ability to lead, teach, communicate and understand other people’s needs and abilities does start with what you are born with, leading is still a SKILL that can be taught.  Those who are born leaders are not necessarily the best leaders, as the rules apply even if you ignore them.  

The “Teaching Triangle,” is a fundamental leadership tool that can NOT be ignored.  If you watch people who you respect as leaders and teachers, you will notice that they are following these rules.  If you find yourself frustrated in a teaching or leadership situation, you will probably find, on reflection, you are not following these rules.

TEACHING TRIANGLE EXAMPLE: Your team is learning the first three moves of a form. You have taught them the moves, and you are now drilling the sections. You have decided to do line drills, where everyone is doing the form on their own in their own place, with Speed.

You allow them 60 seconds to perform, and notice that you expected to see them apply Speed as a function of self Defense – they were to look, then block and strike at fighting speed and attitude.  What you got was a simple repetition of the parts of the form without any martial intent or speed. You determine that they are on the NO part of the teaching triangle, and that they DO NOT know the meaning of Martial Intent, so you change the goal from the first 3 moves, to the first Move on a person/target so they understand the Martial Intent. You reset the drill, and they go.

This time they are on the yes section of the teaching triangle, so you raise the goal by asking them to perform the first 2 moves the same way they just performed the first move. 

Teaching the Triangle to your Leadership Team

1) Teach them something using the triangle, and keep it high energy, making sure you touch the triangle on both the NO and Yes side, so they feel NO - Attitude issues, and NO - Skill Issues, and Yes - Raise the Bar.

Once you are done, sit them down, and ask what they noticed.  Don't be surprised if they answers have nothing to do with the Triangle.  You are both a natural and skilled instructors.  They are students.

Then explain the Triangle, in blue above, to them.

Then, have them teach.  We used Paper Airplanes.


1)Enough paper for them each to make 5 or so paper airplanes.

2) A Bucket, basket or some other obvious target to throw the planes at or into.

3) Student teams.  We used teams of 2 or 3, but you can use whatever you want.


1) Tell them that one person in each team has to be the Instructor, and that person will teach them how to make a paper airplane.  If they don't know how, that's their issue, not yours. 

2) Those instructors come up, and you tell them what they are teaching.  We use two things, always.  Physical Goal, Like Focus, Speed, etc, and a Mental Goal, like Integrity. 

3) Then, those teachers have to teach their student(s) how to make a paper airplane.

4) They must use the teaching Triangle to teach these things.

5) We have the physical lessons on one set of cards, and the mental ones on another set of cards.  We let them come up with the mental ones, with out help.  We get some strange stuff, but teaching is teaching

6) Finally, they must teach them how to throw it into the bucket with a drill of their own (the teacher's) design.


After they have had time to teach, sit them down and ask:

1) What did you notice?
2) What did you learn?
3) Did you feel the triangle being used, and if so, how?
4) Did you succeed, and why or why not?
    4a) Normally, they start to far away, or over estimate their ability to perform, and have to lower the bar many times, risking attitude issues if they teach failure for too long.
   4b) They may not have made a big enough challenge as well.

Repeat the drill.


As unnecessary as it sounds, we have purchased 4 or five books/kits on how to make paper airplanes, and use them in these types of classes, summer and day camps and even PNOs.  

This is one, Fold N Fly Paper Airplanes Kit , is one of the better ones we have used. We even used it at Sunday School for 5 weeks.

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