Most instructors would rather not think about this aspect of the profession, but it may be the most important. Regrettably, martial arts are subject to the same trends effecting society as a whole:
• A society which is prone to litigation.
• Adults who are unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions.
• A legal system less concerned with who is at fault and more concerned with who can best afford to pay damages.
The answer is actually pretty simple, instructors need to be responsible and conduct themselves professionally to protect both their students and themselves from unnecessary accidents. As an instructor, you have certain legal duties to fulfill. If you fail to do so, and this failure results in injury, you can be sued for negligence.
How do we know if we’ve fulfilled all our obligations? Certainly, an injury can happen no matter what precautions you take. In a court of law, they will determine negligence based upon four criteria:
1) Did you indeed have a legal duty to the injured party in this situation?
2) Did you fail to fulfill this duty?
3) Was there injury to the party to whom you owed the duty?
4) Did your failure to fulfill the duty cause the injury?
Clearly, martial arts are an activity with an inherent risk. Some injuries are due to this inherent risk and not a failure on the instructor’s part. The following is a check list to insure that you are meeting your obligations as an instructor
Effective teaching: a teacher is supposed to be organized and his methods are supposed to be up to date. Enroll in a coaching education program if you can. Seek out continuing education. Be organized and prepared.
Effective and adequate supervision: As your school grows, it may not be possible (nor advisable) to teach every class. Be sure your assistant instructors are competent and supervise them.
Effective reaction to medical emergencies: An instructor is expected to recognize a medical emergency and to respond appropriately and quickly. Take a certification course in emergency medical procedures or at least first aid. Become CPR certified. Have an established plan for prompt reaction to medical emergencies.
Providing safe equipment: In the simplest terms, don’t be a penny wise and a pound stupid. Keep all your equipment in good condition and replace equipment when it wears out. If the stuffing in Muay Thai pads is pretty much gone, you need to buy a new set of pads. No one likes to spend money on stuff like this, but it’s better than having a student injured.
Providing safe facilities: Related to the above point, you need to maintain your facility. When the canvas on the ring starts to tear, or the mats get holes in them, it’s time to buy replacements. Regularly inspect your school for potential hazards. In addition, you need to keep your school CLEAN!
Matching students according to size, skill and maturity: Good teaching requires instructors to advise their students of the risks involved in the program and particularly of the drills and/or techniques being practiced at the time. Implicit in that instruction is the condition that instructors will NOT match beginning students against experienced students in drills in which that experience can lead to injury (e.g. free sparring). The same prohibition is in many regards also appropriate for size and weight, despite the popular idea that “technique beats size” prevalent in the martial arts.
Coaching competency recognizes that safe contact drills and exercises are an important part of effective teaching. It also recognizes that most students expect that they will not face undue risks while attending class.
NOW GO TRAIN!