12 years in the making

Phill Payne

MAPLE Founder

Message from the founder

History Of Children's Martial Arts

It is around two decades (around 2001) since school teacher and martial arts coach Kimber Hill (now Tyree) released her Lil Dragon programme into the martial arts world. This programme was different to many around at the time, as it were written specifically for children. The Lil Dragon brand is still popular with martial arts clubs worldwide, though many tend to just use the branding and deliver their own programme based on their particular martial arts style. Although the Lil Dragon programme was never updated (that I am aware of), the original ideas and documentation forms the base of many children’s martial arts programmes today.

My journey into delivering classes designed specifically for children started in early 2008 when I came across an ex-primary school teacher in Colchester that was teaching Lil Dragon classes. She ran her own martial arts centre that focused on Karate but she had also put together a great children’s program using the Lil Dragon syllabus as its base. I drove the round trip of 450 miles to see her in her club a couple of times and she was nice enough to show me how she ran the program.

In 2008 I left my full-time career in IT and started teaching martial arts full time. It was also at this point that I introduced my own Lil Dragon program for 4-6 year olds. In 2009 I opened my first full-time venue and then the year after we split our young children’s classes into 3-4 year olds and 5-6 year olds

My journey

Soon after taking on my first full-time venue, I started to question if we were delivering the best coaching experience we could. At the time in the UK most martial arts coaches were just delivering the same classes to the kids that they delivered to the adults. People didn’t really plan their classes and there was very little science used to guide development. I knew at the time this wasn’t right but I just didn’t know there was another way.

After looking around for a coaching course and coming up with nothing, I decided to take the level 2 gym instructor course followed by the level 3 Personal Training certification. Shortly after passing my level 3 PT, I found out that a local college was running a new Foundation Degree in Coaching and Performance Management. At the time I didn’t have a clue if it would help me deliver better martial arts classes but I went along to the college to find out more information.

Although I went to the very same college and then Huddersfield University to study Computing after leaving school, in the back of my mind I also remembered that I only had two GCSE that were graded C or above (and neither of these were in English). I have to say that I was pretty nervous when I sat the maths and English tests I needed to pass to show that I was capable of getting through the degree.

One of the main reasons I started the degree at the college was down to a tutor called Christopher Brammall. He had a down to earth way of explaining things without spoon-feeding us all the answers and he was always patient and had great communications skills. Chris was the one really introduced me to research and set me on my path towards becoming a part-time academic.

Once on the course, I realised that at 37 years old, I was the oldie of the group. This didn’t put me off though as I knew I was there for the knowledge and not for the social life. Once I got into the flow of things I knew it was something I wanted more of. This then led on to an extra year at Leeds Met (now Leeds Beckett University) to pass my BSc and then an extra two years part-time on a Master Degree in Sports Coaching.

While I knew attending college and university to improve my knowledge and coaching skills was the right thing to do, it wasn’t always easy. Trying to balance full-time study with two businesses and family life was hard and I must admit I dropped the ball on a few occasions. Many times I went into university on a night and worked away until the earlier hours. For some reason, the isolation of sitting at a terminal late at night with my earphones in and trance music drowning out any ambient noise created the perfect environment for me to get meaningful work done.

FUNdamental Movement Skills in action - Girl running in between cones showing agility

When I started my undergrad degree I would have been happy with a 2:2. My marks had been reasonable throughout my studies but halfway through my final year, I was surprised to see that I may even be on for a 2:1. Over the course of my degree, I had been using my new-found knowledge to improve my martial arts coaching and my club. When it came to my final dissertation I decided upon creating a participation development model for Taekwondo in the UK that I could also use for my club.

I put more time and effort into my final undergrad dissertation than I had put into any single piece of work previously. It was a real labour of love and by the time I was getting towards the hand in date, everything started to come together. I was proud of what I had written and once it was handed in, all I could do was wait for the result.

After reading my dissertation, my supervisor contacted me to say that the format was incorrect. My mind started to race as thoughts flashed through my head of me falling at the last hurdle. As the dissertation was classed as a double module I realised that this could be a costly mistake. Upon further investigation, it turns out that I was following the outline of last years dissertation and they had forgotten to update the module handbook.

Due to the error not being mine, they didn’t hold the format change against me. Not only did I not get marked down for the format, but I was also provisionally given a mark in the early 80s. It was a nervous time waiting for the mark to be verified due to the problem with the format but when it was, I realised that due to the final dissertation counting as a double module, this pushed my average grade to 71.5%. When I started the degree I would have been happy with a 2:2 yet here I was with my GCSE’s in Maths and Technology being awarded a 1st class honours degree.

While the results of my degree were great, I knew there was much more to learn. Shortly after completing my honours degree, i signed up for a part-time Masters degree in Sports Coaching. While universities generally push coaches towards the field of performance sport, I was always more interested in participation sport. In elite sport, you are focused on a minority, while I always wanted to help develop the majority. It was during my time at university that I started to focus on physical, psychological, social and emotional needs and motivations of children in sport.

In 2016 I left university but continued to improve my understanding of the needs of children in sport and martial arts. Since this point, I have consumed hundreds and books, podcast episodes, blogs and academic papers. In early 2018 I had a meeting about starting a PhD focused on integrating elements of physical literacy with a children’s martial arts program though Sheffield Hallam. In the end, I decided that if my objective was to help modernise the way we coached children in martial arts, a more entrepreneurial solution may have greater impact and actually influence change.

Although I had previously built the children’s martial arts program we had up and running in our own martial arts centres, in 2019 I started rewriting the program from the bottom up. Starting with a blank canvas I was able to package up everything I had learnt over the last 12 years about coaching young children and put it all into one program. I knew I wanted to include not only physical elements but also the psychological and social too.

After talking with martial arts instructors about their current programmes, i realised that most were either too unsure what to put in a children’s martial arts programme or were just buying cute looking kids uniforms and running the classes very similar to how they ran the adults sessions. I knew this was not good for the children or the parents so i decided to share what i had developed with other coaches.

What is MAPLE?

MAPLE stands for Martial Arts Physical Literacy Engine and provides you with a research backed ‘engine’ for your children’s martial arts program. You can swap the martial arts techniques and rebrand or cobrand the program as you want and still leverage the years of research that was undertaken to put the framework together.

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