We’re all in this together – Team building exercises Part I

by Pamela Muir

When practicing martial arts, historical or modern, it is important to have the full trust and cooperation of your partner.  It is stating the obvious that you are entrusting your safety to your partner’s willingness to stick to the designated drill and not to attempt to “win” the exchange.  Starting a practice session with a cooperative or team building game can help set the tone and unite a group, making the transition to non-antagonistic drills easier.  Sometimes it’s just plain fun.  Loosening up in order to play a game can itself be a bonding experience. Below are team building games and exercises designed for whole class participation.  Part II (coming soon) will be focused on partner and two or more competing team activities.

Human Knot
This is a fairly standard team building exercise.  You will need at least five participants.  It works best with a large class, the more the merrier.  Participants initially form a circle and cross their arms in front of their bodies.  Keeping their arms crossed, they then join hands with two other people in the circle.  They may not join hands with somebody that is next to them in the circle and they must join hands with two different people.  The group task is then to untie the human knot.  Without letting go, but allowing rotation and movement of the hands and arms, the group needs to maneuver everyone in such a way that you end with everyone’s arms uncrossed.  You will end up with one or more circles, perhaps interlocking, and some people will be facing the center of their new circle and other people will be facing outwards.

Lava River
Materials needed:
•  Parallel lines on the floor, approximately twelve feet apart, to use as boundary markers for the river
Pieces of paper, construction paper, or half sheets of newspaper.  These will be your  stepping stones.  You will need about half as many stepping stones as participants.
Group all players on one side of the river and hand the paper stepping stones to one or more players.  The goal of this game is to get all participants safely across the river of hot lava using the stepping stones.  Only one person may occupy or touch a stepping stone at a time.  In order to move a stone, it must be picked up before being repositioned, no sliding it across the floor or throwing it in any manner.  The group’s job is to figure out how to efficiently use the stepping stones to get everyone across.  A follow up activity would be to time how long it takes to get everyone across the river and to try to beat the group’s best time.

Line Up
Participants must arrange themselves in a line by height, shortest to tallest or tallest to shortest.  The catch is that they must do it in silence, no talking!  This game is a lot more fun if you have a practice space without mirrors.  For even more of a challenge, you can vary this game by having participants line up chronologically by birthdate, month and day.  (Including years in the birthdates can make this too easy, depending on the mix of participants.)  Remember, no talking!

Chain/Amoeba Tag
This game starts off as a traditional game of tag with one “It” trying to tag the other players.  However, once a player is tagged, he or she then joins hands with “It” and together they become a new “It” that can tag only with the free hands.  As subsequent players are tagged they join the “It” chain, only tagging with free hands, the ends of the chain.  The members of the “It” chain must work cooperatively in order to successfully tag free players.  The last untagged player becomes the new “It” for the next round.  With a large number of participants, say ten or more, you can play the Amoeba Tag variation.  Once an “It” chain consists of four players, it divides into two “It” chains of two players each, following the same rules, tagging with the free, not joined, hands.  Note:  if you have a large or outdoor practice space, you will want to set up a boundary for this game.  If a player steps outside of the boundary that player must then join the “It” chain.