Monday, November 8, 2010

Teaching is hard!

I'm partially writing this post because I've had this idea in my head for a long time and haven't gotten around to writing it...and partially writing it because I'm not actually attending our last class of the day right now, like I normally do, and I miss it. I have a stomach bug, so I'm at home. I'd like to be there, but stomach problems and training don't go well together. So I figure blogging about martial arts sort of counts as training, even though it's not physical.
At any rate, it makes me feel a little bit better about missing class.

Sensei has been letting me do a lot of teaching lately. It's really fun, but is also really hard sometimes! Last Wednesday during the first class I got to teach the white belts their cat-stance and a few other things like the roundhouse kick and side-kick. I distinctly remember it being very difficult to teach cat-stance because sometimes I get my hands mixed up and I'm not one-hundred percent sure which hand goes in front and which one rests beneath the front elbow1

I've found that if you're teaching a technique, you have to be one-hundred percent sure of how to do it correctly because if you're lost, your students are going to be even more lost than you are. I've also found that it's really easy to start teaching a concept only to find that you're not getting your point across for whatever reason and then to automatically want to move on to something else. Teaching takes a lot of patience. Not only patience for your students, but also patience for yourself, as the teacher.

During the second class, I taught both the white belts and beginners how to do the inside-block, shudo combo. That was also challenging in its own way because our newest student is a middle-aged adult and the other two students in my group were young children. As a teacher, it's difficult sometimes to switch back and forth between pedagogy [Pronounced: PED-uh-go-jee]and andragogy...that is, teaching kids and teaching adults. They're very different. An adult will usually respond well to straightforward, technical, detail-oriented information while a kid will respond better to information when it's delivered in more creative ways...such as being able to relate the movements of a technique to something familiar to the child.

For example, doing a reverse-shudo is like serving a dinner on a silver plate! To do an inside-block, stick your hand in your ear and then bring it across your face. To do a rising-block, make a roof over your head with your arm. Make a windmill-motion with your hands for the Aikido side-step. Both adults and children respond well to those previous associations, but kids respond extremely well to them.

Also, you have to take into account your style of teaching versus the size of the class you have. If you're like me and you enjoy working one-on-one with people, a large class can be kind of difficult to work with. Sensei is a great example of the one-on-one teacher. He likes to make sure that he's teaching each student as thoroughly as possible and does an excellent job doing so. Questions are asked and answered frequently, demonstrations abound, and techniques aren't drilled; they're refined. That said, Sensei is also very good at teaching groups. I remember him telling me once, though, that he prefers each student to get a chance to really work on their skills with him, one-on-one. Our classes are growing large enough that this can be difficult for him by himself, so he often asks Zak and I to help him teach. Hence this post.

Anyway, bottom line is, there are a lot of details that go into teaching that someone on the outside might not notice or even think about. Here's a good one. How do you measure progress? In karate, this is often done with belts and ranks. We have a belt system at the Refinery. It works well in showing where students are at in their technique. But there are other things to measure as well. Attitude is one thing. Improvement is another. Both are part of progress, but it's hard to measure those things. Especially attitude. Not to undermine belts, because I enjoy the physical representation of my progress, but they are not all-telling. Most of the time, a blue or brown belt has developed not only skill, but attitude as well, whereas a yellow belt is still learning those things, but sometimes you find a yellow belt with incredible attitude and swift improvement. Likewise, sometimes you find a blue belt with great skill and technique, but mediocre attitude and little to no improvement.

I'm way ahead of myself, here.

Teaching can be very difficult...but it's also very fun and rewarding. Watching somebody improve and learn has to be one of the coolest things to experience. Also, as the students learn, so does their teacher. That seems to fit in really well with the whole "Martial arts is a journey" theme. We're always learning. Always improving. Even as a teacher.

1. My excuse for not knowing my cat-stance well enough to teach it was that lately we've been doing much more advanced techniques (most of them involving ground fighting) and I had forgotten the details of cat-stance, since my mind is in Jiu-Jitsu mode most of the time. Still not a good excuse. I'll practice more.

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