Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wanted: Martial Arts Instructor

Indiana Jones teaching
    All of us have practice being students.  We've all gone through a formal system where we were taught.  Many of the people reading this have gone through state-sponsored education systems, i.e. school.  In the US we have 13 years of mandatory public education.  Then, on top of that we have College level education.  Usually for 4 years (or more...).  This means by the time we're "adults", we have between 13 and 17 years of practice being a student.  Some people may not be the best students, by choice, but if they wanted  to, they know the skills necessary to be a successful student.  Then we also have martial arts classes, which reinforces the student identity even more.  At some point when we're ready, we test, and hopefully we earn our shodan.  In many systems, that means "congratulations, now you can teach!"  Okay awesome... how do I do that? 
Ip Man and his student Bruce Lee
    Teaching is as much an art as martial arts are.  The difference is, most of us have very little training in it.   I've never seen a martial arts system that includes learning to teach as part of their shodan curriculum.  I happen to be, in my day-job, a mild mannered high school teacher.  Even then, I've never been instructed on how to teach.  It's a kind of learn as you go method (I wasn't an education major).  It took me about 5 years to feel completely comfortable with the ability to stand in front of a class and teach them whatever I needed to.  In martial arts, once I got my shodan, our dojo has everyone student teach a little before any classes are thrown their way.  Our head instructor half teaches classes with our shodan for a while, until he feels they are comfortable.  Everyone will end up teaching their own way, just like everyone's martial art will be done their own way.    That being said, teaching is a very rewarding opportunity.  Everyone who teaches learns more than as a student.  Below are some ideas of things to look out for, both good and bad, that may improve your teaching.  In the end remember, your teaching isn't about you.  It's about improving your student's understanding.

Class Size
    Class size may play the biggest role in how you teach.  If you are in front of a class with only a couple of students, then the interaction will be more personal.  You will be able to deal with the individual's needs.  What does Bob need to work on to become a better at Kung Fu?  Maybe he's quicker at learning forms, but needs a longer time with learning and seeing applications.  Mary may be better at applying the form, but needs to work on her conditioning.  With small class size, you can split your time between both of these extremes.  In larger classes, there are too many people to fully gain individual instruction.  A good teacher will tend to teach to the middle ground in this situation.  They will work with ideas and concepts that everyone needs practice with.

Different Learning Styles
    Everyone learns differently.  There are three basic forms of learning modalities: Visual, Auditory, and Tactile (Kinesthetic).  Everyone has a smattering of each of them, but generally leans towards one or the other.  Visual learners, learn by seeing something, shapes, pictures, etc.  They will often benefit from seeing things at different angles.  They will use visual clues to learn something.  Auditory uses sound, including explanation of techniques.  Kinesthetic learners, learn through feel and touch.  They often like to have the techniques done to them.  Personally I know I'm a very visual learner (hence the drawings in my journal), but I also need to feel a technique before I can understand it.  Be aware of the different learning models when teaching, and try to include all aspects of learning.  Some students may respond to one method over another.

Modeling
   Modeling is a method of teaching by demonstrating.  This is the most common method of instruction in martial arts.  The instructor demonstrates a technique, or principle, and then the student follows their example.  The amount of explanation depends mainly on the system.  From what I've heard, in the old school Japanese systems, the instructor would demonstrate the technique a couple of times, and without any explanation, tell the students to go practice.  When the students got the techniques I believe they were able to internalize them a lot more than we do today.  I think our western brains require us to intellectualize something before we can do it.  We have to have explanations.  If you teach, try it both ways, and find your own happy balance between explanation and intuitively learning the technique.
Teaching means you learn more.

Teach what you know
    One of the biggest pitfalls of instruction is ego.  It is OK to not know everything.  One of the weirdest situations I've ever encountered was a fellow high school science teacher.  When he didn't know an answer, he was so scared of looking foolish or ignorant in front of students that he'd make answers up.  Many times he was dead wrong with his answers.  When a student would try to, politely mind you, call his answer wrong, he'd have to back-peddle, and flub his response, which made him look more foolish.  It is much wiser to say "You know I'm not sure, let's find out."  Students will have more respect if you don't know an answer, but can point them in the direction to find it.
  As part of this idea, don't go beyond yourself.  Don't try to instruct a subject you don't understand, that you haven't internallized.  You can teach a form, but unless your sure of yourself, don't try to reach beyond your understanding and teach the applications of the form, your students will know.  Remember they have a lot of practice being students.

There are lots of other hints that people can give to newly minted instructors.  There are whole fields of psychology dedicated to the methods of how the human brain learns.  These are just a few pointers.  Because I've met many great martial artists, who cannot teach what they know effectively and that means their information is trapped.  It cannot reproduce itself in the next generation.  And that is a real problem for their art.

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