By David Gimberline
Personally, I get some of my best insights from teaching, or rather the process of teaching.
It is important to continue to learn on your own, and to have had a decent base to start from, but the experience of teaching causes a much more in depth analysis of each concept you are teaching. This introspection and self evaluation can bring about tremendous insights.
If you are teaching someone how to punch or any physical technique, you must first break down the process to understandable parts. If people are not catching on to what you are telling them, instead of just figuring they are idiots, you must figure out how it CAN be presented. It is also valuable to see every permutation of every possible mistake.
Sometimes I present something in what I think is a suitable progression, and people are still missing something. Often this means there is an aspect of the technique I thought was intuitively obvious, or covered in my initial presentation/demonstration a progression, or I missed altogether because it was so much a habit I didn’t consciously think of it any more.
Sometimes, the most talented practitioners are not the best teachers, because they have never had to really examine how they do something. It is so easy for them, they can’t help someone who doesn’t get it.
Often, by watching a student perform, you can tell what dojo they are from. An instructor’s strengths and weaknesses are often mirrored in their students.
One Sensei told me a story about when he was teaching a seminar, and on one certain move, everyone at the seminar was doing it wrong. He couldn’t understand why they would all make the same mistake. He said, “That’s not correct, why are you all doing it that way?” The answer came, “Because you’re doing it that way, Sensei”.
Just some general thoughts on teaching,
The traditional Japanese mentality is that it is the student’s job to strive to learn what the instructor is teaching. They learn by copying and repetition and divine inspiration (a touch of sarcasm here, the repetition also gives a much deeper understanding of the movement). They think if you are not learning you are obviously not trying hard enough.
The modern western tradition is that the teacher (or coach) has to find a way to motivate the students and present the material in a way the students can understand.
I think the ideal learning situation would utilize the best of both worlds. With dedicated, motivated students, it is the instructor’s fault if they are not getting the message across. Many would benefit from evaluating the effect their teaching actually has on the students, and making adjustments to present the material in a different way when necessary.
As you know, some people learn from watching, some from doing, some from having it explained, so they can intellectualize it. In reality of course, all students use all of this input to one degree or another, but I think many instructors only have one way to teach.
I personally try to create drills that break things down into simple concepts and reinforce the important part of the lesson. It is also vital to strike a good balance between explanation and repetition.
It is one of my biggest complaints that often our karate (in the group I train with) is too intellectualized (a huge contrast from 20 years ago, when it was all repetition). It needs to be more instinctive. The way the training session is run has a strong impact on your ability to perform. If you are constantly thinking and analyzing when you are training, you are missing out on an important aspect.
On the other hand, all the repetition in the world doesn’t do much good (and can be harmful) if you are doing it wrong.
So, I’m thinking a proper amount of explanation and coaching can radically aid a trainee’s progress, but if it goes too far, the training becomes intellectually based and fails to develop the mind set necessary for one to perform under stress. (Spirit overcomes technique). One exceptional karateka pointed out to me years ago, “there’s lots of great theories, but unless you train your body to an incredible degree, most of that stuff doesn’t make any difference”.
Not quite a complete presentation, but I’d be interested in your thoughts.