Thursday, December 28, 2006

Technology and Tang Soo Do: Introduction

Note: (the following are snippets of my essay for third dan.)

It is one hour before class on a Thursday evening, and I am at the University Recreation center, making changes to my Sam Dan essay on my laptop while eating a snack. I have uploaded my essay to a central server so that I can edit it from any computer with an internet connection, such as my current wireless connection. No longer am I constrained by remembering to bring a floppy disk, cdrom, memory key, nor do I worry about whether or not my computer has the right software to open the document. An amazingly short time ago - when preparing my E Dan essay -- I would have to take a notebook everywhere, write notes down and transcribe them later and try to fit them in to the flow of my essay.

After saving the changes to my essay, I update some sections of the studio web page, and add them to an RSS feed which will automatically inform everyone who subscribes to the webpage. From there, I logon to a popular video sharing website,, and download a performance of Janggum hyung from the 2006 Eastern PA Championship to check on a sequence before reviewing it in class. All of this in 20 minutes before class without having to get out of my chair.

Over the years, technology has influenced our lives, and the martial arts have not been immune to the phenomenon. The internet, and its growing ability to present more information to more people faster every day, has entered more and more facets of everyday life. Just as companies must adjust their business models to accomodate new technology, martial artists, studio owners and even worldwide associations must do the same. However, doing so is not as simple as publishing a web page and then returning to business as usual. To make the best decision, we must be able to examine each new technology and see its advantages and disadvantages. We must understand the culture associated with this technology and see how it meshes with our own. Finally, we must decide which technolgies are best to embrace and which are a poor investment.

Assigning papers to your students (Part 1)

Recently, Rob Redmond of 24 Fighting Chickens wrote about the concept of karate homework and how it is often poorly executed and understood. Those that know me know that I'm a fan of Mr. Redmond's work, even when I disagree with him. This was a great article for me, because it focused in on a longtime practice at my school which I inherited along with the title of head honcho.

My school's parent organization requires a 1000 word essay for 1st dan. For some people, this is admittedly a lot, but since I teach college students, it's not a very cumbersome requirement. On top of that, students testing for 4th gup (brown belt) and above in my studio are required to submit a short essay on the martial arts. That's the only requirement. We've never specified page length, topic, etc.

I didn't come up with the idea, so I can only take my best guess as to why this task was added into the testing requirements. On one hand, it provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore a topic of interest that may one day flesh out into an excellent essay for their black belt test.

On another, it reinforces the concept of the martial scholar / moo sa that we see in the romantic view of martial arts. Let's say I have a student who is somewhat interested in the Art of War. That student might just need an extra push from me to crack open that book. A requirement to submit a testing paper kills two birds: the student gets an excuse or motivation to start reading, and I get a paper. Speaking from personal experience, I often need a little external motivation to stay focused long enough to read one of those books that I'm "supposed" to have read. When I explain the requirement to my students, this is the reason I give them. If they don't quite like this, I give them the more pragmatic reason of preparing for their 1st dan essay.

Sounds good enough, right?

Here's the problem. What use is writing the paper if the instructor doesn't provide any sort of feedback or critique on what you have written? Even worse, what if no one even reads that paper in the first place? Now you have a potentially good idea that has been wasted and deprived of almost all value. The only value left is the small possibility that the action of writing the paper has encouraged the student to independently learn more about their chosen topic.

After the last testing, how many students did I sit down with and offer a solid critique or even a gruff acknowledgement that I'd read their paper? I can count them on one hand. That is, a mangled hand that accidently got stuck in a wood chipper and came out with no fingers. It's OK, I can own up to that failure on my part.

If that is the case, then why should I continue assigning papers? Even if it is a fabulous idea, I don't have the time to allocate to supporting such an assignment. It would be easy for me to continue asking for papers, letting them stack up endlessly in my inbox waiting for my hard drive to fail. No one else would have to know.

As I read over Rob's rules for "doing it right" so to speak, I feel that I'm actually in line with many of them. However, I've certainly never asked anyone if they had any interest in writing the paper. I am essentially in violation of rules #6 and #10. Unfortunately, that doesn't really translate to 80% in my mind, as #10 is a big one.

I would essentially give myself a d+ for my management of their karate homework. Like most instructors, my heart is in the right place, but unless I'm willing to invest a significant amount of time on #10, there is little point in going through the rest of the steps.

Begin recording at the beep...

Why would I subject myself and others to seeing my thoughts in type? Especially if, a few months or weeks down the road, I find my thoughts to be - at best -- juvenile? Who doesn't want a semi-permanent monument to their inaccurate thinking preserved online for all of 3 people to read (4 if I email my mom about this.)

The truth is that I miss having an outlet for my thoughts on teaching martial arts and running a club. Right now, I'm learning some hard lessons about my own abilities, strengths and weaknesses as an instructor. In the meantime, I'm not even addressing my own abilities as a martial artist and how I've (not) grown in the last few months.

Seems a good enough reason to start...