Friday, December 28, 2007

Shut Up and Teach

Here's a quick drive-by post to wrap up 2007...

One of my favorite things about my studio is that everyone is in it together. Individual progress is sacrificed in order to help junior rank or to assist those in need. In the end, these strong bonds improve everyone's mental understanding of the techniques and concepts we practice.

But sometimes, we just try too darned hard. When we see someone struggle physically with a technique, or mentally blank on what they are supposed to do, we want to immediately swarm in and offer our correction. Maybe share a tip that worked for us, offer a word of encouragement, or show a completely different way of performing that throw.

We can't help it, we're just trying to help.

At what point does that help become detrimental? We've all heard of "helicopter parents" that constantly hover and swoop in to prevent any trauma that could possibly stem from failure. This same phenomena occurs in the dojang as senior rank partners or junior instructors work extremely hard to keep their students "on the path."

Guess what? Failure in the dojang is GREAT! (Including being the instructor who makes this error; chew on that.) I'll stop for a moment and let you recover.


Seriously. The dojang is a controlled, safe environment that allows us to step out of the familiar and try something different. If you never fail, how can I be assured that you are working to your maximum potential? Everyone screws up, forgets a step in a hyung, drops their staff or sword, etc.

Great lessons are learned from failure. Even if the lesson is as simple as "Gosh, I need to practice that more."

So when you spot someone in class struggling, let them struggle a little bit. Your time for intervention is just as they are about to become completely frustrated. Do you now offer your advice?


Try this tactic instead. Ask the student to tell you what they are trying to do. Have them walk you through the technique. If they have all the pieces, maybe all they need is some more practice.

Fictional example: osoto-gari. Yeah, I don't know the korean term for this; even if I did, you probably wouldn't, so I'll use the more recognized term.

The most common problem in my class is that the student performing the throw is still in front of their target, which creates an off balance as they try to push their opponent back while inadvertently setting them up to be reversed by the very same technique. I.e. not good.

Ask the student to walk through the move in slow motion. Ask clarifying questions:
"Where's my weight?" (If I'm not pulled forward onto the sweeping leg)
"Where should you be in relation to me?" (if they are too far away)
"Describe the motion that takes me down?" (if they are not doing a clean push/pull motion)

Now obviously, if they're supposed to be doing Osoto Gari, but are doing Ouchi Gari, it's probably best to step in and correct that problem right away. In that case, there's no foundation in place, so feel free to build one.

I think all instructors go through this period. I certainly did, and I see it in a lot of my students. That's what you get when you have a class full of science majors, I suppose. It's an important phase in your development, as it is tied in to your attention to technical detail, but it is also a phase that must be grown out of in order to further develop instructor abilities.

I'm working on it...

Thursday, December 27, 2007


As I look to move my Wednesday class to a different facility, I've come to realize how extremely lucky I've been to have a large, clean space for my OSU class. Even though the new facility offers only about 1/3rd the space we had (to be fair, our old floor was about 50 yards long) it is still far superior to what I've been able to find off campus.

Currently, I'm looking at a YMCA facility that is, to say the least, humble. But, it has plans for expansion and growth into a new building, so it is an opportunity to get in at the ground floor, so to speak. In the meantime, I would be using a space only slightly larger than my bedroom to run a class.

I know that in the past, large training floors were a luxury that came with either extreme luck or a hefty price tag. I love watching footage of schools in Japan that have 50 people training in an extremely small room. Unfortunately, I'm not quite used to this method of training.

I have some ideas for making the most out of this small space, and gaining positive benefits from the changes in training.

Line Drill:
Marching up and down the floor for a majority of class, which is my preferred method of working on basics, would have to be re-worked. Techniques could be done in place, switching sides every 10 repetitions or so. This would have the benefit of a great isometric leg workout as well. Shifting the stances to a 45 degree angle in place would also allow us to switch sides every technique. I could also get creative by practicing the technique by stepping forwards once, and then stepping backwards on the other.

An excellent drill, both for cardiovascular improvement (in place of a rapid-fire drill) which would lead to stronger, more focused techniques than "hitting air."

In a large room, all ranks can easily work on their own hyung without collision or space issues. In a small room, I'm afraid we'd have to spend time focusing on one or two forms, or rotate groups on and off the floor. Give the white belts a break while everyone else works on a more advanced form. Have the whole class work on cool down stretches while black belts work on an advanced form at the end of the day.

My instructor would always have groups demonstrate a hyung together in a very tight space, lined up practically shoulder to shoulder. It's a great feeling to see your students working together to overcome this obstacle and move as a single unit. The Spartans would be proud. Learning to work together helps to build the sunbae/hubae relationship.


As fun as it is to supervise 20 groups sparring at once, this would best be accomplished by having the class watch a single pair work at once. While not as physically demanding, it would give people a chance to examine strategies used and how to overcome them.

If I end up using this facility, it will be very interesting to see how 2 schools under the same instructor can have a very different feel while still adhering to the same traditional principles.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


That's the number of push-ups I did this morning, as my quest towards 100 consecutive, good push-ups moves surprisingly forward. 73 is far better than I have ever done before. What's odd though is how thoroughly unexcited I am by the number.

In this way, it is similar to martial arts. I absolutely despise discussing martial arts with my family or co-workers unless they are genuinely interested in it, because I feel as though I cannot generate the expected level of enthusiasm for what I do on a daily basis. I've been swinging a pair of nunchaku around my head arms and groin for about 15 years, and it's second nature enough that I don't feel it something I can "show off" for others. I honestly feel that there is so much more to accomplish that I can't get excited about showing off an unfinished product. Already, I'm thinking about how 100 is cool, but I wouldn't be content with poor form. Then there are fingertip pushups, 1 handed, handstand push-ups, planches, etc.

Ow. I could probably stand to lose about 30 pounds before event attempting such feats.

Monday, December 10, 2007


For me, testing always marks a period of introspection. In this case, it is marked not by my own testing but by our class gup test. It is a time to look back on what you've accomplished, what your future goals are, and if the work you are doing now is leading to those goals. This year is the 10th anniversary of our studio, and along with nostalgia, a fair amount of introspection has occurred.

This quarter, we were fortunate to have a good group of white belts join and stay for the term. As a result, we had a very successful test, both in numbers, but also in effort. For the most part, spirits were very high after the test. A few days later, I was able to look at the pictures of the test and was somewhat humbled.

As I looked at the photos, I saw things I wanted to immediately address. Stances, focus of eye, sparring problems, and other little quirks that I was able to glean from over 400 photographs (if you're not already, get someone to shoot the test with a digital slr camera, and tell them not to be shy. the documentation is absolutely amazing and worth the effort.) This is not to say that these things were bad but they could certainly use some improvement. And that's my role in the dojang, to push the students to their mental and physical limits, tear down those barriers and continue forward.

I am satisfied with our progress, as long as progress continues to be made. Otherwise, I'm still sitting in last week while the world passes me by.