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...
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