Monday, September 13, 2010

The Challenge of Teaching (part II)

You spend years training, and you finally earn your black belt.  One thing leads to another, and you find yourself running classes more and more often, or you start a club or school of your own.  You're going to get plenty of training in now, right? 

Got news for you...  Getting your own training in is one of the greatest challenges of teaching.  If you're teaching the class, who is going to look at what you're doing?  If you're teaching the students various things... when do you advance your own knowledge?

Teachers have to spend a lot of time that students don't see preparing for class.  This includes things like putting a lesson plan together, and making sure the facility and gear is available and ready... but it also has to include your own training.  I practice something for at least a little bit, every day.  I don't feel I practice enough!  There are things I can work on while teaching, like if I'm sparring a student, I can practice evading just enough...  but there's a limit to how much I can practice that way.  And there's a limit to how much the students may push me all too often!  So a teacher also has to find time to advance their own training by working with others who are able to review and correct them. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Challenge of Teaching (part I)

There's a great challenge in being a teacher.  You have to find a way to present the lessons you were taught faithfully, but still adapting them to the needs of the students today.  And their ability to understand them...

That's one of the big challenges for a teacher.  I can take a brand new student, and try to teach them to the level that I'm currently at.  I can try to teach them all the nuances and elements that have taken me decades to learn, acquire, and assimilate.  Of course, that means that the student will take many hours to learn even a single punch...  And a lot of students just don't have that sort of patience.

Or, I can try to give them enough to get them started... without overwhelming them, and recognizing that it won't be perfect.  Now, they'll learn that first punch -- and maybe several -- in a single lesson... but there'll still be a lot of work to do.  And sometimes, the students develop an "I already know this" attitude when you revisit and refine the material.

In my classes, I try to find a balance.  I try to teach a student a couple of punches and a couple of blocks in their first lesson.  I make it clear that they're not "learned" yet, that there's lots more to refine, too.  But I'm also trying to give them enough tools to join the regular class...


Why do I take students to competitions?  Sporting events have rules, and they aren't like a real fight.  I'll say that again: a sporting event, even MMA, is not like real street violence.  But I still think it's worthwhile for students to participate in competitions.  Why?

Well, first, it's fun.  I don't know about anyone else, but I like to win things and to see how I can do with against other people that I don't see everyday.  Sometimes, it's neat to see how my training is progressing compared to a buddy or friend that I see around.  Winning a trophy is an ego stroke.  Losing to someone I thought I should have beat is a motivator to train harder.

But I'm not a fan of doing things in training that don't serve a better purpose than just having fun.  And competitions definitely serve other purposes, too.  They're a different form of pressure.  We know that under pressure, the mind goes blank.  The more different forms of pressure we can be exposed to, the less likely we are to go blank under a new situation.  Or at least not completely blank.  So participating in a competition is also a gauge about where my students (or my own) training is setting with regards to handling pressure.

We also learn other things from competition.  We learn about sportsmanship and character, and how to handle different developments in life.  For example, I recently took some students to a tournament.  Along the way, a mistake in scoring was made, and one of my students was improperly awarded a place too low -- and another person was elevated.  I was able to get things straightened out -- but how the students reacted to the situation (and when) gave insight into their character.  We get a chance to practice handling an unfair result, sometimes, too.  I've seen tournaments where the odds where stacked in the favor of one school or another, for one reason or another... 

But it's important also to separate winning trophies and awards in a tournament from performing well.  I was taught that it wasn't the trophy that measured whether or not I succeeded -- it was my teacher's assessment.  Had I put his lesson's into play as I fought?  Did I perform the form well?  If Joe said I did -- I knew had, regardless of what some judge said or thought.  Victory was employing my teacher's lessons -- not winning the trophy.