Lessons learned from teaching

Last Sunday in the jiyu renshu (free practice) kata part of the class, I was asked by Sensei to help the juniors learn their kataSan Dan Gi (which was one that has only recently been introduced to all of us and is now a replacement for Sanchin dai Ichi, the kata I did for my initial grading). I practised the kata I have been working on once or twice before being asked to help the juniors with theirs.

On the one hand I was honoured to be asked and on the other I wasn’t sure whether I should feel honoured. I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant about me (or my kata) if anything. I tried not to think about that too much (I have been making a concerted effort not to assign intention to others’ decisions or actions). I was certainly happy enough to teach though, if a little surprised to be asked.

This isn’t the first time I have taught something in karate or offered encouragement or praise to others in class – it’s that kind of atmosphere anyway, although I have never been asked to teach in a formal sense (ie in class) or been referred to as a “Sempai” before. I have taught things as I was learning them before, kata and kihon included, but only to my son to help him catch up on what he missed in class when he stopped participating!

In my other life I am pretty familiar with teaching motor skills but it is generally relearning things like walking or particular movements or activities (eg how to stand up, how to get up from the floor), rather than complex movement patterns which are not yet second nature to me. However, movement analysis and observation inherent in my “day job” did actually help me when working out what the juniors needed help with.

I knew the basic kata and all the stances, strikes and blocks involved and knew what it should look like. I tried to take the same approach that Sensei takes by modelling (and leading) first and then watching and giving feedback afterwards. This didn’t really work so well ……one of the older juniors was ok about getting feedback but really struggled to implement it (even with demonstration – stances particularly were not correct and I was very aware of these as it was something I struggled with a lot and still do in various kata). The 6 year old wasn’t really focussed and it was hard to keep him on task at all. Then I remembered that teaching kids is different to teaching Adults (this is why I never did paediatrics!!). Unfortunately by the time I was thinking how to turn it all into a game it was time to move on to kumite…..oh well perhaps I will get another chance some time! I will have to think up a game with it to make it more fun between now and then.

After class I was talking to Sensei about the kids (my son particularly) who has been pushing the buttons constantly at home and trying hard to do the same in Karate. Positively, Sensei doesn’t take any nonsense from him, and while he is in class and I am in class the arrangement (which I am exceedingly happy with) is that I am a student and not a mum and consequences are Sensei’s to decide on and to implement. This helps everyone get the most out of class.

He said feels my son is making progress (even if sometimes I find myself rolling my eyes when he doesn’t do what he is asked in class). I misheard him at first and thought he had said I was improving. When we had established what he had actually said (and I got over my slight embarrassment) he  said he doesn’t give praise to people over 15. This made me think about my learning needs (internal and external). After all, everyone learns differently (not just kids vs adults but each individual).

I am someone who has pretty good internal motivation to learn, especially if I am interested in the subject or task at hand. However when I am learning a new skill (like I am with karate) I need feedback as to whether I am getting it right in order to have the confidence to practice it and know I am not repeating it wrongly over and over again.

I find I need to seek out this feedback, which can be humbling, but necessary. Sometimes I find I get an answer that makes sense straight away and I can implement, but sometimes I just have to smile and pretend to understand even though I am still not getting it….and then in a few days after it sinks in I have an “ahah” moment and can’t work out why I even had to ask. This happened the other day when I asked what I was doing in  part of Saifa as I knew it wasn’t quite right and I couldn’t work out how to fix it. Sensei gave me some analogies (music related) which I understood at the time but couldn’t for the life of me apply to the actual pattern I was trying to achieve. Having mulled it over for 24 hours though, I found I was able to transfer it across without having actually physically done it in between times. Now I won’t forget it hopefully!

In a more general sense it would be nice to know that I am improving overall but I guess at the same time, it could be quite demoralising if I find out that I am not since I am training hard and feel within myself that I am starting to get somewhere. Luckily there are plenty of other Sensei and Sempai in our network who don’t mind throwing an occasional word of encouragement in my general direction.


10 thoughts on “Lessons learned from teaching

  1. Don’t be anxious about teaching – the skills you’ve learned in your day job will help you more than you know. It’s fantastic you’re getting that experience! If you’d like, toodle on over to my blog and take a gander at what I learned about learning: http://abeginnersjourney.bloggersonline.com/?p=352 and http://abeginnersjourney.bloggersonline.com/?p=61
    I’ve never had a Sensei take issue with teaching methods that I just make up on the fly – for instance getting down on my hands and knees and using my hand as a target for a kinesthetic learner’s foot to follow. Don’t be afraid to improvise!

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    • I read your 2 posts before I even started this blogging thingy. I so relate to the directional dyslexia thing!!! I think it’s getting better but I still have to have a split second think mostly if something is Migi or Hidari (or even left or right)……I was 18 before I learned to read analogue time too so I think there was some sort of learning blocks…..Just as well you don’t have to think about left and right in that sort of way when you are sparring……you don’t really have that split second…..I think though it explains why I often struggle with drills and then we change sides just as I am getting it and I struggle all over again…..argghh….

      My learning needs and wants have changed as an adult and I now have more confidence in asking for help or feedback and admitting when i don’t know something.


      • I hear you about sparring – it’s a relief to think in terms of “over here” and “over there,” isn’t it? Keep rockin’ on 🙂


  2. I take the approach that we are ALL learning, all the time. I am learning how to learn and how to teach and so is he and so is everyone in the class. I am pretty comfortable giving feedback on what I need and that things are taken on board is great. But yes, I suspect I would continue to go and to learn even if it wasn’t. I agree re adaptability of teaching styles. Partly to me it seems this might be linked with life and teaching experiences, however I would have a hard time adapting as a teacher with zero feedback positive or constructive. This is why I feel it is important for me to be assertive in this regard. If the shoe were on the other foot that is something that would probably help me.

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  3. He’s doing the tough love with my son. And positively I think Sensei seems to be slowly and surely winning that battle. Keys are one thing……code is another (I hate alarms). One of the shodan’s took a class a couple of weeks ago and managed to set the alarm off……I will let him be the one with the keys and responsibility for now…Hanging in there is never an issue…..it takes a lot to put me off doing something I love….not even my broken toe has stopped me training (it’s 4 weeks now and I am NEARLY able to do everything again – except kicking things / people obviously!).


    • Good teachers only teach one way and therefore limit themselves to attracting students who respond to that sensibility. GREAT teachers, however, can teach in multiple styles and are able to connect with all types of students. Either way, glad to hear that your son is progressing!

      Even more pleased that you have the grit to hang in there, broken toe and all. A good student quits when they don’t like a teacher. A GREAT student figures out how to learn no matter who’s teaching or how! 🙂

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  4. Wow! No praise for anyone over 15? That’s a new one! I suppose there is “praise” in the fact that you are still being taught at all. In some circles, a teacher continuing to share information with you demonstrates that he/she still believes you are worth the effort. A teacher that doesn’t offer feedback OR information is basically saying, “Go away.” But here’s a high-five anyway! 5 🙂

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    • Yes. I thought it was an odd thing to say but I take your approach on the meaning. He is an inspiring and generally patient teacher. I am even allowed to come to the advanced class and even though he said that this class is for helping the shodans and higher kyus he often enough will help me with things they might be getting even when he said he would not in that class. He is usually great about answering my questions and is quick to celebrate my achievements and enthusiasm which is more or less praise by action or at the very least intention. I guess he just doesn’t come out and say things explicitly. In kumite he points out well enough what’s missing and how to fix things…….often this involves some playful and repeated taps to point out areas of weakness. When I get it right he let’s me know but doesn’t make a big deal. I am OK with that. I leave a little wanting so I always come back.:-)


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