It’s been a few months since I was awarded the title of Senpai. Being a Senpai means being a positive role model. It means welcoming new students, showing them how things work, and making them feel comfortable. It also marks the real starting point of teaching others what you have learned.
In most styles a certain number of teaching hours are seen as part of the requirements for shodan. Personally, I think this is very fair. Even if you have no aspirations of being a martial arts instructor, or opening your own dojo, it’s important to know how to run a basic class, in the event that your instructor is delayed or ill (etc) and can’t make it. Also you owe it to your instructor and fellow students to help out…and besides, if you can’t teach a skill, if you can’t pass things on, how well do you really know it?
Practically speaking, teaching is something that everyone handles differently. I have observed and experienced this from both sides of the equation. Teaching requires technical skill, relevant experience, self reflection, patience, and the ability to demonstrate, explain, observe and correct. It is also extremely beneficial if you can motivate and inspire, show compassion, empathy and understanding.
Teaching is generally a learned (or, at the very least, acquired) skill, and although the general principles remain the same for anything you want to teach, learning to teach Karate, has so far been a steady learning curve for me. Fortunately, I have been eased in to the teaching role. This is possibly because I am not the head student, nor a shodan, but it has given me time to get used to the whole concept, which frankly I initially found kind of daunting.
Currently in my training, I have reached the point where I have been shown most of the technical skills (basics) in our style. This does not mean that I have lost interest in basics by any stretch of the imagination. What it does mean for me is that I can concentrate my own practice on the finer details, the refinement, the effectiveness, the breathing and the minutiae of small things that I (unwittingly) overlooked due to necessarily giving priority to gross motor function, coordination, (and yes, knowing which hand I was meant to be using), when I was first leaning how to block and punch. I often can feel or see for myself what I need to work on, so practicing outside of class time has become easier.
Obviously I am still learning myself, and it’s much easier for me to have senior students and instructors, who observe my practice, give me pointers on what to fix and how to fix it, and make me aware of areas I hadn’t noticed were a problem or had known were a problem but couldn’t fill in the gap. This leads me to the second point. With a degree of automation now at my disposal with respect to performing basic techniques, I can also focus on what is being said when I am corrected, or when others are corrected, and start observing things that others are doing that could be improved, and start to remember what helped me improve those things.
So, far from the automation letting me “switch off”, it has allowed me to engage my brain in a different way. I tend to observe more, talk and write less (hence the blog has been quiet- sorry if you wondered what I was up to). I have noticed is that even my journal entries for general classes are far more perfunctory with respect to what we have covered in class. I no longer need to write down each and every stretch or warm up etc, because I am familiar with the basic routines (and even lead them sometimes). I do include more detail on what was helpful in learning, or correcting, or teaching a particular technique, whether this teaching was given to me, or by me. I guess I am doing two kinds of learning at once now, one is for my own personal betterment as a karate-ka and one is for being able to pass on what I have learned. I am quietly putting aside an arsenal of strategies and actively preparing myself for the event when I will have to do more teaching.
Mostly my teaching responsibility has been in the form of leading stretching and or warm ups at the start of class, helping demonstrate techniques, and helping kohai individually or in small groups with basic drills and kata. Lately we have had a new student, and I have really enjoyed the experience of working with someone, who, like me, has started from scratch, as an adult. I can relate to how she feels as she struggles through the basics, and can be inwardly, and openly, and most of all, HONESTLY empathetic. I really hope the new student stays on, because seeing people grow and learn and improve, is the most rewarding part of teaching anything.