Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Do you ever teach?

Those who cant do teach. That is the prevailing thought, especially in the sports world. This is not the case in the martial arts world however. This came to mind when I was recently asked by a parent upon my entering the dojo, "Do you ever teach class?" It was fair question, most people prefer to get taught by what they consider the highest ranked student of the school. When I am in a the dojo I am teaching whether I am in the class or not. I occasionally meet with each instructor before class to discuss what needs to be covered in the class and with whom.
Then I realized it goes further than that. In the same manner I am constantly learning the same applies to my teaching. I am always teaching. It is not something I just do at certain times of my week, but rather a state of being student/teacher is a natural way for me. I was not disturbed by the question. Our school has grown to the
point that there are students who have not seen me teach their class. I do however  make it a point to try and visit every class at some point during the month. When we started at the location we are now, I did teach every class since I was the only instructor there were no other options. But as time passed and the school has grown we now have several instructors and many more training to become instructors. One of my driving philosophies in having a dojo was the furtherance of our style.
It is why the school is not named after me or a style I created, this was intentional.
We are the only school of our style which is not to say there aren't many students spread out far and wide. My driving philosophy is that the students embrace the art they are learning and not any one instructor. I know its hard to combat this, especially with our younger students. They will naturally gravitate to one instructor more than another. Each instructor has their class to teach and on occasion another instructor will substitute. Most of the students react well because the emphasis is on the learning, not the instructor. One of the things I have seen in several schools are instructors who do not embody the physical ideal of the style they are teaching. I find it very hard to believe that an instructor who doesn't maintain a regular training regimen will be competent enough to convey that knowledge to others.
As an example lets look at kata. At any given moment during a kata training session you will hear me say that kata has no shelf life. It is an exercise that must be practiced-daily. In martial arts its very difficult for an instructor to teach what they don't know. Students learn in a variety of ways some kinesthetically, others aurally and others by modelling. In many cases its all three. Then I express to my students that the  only way I can keep their kata straight in my head is not due to some mystical power conveyed to me or reading about it. Its simple-I practice everyday.
 Every instructor has  facets of their own instructors in their teaching. My own instructor is considered superb kata practitioner. When I first met him and saw him execute a kata, frankly I was surprised . I didn't think kata could look like that. A few years later I had to go to a fight class and I'm watching this black belt basically disarm and exploit every opening present to him. Add that to the fact that he used his legs like arms and kicked at will. When I looked carefully I realized that this was the same kata practitioner from years earlier the same person who would become my sensei-Shihan Cormack.
One of the key things I learned from him and try to show my students is that you can be good at kata, phenomenal even. You can also be phenomenal at fighting. Underlying this is the attitude of being a complete martial artist, of learning everyday. Even though its something I do personally, thanks to one of the seniors at the school we now have required reading for the adults to further their understanding of art and kata they are practicing.

Here is one of the ways I was shown to avoid getting hit( we still show it this way in our school). We would go over the theory of what we call the 8 blocks. Basically blocks to avoid deflect and slip(aurally/modelling) Then we would practice the blocks until I became proficient (kinesthetic/modelling). We would then spar where I would be the attacker and Shihan was only defending(kinesthetic/modelling). Then we would spar where we both attacked and by this point those 8 blocks are reflex and intuitive.

This is how we teach, but if I really look at it this, it is how my teacher taught me, so in a very real sense he is still teaching, everyday at the dojo. Everyday we are exacting about our kata and our kicking and how a punch is to be executed. He is teaching at that moment.

This is something that we must understand on very deep level as students and  instructors, what we teach remains. We are a link in a chain of instructors, with each link adding something to the overall chain. Remember that learning and teaching is not relegated only to the dojo, but to life.
So to answer the parent who asked if I ever teach class. The answer is yes, I teach every class.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando


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