Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Slow and the Small

Running a very small adult program these past 25 years has helped me understand one of my personal goals, to try and understand karate instruction prior to 1900, a time when everything was small and personal.

When we were driven in our training to prepare for our sho-dan, that pace was fun, always pushing yourself as hard and as far as you could go. I'm sure at that time that was what I thought the goal of an instructor was, to have a group that could move at that pace forever.

Reality however becomes very different.

Of course we don't live on a small island and all our students are not in walking distance from our program. Today even for a small program students may have to fly home from working in another state, deal with late work hours, or frequent times when they're not available for training from work.

What I've found in the last quarter century, except for a year when there were just two of us training regularily, the rest of my classes have never had the same members there two classes in a row. That doesn't mean the group has quit, but that they're adults who have to balance many issues to maintain their training.

As an instructor you prepare for a class with a specific lesson plan in mind, and then often depending on which students are present, may or may not be able to use it and have to flow to plan 'b'. I find in time my lesson plan isn't for a class but what I focus on for a quarter of the year at a time, and find a way to touch that training over that period again and again.

I've experienced the death of a very good student and then over the next year the departure of most of the older group members, perhaps taking the experience to adjust their personal goals, each of which training over 15 years.

Then the program slows, the most seniors training at a more and more advanced level till slowly new members feret out the existence of the dojo, and suddenly you're in a beginning adult program.

Students really are the ones who control what you can do in a program. As an instructor you can only teach those who are willing to train. You have no control over how they deal with life's ever present reality, the fact that everything else in life is conspiring to stop your training, you can only always be there and teach.

Then slowly over 5 years, as you and your senior students focus on the group, you shift from a white belt program to build towards shodan instruction.

Which is where most of my program is right now.

Begin the shift to dan drilling studies, working on principles behind technique application, working on a very different range of drills for new movement flow, laying the ground work for dan training, and you're still moving at slow speed.

Balancing the groups needs, you most senior students needs and your own desires.

And knowing under the best of circumstances, if no corners are cut, it will be another 5 years before the program fully engages the training you enjoy most.

The program is small and personal, the instructor must go slow meeting the students needs foremost.

Helps one gets older and slower I guess, but for the upcoming joy when fists will collide and the arts potential can be realized.

The smaller the program in fact means the slower the instructors wishes are realized.

If long ago you were an instructor and have one student, if their time passes for any reason and you have to begin again, consider the slow of that instructors flow.