Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Art of Correction

Teaching one’s art is more than just standing before a class. It is a process of communicating with one’s students, and for good communications to take place you have to incorporate a feedback channel to verify what has been shared is received correctly.

In the case of kata, what they learn to perform should match what is being shown, more and/or less depending on the time the student has been studying.

We know flaws will occur, where a student’s performance is incorrect and how it varies depends on the level of the students training. It also depends on how you approach errors and are looking for instant perfection or for moving to perfection as a long range goal.

One of the topics must be the serious nature of flaws. A mistaken technique is not just an error but likely creates an opening for attack to enter.

The structure of your program will determine the end goal and time frame for student development. There is no one standard for all programs, but developing a consistent approach in correction standards helps everyone’s development.


Beginners start by being perfect, as they don’t know anything they’re not capable of making mistakes, they’re just not correct. Once they learn something they can begin to become accountable for their actions. They’re no reason to rush the process.

Explain to the new student how mistakes are addressed and how they can then work to correct them. Lay the foundation for your future instruction method from the beginning.

Frequently new students have to learn how to accept criticism for it’s positive purpose, to help guide them forward, not as a critical assessment of their work. Frankly you might take their ‘kata’ performance and find dozens of things that need correction. Curb yourself telling them that. Instead explain they’re learning how to start large and move towards small.

Demonstrate to them how their version changes the nature of the original technique. This allows them to remember why the move must change. If they strike and they can see it misses by what they’re doing they more readily embrace the need to change.

Control the Amount of Information about Mistakes to allow progress. Never give them more than two corrections to work on, regardless of what they need to get to perfect performance. Two give them a definable goal towards future success. More corrections than that and they won’t remember them, so look at the big picture and pick the two mistakes that if corrected will have the best response in their technique. Then when they make progress on them (and not necessarily by the next class) go to the next two and so forth.

Standard Beginner Mistakes:

1) Not forming their fist correctly.

2) Not knowing their right from their left

3) Not looking before turning.

4) Forgetting movements of their kata


Intermediates students do know something and thus when they do something wrong it is a mistake. There are the difficulties learning new material and then there are the problems that arise in material they already learned.

Explain how mistakes creep into training, especially when they move on in new studies. They and you will find that the standard group drills are fine and that their new material is progressing, but it is their intermediate studies that begin to suffer. For one thing in about 30% of students changes will start occurring in those intermediate kata. And those changes will take on a pattern in time, those 30% of students make the same mistake (never taught that way). Part of me suspects it may be that some student nervous systems have inbred programming about movement and when the student moves that kata from their immediate focused study other factors intervene from correct occurrance.

I say 30% because everyone does not have the same experience, but it is frequent enough that when they first learn the kata point out the techniques that may change in time (from the instructor’s direct experiences). That makes it easier to correct because you’re re-enforcing what they were originally taught.

This then must be turned into a lesson about the work they’re expected to do to keep those ‘intermediate’ forms from falling back.

1) Reinforce the value of each movement in each kata, newer more complex kata are not more valuable they just have different lessons.

2) Don’t immediately start them on their next kata once they’ve completed the initial learning of their previous kata. Set time, a month or two, for them to go back and re-polish each previous study so they move forward in all areas.

3) Explain that the black belt candidate must develop their potential in all their studies.

Standard Intermediate Mistakes

1) Forgetting movements of kata they’ve previously studied.

2) Adding (or Omitting) techniques to at kata.

New Black Belt

I lump all brown belts into the new black belt category for corrections. First I see each level of brown belt as a black belt candidate, and I see each new black belt in the next step of the growth process into dan level training.

As I gained experience as an instructor I began to observe a different level of mistakes in the brown belt practices. They were not the same mistake but all have the same origin. To focus the brown belt mind I named them a dreaded disease “Brown Belt-itis”.

“Brown Belt-itis” is a singular disease with a thousand different symptoms. The truth is it can begin before brown belt and can also continue long after brown belt. But naming it a disease makes it easier to make the point home.

At this point the student has studied a lot of material. They have some power and speed but they don’t keep their mind focused on the immediate goal, making everything work correctly.

Symptoms of “Brown Belt-it is” include (but are not inclusive of):

1) Worrying about getting to the next move and not completing the current move. This is where I first observed this disease, brown belt performance of Kusanku Kata, a long form, so they’re trying to get from move to move but forgetting to finish the current move before they go on. Thus a Brown Belt might stop putting power behind ‘blocks’, but correctly power strikes and kicks.

2) Focusing on only one aspect of kata performance such as the upper body.

3) Getting a better idea than ‘sensei’.

4) It also covers beginning and intermediate mistakes.

Frankly I use it in fun a lot of the time to cover any type of mistake they make. It also does not go away just because they get their black belt.

This is where you need to help them understand the weight of all of their studies. Not just not to forget what they’ve learned, not just to get good enough for sho-dan qualification. Instead to help them understand the ongoing commitment required to keep improving at all areas and keep their focus on the current (the isshin) and on what’s coming next (the zanchin) at the same time.

It’s at the new black belt area you can re-enforce the fatal nature of flaws more strongly. Work to help them understand how much power, technique and focus they loose with even the smallest mistakes of alignment and movement. This is critical to move them forward into internalizing their correct performance.

At this stage the new black belt is about ½ way towards adequate performance of say 10 years of training. There’s no short cut to the point that their body relaxes in execution, their center drops and their power increases.

Advancing Black Belt

Moving past the initial black belt studies, the challenge of faith come into play.

It is at this stage they’re entering advancing technique application studies. Where they move from the study of an application potential to the study of that potential against the full range of attacks, to finding a path towards application realized.

At this point the more basic movement mistakes may be in the past (just a hopeful assumption) but they then come into the understanding that when their instructor shows them an application for a movement they’ve practiced for years, when they go to use it in even safe attacks, they automatically do something else. That’s certainly adequate for self defense, but not working for advancing studies.

The error isn’t their ability to perform a move, or their inability to perceive the attack, but their lack of faith the technique will resolve the attack successfully. This requires a very different skill acquisition, belief in oneself.

The next challenge is further instruction in uncovering their own flaws. You need to help them become aware of their own alignment problems, and here again you turn to the fatal nature of flaws, in greater detail show each possible mistake and what opening they leave for an attacker. Supplement this with their own study of the offensive study how to look for those fatal flaws and design an approach for attacking them.

The advancing black belt also needs assistance understanding the scope of their studies and how they cannot work on everything at the same time. Too many studies and nothing changes. They need guidance how to select studies to undertake, how to set their goals, how to complete the study and how to select where they go next.

Senior Black Belt

No matter how hard we train we will never be perfect, only approach it at times, hopefully of our own choosing. It is at this stage we can guide the senior black belt past mistakes to work to use Advanced Body Control makes flaws perfect (rule of no rules).

The Senior Black Belt doesn’t make mistakes, instead they diffuse their mistakes into their opponent’s bodies.

They should be developing their own challenges and studies and your role is more advisor, unless it is yourself guiding your own path.

Senior study may well mean you have moved past your instructor, in space, in time or even in life. The Senior must draw upon all of their experiences and lessons to correct the ongoing human condition. At some point the aging process and the certainty of human

You are at a stage you can appreciate hundreds of corrections on a form performance, but your students, friends or instructor may not be willing to do it for you. Get a video camera and have yourself filmed and do it yourself.


The Instructor must develop their sensitivity in explaining flaws not to overwhelm a student and interfere with the message to guide them forward.

The instructor must work to correct the student most appropriately for their long term goal for the student development.

The instructor must develop the difference teaching advanced studies from basic studies and choose their correction methodology appropriate for the student.

Senior Instructor

The Senior Instructor must use what dealing with flaws has taught themselves to develop the Instructor..

Understanding the breakdown of age they’re experiencing must be used to correct and guide the others.

The most important correction is to stop keeping what they know to themselves and addressing bridging the information time lapse. Having experienced everything on their path, including sharing in others paths, they must correct the wish to keep such knowledge private, but work to share it appropriately.

The Senior Instructor must correct their desires to work with only their senior students, instead they must spend the majority of their floor time with the newest beginners. Seeking the beginning mind. Learning that they need to keep finding their own beginning mind.

Each day brings us innumerable experiences we must continually correct to grow.

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