Charles Murray guest instructor at the Derry Boys and Girls Club
In 1985 I recognized a need to develop instructor training materials and together my wife and I created a 150 page Isshinryu Karate Manual for that purpose.This article on the Art of Communicating is from that handbook.
As an instructor in the martial arts engaged in the continuation of your art, you are attempting to communicate your knowledge to your students. The understanding of the basic principles of communication is important because teaching is communicating and to be an effective teacher, one must know how to communicate.
Much can be learned about how to give instructions by watching and listening to students. What language do they use, how do they think, what is important to them and how do they talk to each other.
When working with beginners always use plain, ordinary language since jargon contains unnecessary technical terms that are vague and less specific than plain language. In dealing with mature experienced students however, precise, technical language can and should be used. Be alert for puzzled looks, blank expressions, confusion and disagreement. Be prepared to stop activity and find the cause(s) for the confusion.
When giving instructions/demonstrations, the students will need to see what you are talking about. Keep the descriptions short. Regardless of our age, long descriptions mean little before things are seen or done. As the students watch a demonstration followed by their practice of it, give the new words that apply to what they are doing. Instructions and descriptions should depend on what can be seen as it is being done and afterwards as students try it themselves.
The use of examples is quite valuable but only if students know who or what you are speaking of. Individual experiences and age often make examples useless. However, examples from movies and TV shows that they are familiar with should be used as students try it themselves.
An often overlooked form of communication is the non-verbal or body language of facial expressions, gestures and body movements. Research has proven that the non-verbal message is believed more than the verbal. A nod or smile or a frown and head shake gives or withholds approval or consent. Arm and hand placement may contradict what is actually being said. Your body position and your alignment with those you speak with may again contradict what you are saying. Disagreements created by verbal/non-verbal communication contradictions can be serious in that the conflict suggests insincerity or untrustworthiness.
Communication can become a one way process if you dominate the situation. Granted, karate classes are not designed for conversation but you must remain open for discussions before and after class as which time students will ask questions in order to check on their own knowledge and understanding. Give them a chance to express their opinions, you both man learn something.
During classes, direct control is achieved by giving instructions, information, criticizing performance and/or behavior and giving corrections. Indirect control involves accepting honest ideas and questions, giving encouragement and helping to clear up errors and misconceptions. When humor is employed it should be non-threatening, never against individuals since it will only serve to humiliate and decrease their self-respect and respect for you.
How you receive questions and answers from students is of great importance. Students take risk in answering questions. The risk is in how the instructor or other students will react when they hear the response. If ridiculed or made fun of, the result is likely to be a decision to hide ignorance in the future rather than risk more embarrassment. The instructor must not only receive questions and answers with respect but should not allow others to show disrespect. Be patient, students of any age will try to hide their ignorance or become annoyed and honest questions will become stifled if you show impatience or if seemingly inane questions are ridiculed. What is important is that each one be willing to ask questions or answer honestly to continue learning.
Once in a while a student may ask a silly or insincere question. This can be handled by a simple “We will discuss this later”, or by turning the question back on the student. This reaction should eliminate future questions asked to be difficult and yet preserve respect for all. It is also true that some questions have no clear-cut answer, and occasionally you may not be able to answer a question. Be honest and let them know that you will find an answer for them and do so at your earliest opportunity.
Respect for instructors can be abused or misused. Whatever you are communicating and no matter verbal or non-verbal it should be designed to preserve the self-respect of both yourself and your students’. Unintentionally due to slips or ‘bad days’ we have all abused/misused respect of others for us. In the profession of teaching we must do all possible to avoid this.
There are times when a confrontation cannot be delayed in order to have all involved reach an inner calmness before reacting. However, instructors must listen carefully and be sure that they understand fully what the student or the parent has to say. Situations may arise where suspensions must be required, but these do not require any methods that no one wins and that upset everybody. Jumping to conclusions, making swift and hard decisions may find you in a bind from which it is difficult to escape. Hard feelings caused by these misunderstandings can spread and undermine the morale and respect for you as an instructor. When reprimanding anyone, always punish the deed and not the offender. You will gain more by focusing on the deed and could lose a great deal by degrading the individual.