Each October John Kerker visits Whitley's Budokai dojo in Chicopee Massachusetts.
I was able to attend yesterday and it was a pleasure to see John in action again.
Here is a brief clip of John in action.
There are many options about how to productively attend a martial clinic.
First what is the purpose of the clinic:
1. To share specific information use for your study, such as a new kata, technique applications or sparring practices.
2. To train with another instructor of your system.
3. To train with another instructor outside of your system.
4. Will the information shared be required as part of your ongoing study?
5. Is the information deeper knowledge such as in-depth technique applications.
6. Will the information gained not be part of your ongoing studies?
7. Are you attending with the permission and encouragement of your instructor(s)?
8. Are you attending because of personal interest without the knowledge or your instructor?
Some, All or even other purposes may be involved in your training.
Everyone attending a clinic is a student, even the instructor of the clinic.
The instructor is always learning how successful they can transmit the information to a new group of students.
Specifically if the clinic is on technique applications the following may be in play:
The host instructor, if the material is new to them, are learning and evaluation how that information may be worked into their program. The instructor may be focusing on underlying principles as much as the detail of the techniques.
Senior students involved in their program research may be working to retain as much knowledge of what was shown as possible. They may be focusing on as much detail retention as possible.
Dan Students may be working to gain greater understanding of their own or other arts. In that case how the underlying principles shown match the techniques studied.
Kyu Students are trying to keep their head above water. Often more dealing with confusion as the clinic moves from technique to technique.
Regardless of whether the clinic is for learning kata/forms or kobudo/weapons the new techniques and repetition of same I’ve found a series if principles that make it easier to retain what is happening. They are a good way to learn at anytime, but because of the time compression of a clinic, you may find them helpful to scope what is taking place.
First always focus on the stepping of the instructor. Because of the placement of you eyes focusing on the hands and arms is natural, but in most cases the learning involves movement and you first have to get yourself to the correct place in space for the rest of the technique to work. If you get the stepping first the rest of the technique (or kata section) is much easier to learn.
Second find a good partner to work with. Don’t let the clinic become a social event by extra chatting. Don’t let it become a that reminds me of this technique practice so you start performing other things. If you’re learning kata keep challenging each other to work the next section better than before.
Third, understand the role of short term memory and long term memory in retaining information. By short term memory you can perform today but if that knowledge doesn’t transfer to long term memory tomorrow you will have no idea what was learned the day before. You can help move from short to long term memory. If you understand the movement/technique, look around for someone nearby who is having trouble and take a moment to help them get it. This requires you to verbalize the movement section and aids the shift to long term memory.
You can also return to previously studied material at breaks later in the clinic. A break in time and then recalling the technique also helps move the knowledge into long term memory.
Fourth, ahead of time determine what you need to get out of the clinic, that can help you focus on what is most important to you during the clinic’s events.
You will not retain everything. The clinic instructor likely has many years behind his technique. If they’re teaching a form you can only get the shell of the movement, not the depth of years or decades of practice. Even if you loose the form you have gained by knowing what it felt to do it. If 100 techniques were shown and you only remember one of them that’s a 100% growth in understanding you had before the clinic. Even grasping the underlying principles behind technique usage from the instructor is valuable if you can’t retain the actual techniques. Those principles provide fuel for greater study.
On taking notes.
If you’re experiencing the clinic instruction for the first time, it’s better not to worry about taking notes during the clinic. Instead wait until late that night or the next day to do so. Notes from your long term memory will be more valuable than notes from your short term memory that you later may not understand in content.
When you’re more familiar with the instructor, the topic of the study or are performing as a researcher for your school you may work on keeping running notes of the study. I personally have my own shorthand method for capturing technique application study. It involves standard codes such as RFF RP (Right foot forward right punch) and the use of simple drawings to show motion paths, etc. Working with a partner after we seem to understand the movements, I step aside to work on some notes allowing my partner to work with another . Those notes should be re-written that evening adding detail. The initial shorthand notes never show the complete story of the movement. Then the notes become a long term reference of the day’s efforts.
It’s important to understand your notes will only be of use to you, others will not have the context to reconstruct much of them for their own use.
Video of the clinic.
On the whole a video record of a clinic will be un-watchable, even with a large amount of editing. The clinic instructor is likely not working at their level of performance but teaching to the general level of the members of the clinic. This does not make for great video and can be deadly dull to review unless you are extremely focused on what is shown. My suggestion is if you have the ability, video what you are doing in the clinic. That video will bring up your own memories of performance and help you learn in greater detail.
Webster defines student two ways. First ,a scholar or learner who attends a school and Second, one who studies, an attentive and systematic observer.
It has been suggested the acquisition of sho-dan (or black belt) in karate is really recognition that the karate-ka has become a student of karate. I define that they have become one who studies, the attentive and systematic observer of their art, and the purpose of their studies is themselves.
Towards the end of our time together Charles Murray once told me “Victor, the first 20 years your art is the reflection of your instructor(s). After 20 years, your art is a reflection of yourself.” As time passes I’ve come to see that as more true than not, but how that comes into being isn’t a factor of the color of your belt, your titles or even the fact you keep training (but the last is still vitally important).
I find what is really important is that you have become a student of karate, defined as your studies have made you the attentive and systematic observer who in turn learns how to act on those observations.
I remember each step of my journey so clearly. Except for my instructor and wife nobody came up to congratulate me for getting my black belt. Almost immediately thereafter I became my own instructor and the most important tool was remaining the student.
I started studying other arts and learned how to remain a beginner. I began studying other’s actions, in word and deed and observed those actions consequences. Having learned how to stand I began to crawl.
I learned reading a book wasn’t enough, you had to try it on, walk in it’s thoughts, live it. In time, and it always took much time, something might be found helping guide my study.
Becoming the attentive and systematic observer became the key to being an instructor.
Becoming the key, the attentive and systematic observer.