Saturday, September 19, 2015

Teaching Styles


When I was a beginner Mr. Lewis often had other Dans lead the class, through the warm-ups, or drills. When he did lead he would knock off 50 pushups on his knuckles as if they were nothing. He could round kick a heavy bag harder than I could hit it with a baseball bat. He spent most of that time in his office, observing what was going on , on the floor.


I recently put things together, and recall asking Sensei wasn’t this how you described Shimabuku Sensei teaching? Sitting at the side, taking a sip. Of his tea..occasionally coming out on the floor to make a correction, or to  show someone a new piece of kata, and letting a senior student (American of Okinawan as the case was).

Charles experienced much the same when he trained on Okinawa. Most of the time Shimabuku Sensei remained on the side. And he was being taught by Shinso or perhaps others. Of course much of the time he was there was just practicing time.

I suspect this was how some of the Okinawan instructors taught.  A friend in Shorinji Ryu experienced the same. The senior instructor staying on the sidelines watching and making corrections.


This is somewhat in difference from the instructor led classes we seem to expect. When I began teaching, and for most of my career, I too led each class. It seemed the right way to train youth, and then I did the same with adults. It is also fun to see the instructors you trained grow and develop new drills for the kids, often based on the other shared experiences we had over the years.


Since the onset of my difficulties these past 5 years, I shifted into more of the observer role, letting my students take on more of the instructor roles. There is a lot to be said for Shimabuku Sensei’s approach. When you are sitting and watching you can actually see who is working hard, see where corrections need to be made, observe what is going on to suggest to the instructors what might be a good suggestion to teach.


Sitting quietly, observing, is a teaching style.


In turn this leads back to Chinese instructors. Training with Ernie Rothrock he explained that some instructors in Chinese styles would do the same. Many times you would see the senior instructor taking a nap on some chairs at the side of the school. Letting others doing the instruction. 


Years later a Tom Chan, a Chinese American student of mine, took me to visit a Kung Fu school he heard about in Boston. When we entered the class, and people were training, the senior instructor was curled up on stools at the side of the school.  Just as Ernie described to me.


Now I have also trained with many good instructors, who also led each class on the floor. I suspect one method is not superior to the other, I think on the whole you pattern your style of instruction based more on what your instructor did.


I began teaching long before I was qualified, where I was more recently a student myself, having been a dan less than a year. Seeing things more from the point of class as something to work out in. It’s just in time you learn there are a variety of options available. Even within the same system.

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