Friday, January 4, 2019

The Art of becoming an Instructor



Far to soon, I became a karate instructor, back when I was just a year into my shodan. It was of course too soon. I knew what I knew about my art, knew well what had been force fed into me as a brown belt. So when I began a youth program I used what I had been through as the basis for my instruction.


My Boys Club program began with a fine group of young students, Three month later none of them were left. The club made it aware we were starting a new program.


I also sought the advice of my wife, who was a phys ed instructor and she gave me a lot about instruction the young, and everyone at that. That group remained and my program was on my way.


Among many things my wife showed me here college texts on training junior high young women swim teams. It was incredibly more advanced than anything I could find about karate (any system) anywhere. That gave me a lot to digest over the years.


Simply stated when you are perhaps a College freshman in say Physics, and you find yourself running a middle school physics class, the focus on getting students to understand basic physics is not helped by sharing the advanced studies you are learning. I admit that is just an example, but consider it the same thing as a karate instructor.


You are trying to get the student to remember which is their left foot as opposed to their right foot. You are attempting to get them to perform the shape of your art, But you are adding the results of your own ongoing research to what they must go through too.


Your efforts to do that are causing overload in your students, giving them far to much to process all at the same time. What is better is to share information more gradually when you have shown them how to acquire skill in that which they do. Then expose them to more advanced concepts when they are ready for it. Of course that is much harder than it seems, for you cannot share everything you have learnt and now working on yourself.


The reality of instruction is that what your student needs is more important than sharing everything you have learned. If you do your job right, only then can you give more and more of what you see, and have the students retain and use it.


Of course it is easier to say than to do.


It took me a decade to really understand what is required. I remember back in 84 when I had occasion to meet and talk with Shimabukuro Zempo after a clinic he held in Pa. He explained on Okinawa (at that time of course) no one wanted to train with a nidan (which was illustrative) rather everyone wanted to train with someone who had been an instructor for 50 years.  I did not take that as literal fact, but illustrative of the norm at that time. (And yes things have changed considerably on Okinawa from that time as I have been told.)

So I decided to create my own standards for developing an instructor and have used that standard ever since.


First, the candidate for instructor in my program, first had to have 15 continuous years of training in my program. (even outsiders with dan rank who joined my program had to meet the same standard regardless of what time they had into their own study). I wanted the potential instructor to have an intimate knowledge in the program they would eventually teach. Learning never stops, but they had to be most comfortable with their own studies. That was much more than gaining a black belt, something only time in place can give.


Next,  individual who are black belts have many personal reasons they continue to train. Many continue their training just for their own needs. The instructor has to want to do much more than just train. They have to develop the idea they wanted the responsibility to share our art. That is so much more than standing before a group and drilling them.  They have to want to attempt to learn how to gain this.


Then the instructor candidate enters a 5 year mentorship program to acquire the skill of becoming an instructor. Part of which is to develop a student to sho-dan, under guidance of course. Learning how to recognize when a student is ready for new material. Understanding the layers a student must go through to move toward more complete execution of our art.


Finally then when recognized as an instructor, they realize there is so much more they have to learn, making the commitment to work towards greater understanding.



I have done much more than consider what I wanted, I  have done it. And those instructors continue my program to this day. They are not imitations of me, their own people, responsible to continue to shape their art, within the art we have shared.


The future is not about where we have been, rather were we are going.


To recognize each individual has their own wants and needs, regardless of their level of training. To continue to share the art as appropriate for that individual, Not what you want, but what the student needs.


And if you do your job right, you get them to the place, they are ready for more of where you are.

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