Monday, October 6, 2008

My First Promotion Class

I've been teaching Karate (Tang Soo Do to be precise) since 1998. I became a Certified Teacher (Kyosa Nim) in 1999, and a Master in 2008. I frequently help my Master during promotion classes to award new belts ranks, and teach promotees their new forms (kata/patterns/hyung).

Today, however, was a first. My Master was unable to attend the awards presentation and he asked me to conduct the ceremony, hand out the promotions, and lead the instruction of the new material. I was not expecting the change of perspective; from being a participant - even an active participant, to being the conductor. It's like riding as a passenger in a car for ten years, and then moving to the driver seat.

The first time I actually drove a car on a real street, I was confronted with the speed at which everything happened. I thought I was ready, but somehow driving seemed suddenly more complex, with too much information hitting me all too fast. I was traveling at the impressive speed of 15 miles per hour. How embarrassing!

Promotions started at 9:00 with White Belts moving to Yellow, 10:00 had Yellow Belts moving to Orange, Orange to Green, and finally Green to Red at 11:30. Fortunately I had no trouble recalling what new material each of these groups had to learn. As I mentioned, I've been helping out with promotion classes for years, and it seemed easy enough. Line up the students, tie the new belts on each of them, read the certificates, divide the students up into rank-appropriate sections, assign each section an appropriate instructor, and monitor the progress.

Sounds easy enough. Simple. Sure. Since I didn't have any Black Belts to teach, there were 'only' eight different rankings to watch.

At one point we had more groups of students than we had instructors, so I had to do double duty. I'd get one group to learn the first ten steps of the new form, and have them practice it repetitively on their own while I taught the other group the first ten steps of their new form. Of course, some of the forms are so close or share sequences of moves that it is easy to get them confused. It takes a lot of concentration to keep things straight. My bouncing back and forth between the groups must have looked like Sybil trying to communicate with three doctors, an imaginary friend, and a fast food drive-through.

Then of course, it is very hard to teach a form to a noob with your back to them, so you want to face them. This means that you have to demonstrate the moves as a mirror image to them; not exactly backwards, but definitely not forward either. I now believe that Dyslexia can be a learned behavior! All the while I'm teaching one group, I had to keep an ear and eye out for the other groups as sometimes the other instructors make mistakes. This is quite easy to do given the aforementioned complexity of teaching sequences of physical moves. At one point I felt like Dr. Sam Beckett quantum leaping between time periods, my head was so scrambled.

Each student comes prepackaged with a unique set of skills and challenges. Some have attention spans that rival popcorn kernels in hot oil. Some have none. Some have amazing attention, so long as you want them to watch the cars outside, the students in another group, their younger sibling playing in the lobby, the clock, or the invisible clown making balloon animals. Some learn through verbal instructions, some have to be shown, and still others have to be positioned - they just can't coordinate themselves well. Then there are those that cannot be touched, or looked in the eye, ... or ignored.

As the lead instructor in this circus, I also had to watch the clock so that each successive promotion class got their allocated time slot. I had to monitor the parents who were anxious about their specific child and how well they were learning. Unlike academic school where the parents rarely observe their child actually learning, in this scenario they 'get' to see their child right next to several others. Is Susy learning as fast as the others, slower, has better technique, paying attention? Is the instructor being patient, too patient (my kid is such a pest), not patient enough (hey - cut her some slack), and on and on. As a helper for the past decade I just never thought of these things.

The entire promotion ceremony only lasted about four hours on a Saturday morning, but I was exhausted! I am now committed for the next week to allow the mushy gray sludge that occupies the space formerly held by my brain to slowly re-congeal into cognitive usefulness. The prognosis isn't good.

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