Sunday, June 10, 2012

Common Teaching Mistakes - Part 1

This could have easily been a Top Ten kind of thing, if (a) there were ten or (b) the list was funny.

I have been teaching for over 30 years, with more than 12 of that as a karate instructor. I have made my share of in-class blunders, so maybe this is a confession as much as it is guidance to new martial arts instructors.

If you’re looking for a karate school, ask to observe the main instructor and see if she / he makes some of these mistakes, but remember - no one is perfect.

Correcting too much
For every technique there can be dozens of important points; from the positions of the feet, the bend of the knees, the line of sight, the position of the hands, the tightness of the fists, the height of the arms, the speed or strength of the breath, and so on.

Some instructors, will attempt to fix everything all at once. “Straighten your back leg, bend your front knee, pivot your hips, lean back more, raise your chin, tighten your right fist, move your fist over top of your knee, make sure your left hand is in a tight fist and your left pinky finger is touching your left floating rib.” I’ve actually heard an instructor say that to a yellow belt student.

Well halle-frickin-lujah, you are able to find a whole bunch of faults with your newbie student. You just made them feel worthless. Great job there Master Yucko.

No one could possibly absorb all those instructions and retain them, let alone react correctly at the moment.

Most major problems can be addressed by fixing the foundation, a.k.a. the stance. If the feet, knees, and hips are in the right positions, then many other things will fall into place. So if you look at a student and they are all out of whack, just fix the stance. Offer one or two corrections and reinforce these throughout the class. No one is going to become a master overnight.

Here’s a key: One Class, One Fix.

So, start with the feet and work up. Keep your corrections simple and to a minimum. The key is, pick your points and don’t worry about total perfection. Work on the foundation first.

Talking too much
Students come to class to learn and work out. There is a time and place for describing, explaining, and discussing techniques and concepts, but this is a matter of proportion. I’ve seen instructors drone on and on about some nuance, while the class is virtually stopped. Student’s heart rates drop back to normal, sweat dries up, stances change, the value of repetition diminishes, and frankly no one is learning.

Of course, this is a judgment call, and I’m not suggesting that instructors never stop the class to explain why something is important, but it should clearly be the exception to the class not the rule.

Here’s a key: Walk, Don’t Talk (show it, don’t say it)

If you are teaching a class, then you are probably an accomplished martial artist with some years behind you, possibly some tournament successes, and other notable achievements.

Shut up.

No one wants to hear YOU talk about it. The mere concept of you discussing your success is an affront to most martial art philosophies. I once had an instructor who wanted us to know he had a great side kick. He knew he couldn’t just say, “I have a great side kick” (You might think his mere demonstration would have been a tip off, but hey – he wanted make sure we understood) So this instructor asked one of the senior students to relay to the class a comment that the school’s grand master had made several months prior. The student dutifully recounted the grand master words, “You have a great side kick.”

I think the only one not embarrassed by this exchange was the instructor.

Here’s the key: Shut up.

So that’s three, more to follow.

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