Saturday, January 14, 2012

Training an Assistant

As an assistant instructor, I was fortunate. My Sensei took a lot of time teaching assistant instructors how to teach. Some of us got a long leash...a few had free reign (very few). I started assisting with classes sometime around 2005 and became a chief instructor in 2010. In all of that time, there was one teaching lesson I'd never learned: teaching someone else how to teach.

Last Thursday night, I took the opportunity to allow two second kyu's the opportunity to teach groups; let's be honest (and fair), they weren't groups, rather one-on-one lessons. Let's just say, it was a learning experience for all.

Who's on First?
Abbott: I say Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know's on third.
Costello: Are you the manager?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: You gonna be the coach too?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: And you don't know the fellows' names?
Abbott: Well I should.
If you don't recognize the exchange above, it's from the famous Abbott and Costelloo "Who's on First" skit. It pretty well sums up the single most important lesson on teaching: make sure your teacher knows the material being taught. Simple, right? Sure, but the student-teacher is experiencing a flood of thigns going through their heads, especially new student-teachers.

"Where do I start, what do I say, there a kiyah there? If the don't do this right, is Sensei going to maul me and feed me to the Kraken?"

Slow it down. First step is demonstrate. This will help the student-teacher gather their bearings and gives them an opportunity to iron out the miscommunication between their hands, their feet and their head.

How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time. I've yet to meet a single student who could absorb an entire kata first time through. Step number two is to break it down. Make the material more manageable.

One. Bite. At. A. Time.

That doesn't mean walk through the kata and explain the moves and expect the student to catch on, it means show them 1-3 moves (depending on what's going on during the counts, of course), then start over and tack on number 4. Then start over and tack on number five. You get the picture.

George of the Jungle:
I won't bust out the full on theme song, but I will say "WATCH OUT FOR THAT TREE!"

Everyone messes up, and if one pays close enough attention, "patterns of wrong" can be found. I tell my students all the time that I teach based on my own pet peeves. That is, I know what mistakes drive me nuts, so you won't repeat those mistakes; I've been told for years what I do nicely, right, well, etc, so as my student, you will do them in that manner.

That said: if you, as a student, do something particularly bad, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to not pass that on to the student you are teaching. If you do something well, by all means, PASS THAT on to your student. Use someone else point of reference on either side if need be...but be careful to not sound cocky, condescending, judgmental, arrogant or self-righteous --all of which are very unbecoming.

Don't just stand there:
Do something. Let the student watch you a few times, get all the way through the material being taught, review and then let the student try on their own. If your student can't practice outside of your company, you weren't effective.

Spot your prey from 10,000 feet...
swoop in and snag the ant, then come rest on the tree tops:
A very verbose analogous way of saying "move between both the big picture and the details...and back again". Nothing in karate is completely big picture, nor should everything rest in minutiae. It is a mix of both and both are important, but a student is not going to absorb everything in one (or even a dozen) lessons. Focus on the high points, whether it's big picture or detailed.

...and lastly...

There is no such thing as a stupid question
This one pains me, because I generally disagree, but in this context it's true. Well...almost: Don't ever ask a co-director what you should do to get ready for your black belt test. THAT is a dumb question, but that aside --there are no dumb questions in karate. If you are unsure, ask. It happens to everyone. Heck, I still ask and I've been known to do it in the middle of a lesson. No one remembers it all. No one.

I'll wrap the list up with these high level points, though as with most things, I could go on forever (and ever...). If you find yourself in the unenviable position of training a trainer, hopefully this will help. If you yourself have to learn to teach, I hope this can help. In fact, this may even help you, as the student, learn your any case, "Watch out for that tree!"


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