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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tips for new martial arts teachers

Previously, I wrote about tips for newbies coming into the martial arts world. This time, it will be for new teachers coming into the world of teaching martial arts.

So you've passed your black belt test.....congratulations! Chances are, sometime in the near future, your teacher might entrust you with helping a senior black belt with a beginner's class, or even a beginners class of your own. What an honor, right? Indeed it is, for the position of an assistant instructor is a great responsibility. You have to uphold the rules of the Dojo, set a good example for other students, and be a positive representative of the school. But along with that, you have to *teach*.

I learned about teaching through trial and error, I made many mistakes (and still do) and always hope to make the path a little easier for the new teachers that I bring up, but I have to remember that they too have to learn on their own.....while I can inform them of the bumps and obstacles along the way, they still have to do the walking themselves. :)  So, a few tips for the new teacher who is teaching at their Master's school:

Class scenarios:
  • Try to keep your teacher's curriculum as true to form the best you can. If you cross train in another art, try not to add that cool new drill you learned in the other class without first clearing it with your instructor.
  • There are many ways to plan a lesson. Try to include 3 main concepts: Academics (history, lineage, terminology, etc), Basics (fundamental movements and techniques), and New techniques.                The academics are important, as I've met students who don't even know what style Karate they are studying...they just know it as "Karate". Basics should always make its way into your lessons, no matter how high a level certain students may be. Basics can sometimes bore some students, but they can always be improved upon. (See "how do you teach or practice 3 techniques without boring a class" below). Including at least one new move or technique or concept each class is great too!
  • When teaching new students, don't over-correct. A common occurrence for new teachers is to teach every single fine point of a technique to a new student all at once. This not only will frustrate a new student, but will make you look overbearing.
  • It is understandable that you want the students to do well, but remember the "3 marble rule": Imagine that only 3 marbles can fit in the space of your head....if you push a 4th marble into your head, 1 marble has to bump out to make room, and you've lost that marble! Most students can handle 3 major corrections in a single class. As students grow in skill and experience, the amount of "marble" that they can handle increase. So don't overcorrect and try not to teach 15 different fine points to a technique all in a single class. 3 new techniques or major corrections per class are usually enough.
  • How do you teach only 3 techniques without boring the class? Utilize different drills for those techniques. For example, if teaching "backfist, roundhouse kick and outward block", devise a two person drill where 1st person throws a backfist at partner, the other blocks with outward block, and the 1st person counters with roundhouse. Or have a speed contest where the class has to do all three techniques and set in a stance of your choice....last one done has to do 5 jumping jacks. The possibilities are endless in devising great drills and exercises that focus on particular techniques without boring the class.
  • Understand that new students will not move as you do. Don't get frustrated with students when they are not mastering a technique as fast as you did when you were a beginner. I still learn lessons of patience when teaching classes. :)
  • Words make a difference. Avoid using words that imply the new student is deficient in a skill...they already know they're beginners, so don't imply that they "suck"! A phrase like "You HAVE to relax!" implies that the student is overly stiff. Well of course they are, but try not to single out a student. Address the class as a whole (everybody needs the info!) and see if the correction happens with a particular student....if not, feel free to correct the student, but don't make them feel stupid. I like using words like "Want", "Could" or "Can". For example, "That's a great side-horse stance, John....and now we want to straighten that back leg to make it a bow-arrow stance for the this (demonstrate)".
  • Check your Ego. Being a teacher doesn't mean "be bossy". Be firm in disciplining inappropriate behavior, and let students know of the school's expectations and rules, yes.......but being generally bossy and snippy, with a "my way or the highway" attitude will not win points with the students or senior teachers.
  • Many schools will require that new black belts teach or assistant-coach in classes as part of their experience needed for advancement to a full "instructor" title or next belt degree. Do not assume you will be paid for your time in teaching. If you balk at not being paid, then don't learn to teach then. Nowadays many schools offer great training programs in teaching people how to become good teachers or how to run a martial arts school, often at a discounted fee if you gain experience by teaching and leading classes. If that is a program that is available at your school, do take the class. You'll be glad you did.
Private lesson scenarios:
Although it is not common for a new black belt to be given the opportunity to offer private lessons until they have more experience, if given the privilege of holding private lessons, here are tips for the new teacher:
  • All of the above-mentioned points apply.
  • Remember that private lessons are just that....private. Don't bring your friend into the training area to watch. If you're being paid for the lesson, the student is paying for the private session, not to perform in front of people.
  • Exception to above tip: Young children MUST have parent or guardian nearby, and parents should have full view of the lesson if possible.
  • If you're teaching within your Master's school, try not to think that your private lesson student is "your" student....they're still students of the Master. So carry yourself in a manner and teach in a manner that reflects the school's expectations, not your own that are outside of those expectations.
Some people might read this and say "Well, if I'm the one teaching, why should I adhere to my Master's curriulum? As long as I get the students to where they should be, why should it matter how I teach?"  I'm not talking about teaching *exactly* like your teacher does, or using the exact same wording in classes as your teacher. What I'm saying is don't add embellishments just because you think its cool. Never say "Master so and so's way of doing this is good, but I've got a better way"....for that implies that you think you are your Master's equal. (rude and disrespectful!). If you have a great way of presenting a drill to a class, then that's fin, but never imply your way is better than your teacher's. You've still got a long way to go yourself, you know!

If you're given the opportunity to teach at your teacher's school, you've been given a responsibility that should be honored and respected. Although its "your" school as a student, it is not "your" school to do with as you please. When you get up in rank a bit and eventually attain your OWN school, THEN you can run your school as you please, assuming it is run in manner that upholds quality instruction, honor, respect, and community service. The last thing you want is the "Cobra Kai" type Dojo as seen in the old "Karate Kid" movie.

And a new black're STILL a student yourself. Don't rush to become a great teacher. Great teachers are forged through practice, learning, and hard work, just as in regular martial arts classes, and it is the students recognizing you as a great teacher that allows you the "title" of "great teacher" is arrogant to give yourself that title, be it in your own head or verbally aloud.

Now I'm not saying that we should make things too easy for our students....not at all....Martial Arts are supposed to instill a good sense of self discipline and confidence through hard work, right? All I'm saying, is that we as teachers can bring out these traits in students without being overbearing a**holes. For me, I prefer "Old School" training.....hard work, sweat, and struggle, with a good teacher strictly reminding me where my lazy areas are and waking me up to the potentials I have. I've also trained in China and Japan, where harsh criticism and disciplinary measures are common in some schools, however the key point here is that no teacher in those schools doled out the discipline out of malice, Ego, or personal gain....the whole point in their teachings was to forge a strong will and spirit within me, and pound out the egotistical issues that distracted me. I knew that if I was corrected, that they cared enough to not let me do it incorrectly and look stupid doing so....I considered it an honor for a Master to physically move my arm or stance to the correct posture, and to tell me to repeat the movement again and again until I did it correctly on my own. When I did get it right, a smile and a thumbs up from the teacher, and my excitedness of learning a new skill, was all the reward I needed. When I was asked to lead a group of new beginners through an exercise.....would I buckle under pressure of being watched by the Master, or would I set a good example by trying my best to pass on the great tips given to me by the Master? It all depended how I "took" the training.

While some people can't handle that type of Old School training and seek out an "easier" school, it is unrealistic to expect a martial arts school that doesn't expect your to try your best, doesn't correct you just so your feelings don't get hurt, or allow the wrong movements to become habits just so you don't experience humiliation. It boils down to the interpretation of the student.....if a teacher says "Oh, you can improve on that by turning your arm this way..." and you think "Oh my God! I must really suck! I'll never get this right!!", then really, its the issue of the student, not the teacher or the curriculum.

Good teachers can still hold a firm stance in the discipline department without being a jerk, and they can correct your techniques in such a way that *you* learn to recognize inconsistencies with yourself and correct it yourself someday, and they also should have no problem training you to a level where, when they get their black belt, that they're better than you were when you first got yours. That's my goal, anyway. :)

Train hard, train well. Until next time!


    Bruce said...

    As someone who has only just embarked on instructor training, I really appreciate these suggestions/guidelines/hard-won lessons. Thanks!

    Chris said...

    Very nice article. Reminds me of the things I'm doing right as a new black sash and the things that I should improve on.

    Thank you for passing on the knowledge.

    Restita, Seattle Wushu Center said...

    Bruce and Chris, thanks for your comments! I wish you fun and much luck on your journey as a teacher! :)

    Zen said...

    Good post Shifu.

    "When one teaches, two learn"

    Alexis Moore said...

    Nice and helpful tips.

    It's a good thing that a new martial arts teacher can be a role model to his/her students.
    Martial Arts Brisbane