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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Partner work: Equal responsibility, maximum benefit

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In pretty much all martial arts, students are expected to do partner exercises. These exercises may be in the form of drills, self defense practice, forms practice, calisthenics, academic work, etc.

As martial arts teachers, I'm sure you'get had this happen at least once (especially in kids classes) say "Grab a training partner!", and kids scramble to be with their best buddy, often running across the floor to get their favorite buddy even when there is another child standing right next to them. Or, maybe a duo ends up talking about what they fed their hamsters that day, instead of practicing the drill you gave them. These things can happen in adult classes as well.

Situations such as these are not necessarily a result of poor teaching. (when such situations happened at my school I often wondered what I was doing wrong). Instead, it might be simply that the participants do not understand the purpose of partner work.

So then, what is the purpose of partner work? Obviously, it is used to practice techniques against an "opponent". But it is more than that. As a student, when you work with a partner or small group, you have a wonderful opportunity to learn in a way different from solo training. Here are some things to consider:

1) You are responsible for your partner's learning.
Just because you might be better than your partner doesn't mean you should constantly remind them of that. Partners must share equal responsibility for each other's learning. Working with a partner doesn't mean doing your own thing while your partner happens to stand near you.

2) Challenge yourself while doing partner work.
If you are a higher rank working with a lower rank, this doesn't mean you can "lower your standards". Work at the lower ranks level, yes! But don't lower the standards of your own movement. Try your best to provide as best of an example as you can. If working on something very "simple" to you, then challenge yourself to execute as good of form and structure as you can.  If you are a lower rank working with an upper rank, try your best but don't over-think things or become over-critical of yourself. You are not "holding your partner back", he/she is learning just as much as you are. Try to bump your comfort zone up a notch when working with a higher rank, by maybe lowering your stance, trying to up your speed a tad bit, etc. etc.

3) Don't become impatient with each other.
This holds especially true with teachers who demonstrate things while using another student. When you, the teacher, demonstrate with a student, you are doing partner work! Maybe your demonstration partner might react to your strikes a bit differently than what you feel is "normal', or they might make a slight mistake that messes up your flow. You MUST be patient and remember that you too, were once in their shoes. Allow your partners to figure things out as you nudge them along with guidance if need be, and allow mistakes from your partner and most importantly, yourself.

4) Feedback and communication is important.
Many lower ranks assume that they should keep their mouths shut and blindly follow the senior student, if they happen to be working with a senior. Feedback is just as useful for those upper ranks as with lower ranks! If you're working on a joint lock and your partner isn't quite locking it in, go ahead and politely say that it doesn't feel locked in. After all, if you don't say anything, your partner will assume that they are doing it right when they are not. Learn to give positive feedback without becoming "preachy". Nothing is more annoying than partners who appear to talk about everything they know about a particular technique.

5) Regardless of seniority, remember that you and your partner are working toward the same goal.
Whether it is sparring, grappling, push hands, etc.....keep your Ego out of the partner work. Sure, you might be the same rank, but when you start thinking you're "better", there's the possibility that your actions will show it. Then what, all your partner will learn is that you think you're better, or uncontrolled, or impatient, etc.

6) Try to grab training partners of all types....don't stick with just one body type or your best buddy.
Challenge yourself! While its so much easier to work with your best buddy or someone your own height and body type, you will learn a lot by working with varied people. Grab the person standing right next to you. If you happen to be standing next to someone, and you take a look at them and walk away to be with your best buddy, you just showed a huge amount of disregard and disrespect to that person.


Remember, partner work is an activity that your teacher trusts you with. If you are not ready to work with a partner, you teacher will tell you. Don't take it personally if the teacher has you practicing basic maneuvers solo while everyone is practicing with a partner. As I said before, partner work is an activity that requires both people to be responsible for their partner's learning for that period of time. If your teacher needs you to practice your basics for a bit before allowing you to work with a partner, then know that your teacher is simply getting you ready for the other "fun stuff". 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guide for martial Arts parents: 10 things martial arts instructors want parents to know...

As martial arts instructors, we teach all sorts of age ranges. If your school teaches kids, then its important that we teach patience, value of hard work, goal setting, etc. However we must not forget to educate the parents as well.

Unless a parent already has martial arts experience, many parents get their children into martial arts not knowing what it is about....that is what this primer is for.

"10 things Martial Arts instructors want parents to know"

(I will be speaking in terms of my school....)

1. Please use the proper term for the class. I teach Kung Fu, not Karate. While I also carry a black belt ranking in Karate, this class is Kung Fu. If they are cross training in another one of put classes, please use the proper term for the other class(es) well.

2. As stated on your class agreement, please call or email of you child can't make it to class. Just as you would call your child's school when he/she is ill, do notify us as we are a school as well. We plan classes with your child's attendance in mind, and we will need to adjust our class plans accordingly.

3. We  have belt ranks to show a child's progress and to teach the progression to children. Most importantly it teaches children that goals must be worked toward, and that success must be earned, promotion is a privilege (not a right). We didn't make up this ranking has been around for a LONG time. We charge a fee for exams not to make "more money", but to basically pay for that nice belt your child is now wearing. If we have to bring in other teachers and masters to be on the exam board, it helps pay their travel. We make serious decisions about who gets to be on the promotion list, it is not some random name-out-of-a-hat. If you don't wish for your child to be promoted, then my school needs to know BEFORE the fact, not after I put the belt around their waist. However, consider that it is your child that is taking the class, so please consider their wishes as well.

4. I have taken many classes in subjects that relates to what I do and have undergone over 30 years of countless hours of training...please don't dismiss my position as something like a summer camp counselor or recreation leader.  I've studied many things in order to be a good martial Arts teacher.... psychology, accounting, business, philosophy, taken classes in teaching strategies, I take workshops and research many things, study first aid, CPR, and most of all I continue to be a student .....i don't just sit on my laurels as a "Master" The hours you don't see me, I'm practicing hard with my own teachers and putting in sweat and effort to become a better artist and teacher for your child. In many respects, I carry the equivalent of Doctorate degrees....teaching martial Arts is something not all martial artists can do....just because they can do, doesn't mean they can teach well. My goal is to be the best I can at both, to be able to do it well and teach it well.

5. I don't teach martial Arts to make a fast buck. I teach because I love the martial arts and I believe that the self discipline, confidence, and skills of martial arts will continue to be a part of a child's life long after they quit classes. While there are schools out there that charge exorbitant fees....have you noticed that my studio is not 5000 square feet, that I don't have locker rooms, showers, a lounge, and a fancy pro shop? Tuition fees, exam fees, workshop fees, etc pay the rent for our humble studio so that students have a safe place to train.

6. We are an "acceptance" school....we don't take every person off the street. This is why we have the intro trial allows the visitor to see if our classes are a fit for what they're looking for, and allows us to see if the visitor is a match for the school. If a visitor has a bad attitude, is cocky or overbearing, they might not be accepted. We've turned away people, but we've always made good references for them to other schools. Doesn't matter if someone offers a large sum of money...if their attitude is negative, demanding (telling me what to teach them, when and how), or boastful, they will he shown the door. I've turned down a $1000 check for a private lessons because the person had a very bad attitude. It's all about the atmosphere of my school and the comfort of my students.

7. On the subject of testing, please don't demand that I test your child or ask when you will test for a rank. You will be notified personally if you or your child is ready to undergo a rank exam. If ready for ranking, then you're ready, if not, you're not.....and we'll let you know. Please leave the decision to the experts. And even if you have previous martial arts experience, allow the chief instructors to make the decisions.

8. We welcome applause and encouragement from parents if watching classes. But please, please please try NOT to correct your child....leave that to the teachers. By shouting across the training area, you take your child's attention away from the trained instructors. Please don't walk onto the floor to change your child's foot placement or posture. We understand that you want your child to do well, but please understand that a child's knowledge kinesthetic sense takes some time to develop. We are happy that you're interested in martial Arts for your child....we have classes where parents can work out with their are welcome to do class with us on those days, however even then please leave the teaching to the teachers.

9. If you want your child to learn discipline, then please don't be shocked and tell Timmy to stand up if I put Timmy is a one-minute timeout in horse stance for pushing Johnny to floor in order to be the first in line. If little Johnny makes little Jane cry by not sharing an apparatus, I will have Johnny apologize out loud to Jane and give Johnny 5 to 10 pushups....please don't tell him that he doesn't have to do pushups. The words Please, Thank You, Yes Ma'am, No Ma'am, Yes Sir, etc take priority in the class terminology. We teach kids that "self discipline is doing what is right even when no one is looking." We are trying to enhance similar tenets that you may have at your own home, not take over the discipline.

10. Lastly, please don't use my martial arts class as discipline at your home. Try not to enforce a "horse stance" if they don't clean their will only undermine the real class. Do not threaten to take away martial Arts classes if they do something wrong....if they don't attend class how can they learn that their teacher supports your discipline?  Do not use me or the other teachers as a threat (If you don't clean your room I'll tell Sifu!).

Communication is they say, "it takes a village". Communicate with your child's martial Arts is a team effort. Sometimes you might find some statements or rules sort of odd, or that you might initiatially disagree with some rules. Before you form an opinion, be sure to get information and facts before making assumptions about school procedures. This is for the smooth workings of your child's class.