Friday, March 28, 2014

It is really about time for martial arts teachers to start teaching.

This realization really struck me when I became an actual classroom teacher. Pedagogy has advanced in so many ways and we, as teachers, know so much more about how the mind acquires information. What's more, we know so many more creative and effective ways to impart information and we see the importance of variety in how we teach even a single concept, that it is possible now to address multiple intelligences, styles of learning, and challenges with a staggering variety of tools and strategies.

So why not in the martial arts?

A student who struggles with a particular concept in a math class might receive specific instruction for that concept, learn alternate strategies, have the methods for solving that kind of problem broken down, or be given additional reinforcement in foundational skills that will assist the student in addressing their challenge. These are opportunities for growth and learning, as students learn not just how to solve a specific kind of problem but (and much more importantly, mind you) they learn how to learn. 

This kind of learning is incredibly valuable with respect to martial arts because it encourages students to pursue the kind of creativity and acumen within their art that is so difficult to attain but so important in attaining mastery. A martial artist who truly knows their discipline as a result of struggling with its core concepts is far more versed and literate in their system than a student who was naturally gifted. Such a student is far more equipped to be a teacher who can pass on not just specific movements but the thinking that accompanied them.

And so we return to teaching. Teaching, as it exists today, acknowledges the foolishness of forcing a student to learn only one method for acquiring a skill. For example, teaching a student who struggles with aerial movements a butterfly kick in the same way you would teach a gymnast is ridiculous. Teaching a student how to do a kip-up the in the same way when half of your students are ectomorphs and the other half are mesomorphs is equally ludicrous.

We, as martial arts teachers, must become more aware of the ways in which people learn and do our best to recreate the ideal learning environment for all students, not our ideal learning environment or the ideal learning environment for just some students.

And that is, ultimately, our responsibility as teachers.

Monday, March 24, 2014

While training with a dear friend of mine over the weekend, he regaled me with a story of a young woman he knew whose teacher had informed her that her decision to go to college after attaining her 1st Dan was somehow an abandonment of her duty and responsibility.

Ignoring the appalling nature of such a claim, such actions seem more and more common from martial teachers lately. This problem is one that is systematically ignored by teachers and has created a generation of poorly adjusted and and often insecure fighters.

Martial arts teachers are ignoring the emotional well-being of their students. As instructors, guides, and counselors we have a responsibility to our pupils to ensure that this element of training is reinforced and to do so in a mindful way. We acknowledge, as a community, the value of sustainable practice, right? We want students to treat themselves and their physical bodies in a way that will allow them to train for a long period of time. Many Chinese martial arts are SPECIFICALLY longevity oriented and yet it is far easier to regain physical health than it is to regain emotional health.

The attitude that martial practitioners simply need to 'toughen up' or that we, as teachers, are only responsible for the physical well-being of our pupils is ridiculous and irresponsible. It represents an intentional decision to be ignorant of one of the most important elements of martial training: the power of the relationship between teacher and student.

So please, for fuck's sake, start paying attention to your students. Their practice will benefit from it hugely as their confidence soars.