Teach to Learn – Sensei and Student, the two sides of the accomplished martial artist

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There is a path to complete understanding that most people only follow to a point and then stop. When learning a technique, people typically follow their teacher’s lead and then practice, but they remain in the position of student. Many students do not solidify their knowledge by teaching others. I found the addition of teaching others increases understanding of a technique.

There are many teaching styles that work, but the one that I found to be most effective follows this path:

1. Show the Student – An actual demonstration of a move goes a long way to helping a student understand. It shows not only the moves but the cadence and the actions between actual moves. This part of the process is the missing link in reading books about martial arts techniques. Books, although a helpful tool in martial arts studies, cannot fully describe and demonstrate the intricacies of a technique.

2. Explain the Why – It is important for a student to understand what the goal of a technique is and why the techniques are in a specific order. This step is sometimes missed. If it is missed, the student will learn the move and will be able to repeat the move in class or competition. Unfortunately, not understanding the reasons for the move will leave them at a disadvantage when they are trying to formulate a defense strategy and it robs them of a full understanding of the art you are teaching.

3. Practice with the Student – Doing the technique with the student offers them a cheat sheet (you, the teacher) to review while they execute the moves.

4. Observe the Student – This is where videos fail as teaching implements. The video can demonstrate the move and even explain it but it cannot observe and offer feedback. Martial arts techniques are very intricate in every hand/foot movement, stance and posture. These moves are not necessarily intuitive to the student. Feedback gives the details that turns a good martial artist into a great one.

This is the point where most learning situations end. Adding one more step solidifies the technique like no other teaching style I have encountered.

5. Student as Teacher – This is one step that I believe is integral in instilling a complete understanding of a technique in a student, having the student teach the technique to another person. To teach another student, the student needs to break down the move to its component parts, so they can properly show it to another student. Breaking it apart in this way is the start of true understanding of the technique. This step has to follow all of the steps above if it is going to be effective and it still requires instructor involvement. Teaching has techniques just like any martial arts move. Students need to be shown teaching techniques in the same process detailed above.

A carefully supervised teaching session is good for everyone. The class benefits because the teacher can assign a student to help another that is having trouble and remain focused on the rest of the class. It is good for the teaching student because they get a firmer understanding of the technique and build confidence. It is good for the learning student because they get one on one training.

I have found that this teaching style works in all the situations that I have experienced. I have used it in martial arts, in my corporate life and even as a “Den-Dad” when my son was in Cub Scouts.

It is important for your students to have a strong understanding of the martial art you are teaching. Whether you are a traditional or modern practitioner, it is important to teach your techniques specifically and thoroughly if you want to maintain your lineage. Personal style will always slightly change techniques. Some people are very technical; some are mechanical and precise; some have more rhythm and flow. If you want your lineage to be maintained, you need to eliminate personal license. You do this by establishing a complete understanding of each move in your students.

The specific moves, transitions between moves and stances can be lost with teaching methods that do not instill complete understanding. There are reasons for these transitions and stances. You need to know them too if you are going to teach them in a way that preserves your lineage. Accomplished martial artists are both teacher and student. Share your knowledge but always keep a white belt mentality.

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2 thoughts on “Teach to Learn – Sensei and Student, the two sides of the accomplished martial artist

    Frank Harvey said:
    July 9, 2015 at 9:00 am

    I like this. It not only open the eyes, but also the mind. Thank you.


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