Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Giving advice

The more that I train in Martial arts the more I question the idea that the higher belt is expected to give unsolicited advice, and correction to the lower belts.

This is a difficult position to place both the higher, and lower belt student. For example, the lower belt student could be struggling with the concepts that were placed before them by their Instructor such as keeping their arms in control during a kick. Then the higher belt comes along and brings attention to other aspects that may need correction. This shifts attention to a different aspect than the one that the Instructor had wanted to see improvement. Instead of benefiting the student, and enhancing understanding on the concept that he/she was working upon, now the student is dividing their energy to try to meet all of the expectations.

It would have been better if the higher belt just allowed the lower belt to work on themselves at the speed, and direction of the Sensei. Usually it will happen that when the mind focuses attention on the arms, then the other parts of the body may look a little awkward for awhile until everything smooths out. To have a higher belt reminding, and reprimanding about those other aspects makes it difficult to focus energy where it is supposed to be focused.

The higher belt also is putting forth energy in the wrong direction. They become more centered on the performance of others than on their own training. Instead of learning the main lesson of the day, they are worried about other things that are happening around them.

Yes, it is good to offer help, especially when the other student is struggling, and becoming frustrated with their efforts. Sometimes, all that it takes, is a little pointer in the right direction, and then the other person has an "aha!" moment. Also, it is good to point out some things that the lower student is doing that could cause injury to themselves. But I have found that it is best to remind myself that I am not the Sensei of this class, and it isn't up to me to teach my fellow students, in fact, it is my centered goal to work on my own skills.

When I was teaching as a Sensei I had a goal for each class. Let's say that I would want to work on the student's speed, and therefore I would overlook any technical mistakes that may happen as the student worked on improving reflexes. I would find it a little frustrating when a higher belt would correct a lower belt at that moment because everything would slow down. I'd have to state out loud "Please remember....do not worry about technique, or the placement of your feet, but work on your reaction speed." Also, I found that the noise, and actions of the higher belt/ lower belt was distracting to the flow of the class. There were times where, as a Sensei, I would be explaining something to the class, and I'd have to stop, and wait for the higher belt to finish correcting the other student before I could continue what I was saying. I appreciated the higher belt's concern for his/her fellow student, and of course, the higher belt would notice that he/she was being distracting, and stop what they were doing. However, the effect happened, the flow of the class was affected, and we had to regroup to continue.

As a student, when I would warm up with kata before class, I would find it distracting, and bothersome to have higher belts come up to me to correct my kata. All I wanted was to "do" the kata, enjoy the effort, and warm up my muscles before class. I was not focused on improving the kata, or perfecting it. I wanted to "sing" the kata. There are times when one just sings a song regardless to how good they can sing, and then there are times when one works on improving the singing. During these moments, I truly wanted to tell the higher belt to "keep their advice to themselves." It ended up that I just refused to do kata in front of any higher belts unless I felt inclined to being corrected. Sure, I appreciated that the higher belts wanted to help me. It was nice to see them investing their time, and energy towards helping me improve, but during those "singing" moments, I didn't want to stop, and dissect.

Therefore, I've become less generous on advice now when I train with lower belts. I assess the moment, the goal of the Instructor, the atmosphere, and the look on the face of the person across from me. I ask myself "Does this person look like they would appreciate some help at this moment, or are they intending to figure this out on their own?" If I have any doubt, I will ask the person "Would you like me to give you some help here?" To my joy, I have had more than one white belt say truthfully, and even with a touch of gratitude, to me, "No.. no.. I would like to slow this down, and figure it out by myself right now." It was wonderful to see their honesty, and to be able to respect it. Later on, when that person was ready, they would approach me and say something like "O.K.. I got that part of it, but how do you do this?"

I believe that many higher belts have a "sempai" syndrome where they feel like that have to be a teacher. I do not believe that we have this role in the dojo. The Sensei is the teacher, not us. I would like to believe that we are more like facilitators. We give the lower belt students a good example of what to do, and how to do it. We offer ourselves as supports through encouragement, and even suggestions when needed. We train hard so that we can improve our knowledge, skills, and abilities. However, we need to remind ourselves that each student is paying the Sensei to teach them because they want to learn from him/her. We are the side dishes, not the main course.


Colin Wee said...

It is true - the best scenario is that the beginning student should have one effective coach. All others that have a hand with this student should take the lead off that one coach. This means that training can be kept constant. Too much and the student gets overloaded.

I remember one related instance where a brown belt was tasked toward teaching me a form. I had been a black belt in another style for maybe 5 years. He began the form and into the first two or three steps started telling me all these little things for everything he did. It started to overfill my brain!!! Thank goodness my instructor comes along and says to just show me the form, I'd be able to learn without explanation.

From that point forward I think it took me maybe just another 10 minutes to nail the form. But if it came with any more brown belt 'explanation' I'd sooner kill myself.

Nothing against brown belts, of course.

[Mat] said...

Side dishes, exactly!

I had problems accepting that.
Things have changed, that attitude is gone.

My new interpretation of this:
Help if you are required to do so. Unless you are --> General advice: shut up, put that ego where it belongs.


I believe that working on our skills should be the center of our training, like you mention. And that helping others is part of the way. But, everything has it's place :D

Be well!

supergroup7 said...

It took awhile for me to understand the concept, Colin, that the Sensei is the main "coach", and director of learning. I realized that when a student goes forth to represent the dojo, it is the Sensei's reputation that is on the line. From what I've noticed in a tournament setting, if a competitor goes up and does a poor performance, usually the comments I hear are "Who is that guy's Sensei?" not "Who is that guy's sempai?"

Ha ha ha I remember you mentioning the whole Brown belt "teaching the pattern" experience before, and I totally can sympathize with what you had experienced.

supergroup7 said...

I agree Mat, that everything has it's place.There has to be balance. It wouldn't be very proper for someone with experience to ignore the needs of a lower belt because it isn't worth their time to bother to help. However, forcing one's own opinions, goals, and information on another because "I'm the senior student" is also incorrect.

MARKS said...

Well put! There are have been lots of times during my training when higher belts have tried to get me to do certain techniques certain ways, and the reality is that not everyone can perform the same techniques as good as someone else. Its hard to not be rude at times like this but sometimes it helps just saying"thanks for the advice but im happy doing it my way"

Good post

Marks markschat.blogspot.com

Colin Wee said...

A related post http://lirianfae.typepad.com/karate_talk/2007/09/do-you-fuchi-mo.html?cid=85189782


supergroup7 said...

That's a good point, Marks, that not everyone can perform the same techniques as good as someone else. (Welcome to my weblog) No matter how many times a higher belt could correct my kick and insist that it needs to be head high, there is no hope that my left leg will make the height. I usually have to lower the kick, but strive for the best technique possible. We each have our "issues", and we have to create our own karate based on our strengths and weaknesses.

By the way, I love how you have arranged your weblog. It's well organized, and chock full of great topics. I do not have time to visit right now, but in the future, expect me to come, and read your blog.

supergroup7 said...

Colin, Liraenfae's posting seems to be more inclined towards "distracting talk during class training." I've faced this problem more than once as I've trained. For some reason, instead of physically doing the exercise, some people would like to discuss it, or sometimes they discuss off topics like the weather. I believe that we have limited time to train, usually an hour or so, and that there is no time to discuss much, the focus needs to be on learning the skill, or improving the skill.

[Mat] said...

Hey, you're it!

Becky said...

Good post. I know that even now, when I am learning a new kata and I have to stop and think about a move, it bugs me when someone else jumps in to show me. I want to try to remember it on my own.

As the highest ranking consistent student, I often give advice to lower ranks, but I don't just go up and start saying, "You should do this or that...", and I will never interrupt them in the middle of a kata.

What I usually do is watch them, and when they are done, go up to them and say, "I noticed a few things about your kata. Would you like me to go over them with you?"

I'm also aware, as Colin said, that too much information at once is overwhelming, so when going over kata with someone, I try to just focus on one aspect--stances, for instance--at a time. Once the student has that down, we move on to some other aspect.

You make good points here, and I will definitely keep them in mind.

Colin Wee said...

A lot has been said of the instructor's role.

How about the role of the student? Where possible should the student just be a vessel in which only the instructor can fill? The best students spend time in the dojo looking, learning, and understanding.

Outside the dojo, he goes over the material, practices what he has learned, and plans to get feedback on stuff he is not so certain of. He writes all of this down in order to reference it in the future.

He then spends some time on the internet looking for resources in which to 'fill in the gaps'.

The next time he's at the dojo, he's looking out for the major stuff to see if he's got it right, and focusing on those parts he doesn't as yet understand.

How many students do this? You'll be lucky if the student spends 5 minutes thinking and internalising stuff they've learned in the dojo outside of their training session.

To this then there is a benefit of having the junior 'sempai' being more of a slave driver - drilling the student into repeating stuff over and over again in order that some sticks.

But at no time should the head coach be hands off.


supergroup7 said...

Becky, you touched on an important point here when you said "I want to try to remember it on my own." That's so true.. in fact, I bet you that the energy, and struggle of trying to remember will help cement, and strengthen the learning process. If someone keeps providing the information automatically, you will not dissect, and manipulate it enough to understand it more deeply. Sometimes the struggle to learn is necessary to achieving the skill. How would we have ever learned to walk if someone always helped us with our balance?

I Like how you described the moment of watching someone working on their kata, and offering advice. That's great.. It gives a balance of being available for further instruction, but also respecting that other person's right to work it out.

supergroup7 said...

That's so TRUE, Colin. Where does the responsibility truly lie when it comes to personal progress? Our coach/Instructor can only point out the various aspects, and information, but it is up to the individual to put forth physical, and mental energy towards their goal. I believe that this can translate to any endeavor. It really lies up to the student to actively work towards achieving success.