Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Being a high ranked student

Since I've started Karate I've been asked to aide others to learn their rank requirements.

It's been the normal thing to enter the dojo, and instead of training for myself, I would be asked to go to the side during class to help others. I realize that this is almost a common part of Martial Arts training.

Yet, I am starting to wonder about the reason why this is happening, and the pro/cons of having higher belts "teaching" lower belts.

More than once I've seen bad habits, wrong attitudes, errors, lack of proper knowledge, and mis-information taught to the lower belt. I believe that this isn't done on purpose, it's just the fact that someone who is still learning a skill would have a more difficult time transferring knowledge than one who had attained some mastery over the skill. I think that I can safely say that, even with people who have mastered a skill, not all of them are good teachers. Just because you can get a goal in hockey doesn't mean that you can help someone else learn how to do so.

Karate classes are rather short in time. You get only 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours to work with and some of that is spent in warm up.

I understand that there is a sense of responsibility that a high belt needs to exhibit and that helping lower belts learn could fulfill this, but I've seen that taken to the extreme where the position of high rank created a negative effect in the higher belt's behavior and they treated lower belts as inferior beings. The lower belt ends up getting confused, insulted, and discouraged. The higher belt doesn't gain anything positive from the experience because of the manner in which they taught.

Yes.. I've heard the concept that you learn more about your information when you are asked to teach it, but in my opinion, you have to have a solid foundation to be able to learn more. I believe that if the teacher does not have a good grasp of what they are doing in the first place, there is no way that they can "learn" more, and improve, by teaching.

I think that there are others ways of showing a growth in responsibility in the dojo for higher belts, and I'm wondering if teaching/correcting others should remain in the domain of the Instructor... and or a few selected students who have shown through their training, and example that they are capable of guiding others properly, and without teaching confusion.


SueC said...

I share some of your reservations about students teaching lower ranking students, after all, people are paying to be taught by an expert not someone just a few belts ahead of them. No coloured belt students in our club are expected to do any teaching. Once you reach brown belt you can, if you wish, train to become a level 1 assistant instructor. To do this you have to commit to working under the supervision of the instructor in one of the junior classes (so not your own class)on a weekly basis. You start off assisting in small ways - partnering someone, teaching a few basic blocks to new white belts, taking a red belt through a kata etc. This then progresses to organising a small group to do pad work, or assisting sensei with some ippon kumite for example. Eventually you take on more and more including warming up the class, organising some sparring etc. Once you have a full understanding of the syllabus up to 4th kyu and you have completed a first aid course and been CRB checked (criminal records bureau) you can take a 1/2 hour practical teaching test. Only then can you assist properly with instruction and still under the supervision of sensei.

I am the only student in our club, currently, who has been willing to train as an assistant instructor (we have a couple of more senior black belts who help as level 2 assistant instructors occasionally). Since I help in a junior class it does not impinge on my own training. I agree with your last point that teaching/correcting students should remain the domain of the instructor with only some assistance from 'trained assistants'. Students deserve this.

Felicia said...

I totally agree with you, Mireille - not everyone who CAN is able to teach others. I've known some amazing practitioners who couldn't teach their way out of a paper bag because they explain (talk) too much, gloss over things like bunkai or treat complicated stances or techniques as simple - all of which frustrate the person being taught to no end. Of course a higher rank means that you've spent more time training and studying, but it doesn't say a whole lot about how you learn to teach.

A little over a year ago, I left the school I started in for another because of how I was being taught/what I wasn't being taught. The sensei I have now is an amazing instructor. I asked him once about how he got to be such a great teacher and he said he had amazing instructors who taught him how to teach! He, in turn, teaches us how to teach, which is a very good thing.

Teaching is not innate at all. Perhaps you can "learn by doing" but learning it from someone who know what they're doing might even be better.

Colin Wee said...

My wife has shared with me learning philosophy from medical school - 'See one, do one, teach one'. Which is a good way to solidify certain concepts. However, you are correct to say that the primary teaching should be done by an expert rather than be burdened on a student practitioner - irrespective of whether that student practitioner is a 1st or 2nd dan student. Personally, the benefits to you continuing to teach will diminish because you need to also work on your own progress. However, the assumption is that you will spend more time outside class working on your own stuff and need only to be 'tweaked' every now and then. Progress at black and beyond happens much more slowly than one would like. I have experienced that for absolute YEARS.

supergroup7 said...

Thanks for your comments, SueC, Felicia, and Colin.

I like the system that is in place for your club SucC. Those students who are willing to spend more time to learn how to teach are given that option, and even then it is in a supervised manner. Nice

That's true Felicia teaching isn't something that everyone is born with.. they may have personal qualities that make learning how to teach to feel more natural though.

I was thinking about the lower Kyu ranks, Colin, when I wrote this article. Yes, I did notice that my own time to train was "halved" in a way because I was dedicating so much time helping others learn. However, like SueC, I was mostly helping in the beginner, and junior classes so my training wasn't disturbed too much.

Karate Depot said...

It's an interesting point. I've seen some individuals who seem ready to teach at brown belt simply out of a desire to help others and a great sense of patience. Granted that assistance alone wouldn't do, but it is mutually beneficial for both parties now and then.

On the other hand, I've seen black belts (and higher ranking black belts) who have no business at all teaching and are, in fact, quite detrimental when allowed to take the reigns.

It can be difficult on a dojo or federation head to keep track of who should teach and when.

supergroup7 said...

Yes KarateDepot as with any service oriented activity there is problems with how "good" the person is at doing the work. Everyone wants to have a good waiter, doctor, bus driver, etc. but we know that not everyone is competent at their job. I think that the difference is that a bus driver will eventually be removed from that position due to bad service, and go onto seeking for a better "fit" for them but a sempai student will always be asked to help the lower belts due to the expectations of Martial Arts.

karate techniques said...

Great post! I know it's difficult, but it should be down to the main sensei to control the standard of teaching within the karate dojo.

I also believe it can be great training for the karateka teaching the lower grades.

When teaching lower grades, it really does help you analyze your own karate techniques. So the right person teaching will benefit themselves, as well as the lower grades.

But if the wrong person is teaching, then .............


supergroup7 said...

Thanks for your comment Linden.

Unless there might be another reason for expecting someone to teach such as to humble them due to their lack of knowledge, and ability. It is very embarrassing to stand in front of someone and stumble through in one's efforts to teach them, and then to find out that you taught them improperly. There "might" be some motivation here to improve one's own knowledge so that this doesn't happen again.. or might not.