Saturday, June 20, 2009

Do what I do, not what I say

Last class I put Jeremy, Lejoe and John through a practice grading.  In our gradings the student demonstrates a range of techniques in front of a grading panel (typically three black-belts).  In addition to techniques they may be asked to demonstrate reflexive self-defence techniques against nominated attacks and be asked questions to test their martial arts general knowledge.

I like to do this mock-grading (just in front of me) prior to a student's first grading for a range of reasons:
  1. It helps familiarize the student with the format of the grading
  2. It shows the student where they need to focus their practice in the lead-up to the actual grading
  3. It shows me what I've been neglecting to show
  4. It shows me what my class has been learning, as opposed to what I've been teaching
The last point was brought home to me in somewhat dramatic style when all three students showed the same defect in their footwork in the 1st hand throw.  When demonstrating this throw I expect tori to rotate 180 degrees and finish standing beside where uke started.  When the first student under-rotated I put it down to individual misunderstanding; when the second did the same I thought, "that's odd"; but when the third did it I smelt a rat (and I was that rat).

What was going on?  In the past I have noticed students occasionally duplicating my own defects ("do as I do") -- when I wish they wouldn't -- but here was an instance in which I demonstrate precisely, and yet another message had been received.  I think that what has happened is that in my explanation of the technique I have likened the requisite footwork to a movement from the eight movements of kuzushi exercise that we practice week-in week-out.  Unfortunately, while I had succeeded in bringing out the similarity I had neglected to emphasize the difference: that in this case a larger rotation is preferable.

  1. Students: Watch your instructor closely.  Words are a poor substitute for vision and touch.
  2. Instructors: Watch your students closely.  There can be a big difference between message sent and message received.
A final point: Damian, who would be up for his first grading if he weren't embarking on an exciting (but poorly timed) adventure to the Kimberley, acted as uke for all three and found the exercise illuminating.  Volunteering to be uke during gradings when not personally up for a grading -- and therefore not distracted by the stress of one's own grading -- can be a great learning experience.  

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Theme of the month June 2009: Chaos and Control

Although there are a bunch of advanced themes I could choose to go onto, the nature of my class --- heavy in beginners -- is such that I want to stick with themes that work from a more basic level.  If you have more experience you are of course free to journey deeper into the same theme!

With gradings coming up in early July I want to work on technical detail, reviewing the basics and chip away at improving form.  

More than being able to reproduce the appearance of a technique -- which must adapt to the practitioner, partner, and situation -- is to grasp the elements, variables and feeling.  

Some tips:
  • Learn all the components: Watch your instructor closely; feel how the bits work on you; refine, refine, refine ...
  • Go slow:  Speed hides deficiencies and can be easily recovered later.
  • Work with lots of partners: Feel how they do it; feel how it works differently; adjust, adjust, adjust.  [If you're struggling get some time with someone of similar size and shape to yourself, and then branch out.]
  • Learn the variations: Different instructors tweak things different ways.  Try them out.  Compare and contrast.  What trade-offs are they are making?
  • Internalize: Techniques must become second nature before you can pull them off spontaneously and improvise to deal with an unexpected attack.  Practice, practice, practice ...
We begin to train for chaos in two main ways: randori (sparring), and reflexive self-defence (in which an agreed attack is met with an unrehearsed response).  Without some training in control these exercises tend to be somewhat brutish and counter-productive, so we ease our way in gradually, especially by pairing beginners with more experienced partners.

  • Attempt the techniques that you're learning in class: This is where you'll learn counters and combinations
  • Go soft and slow:  As above
  • Learn from your partner: If something works well on you, ask them to show you how they did it (or figure it out yourself)
Have fun.  

There's heaps to learn in the interplay of chaos and control.  If the theory is getting too dry, you need to play more.  If you're hitting barriers in your randori formulate your issues as questions and dive back into the control aspects and start looking for answers.

And for those of you who picked up on the Get Smart reference in the title, here's a handy home hint on how to (not) deal with a suspicious package:

A scene from the 60s and 70s TV series: Get Smart

Previous posts on this theme: