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.  


Sue C said...

I think the instructor-student relationship is definitely a 2 way process. I watch my instructor intently when he demonstrates something and then I think I'm copying it correctly only to find I'm not. If he didn't then correct me I'd continue doing it wrong. Likewise, I've learned to ask if I don't get something. Both teaching and learning are very active processes. Both instructor and student have to take responsibility for their part.

Michele said...

We pre-test all students for similar reasons. When errors have patterns...we know to look at ourselves first.