Sunday, December 20, 2009

An unusual kung fu application

Things got rowdy at my son's sixth birthday party.  Young boys, balloon swords, and way too much sugar!  But it wasn't until the birthday cake came out that I resorted to kung fu:

More conventionally executed as a double-strike to the lower part of an assailant's rib-cage, this hand formation proved effective when shielding birthday candles from the wind.

Happy birthday, Jake!

Presentation Day, December 2009

Yesterday afternoon was the Australian Federation of Instructors 2009 Presentation Day.  There was a BBQ, black belt kata displays, "Santa Sensei" Kris Kringle, a raffle, awarding of grading certificates, and Kancho's class.

The trun-out from Monash Caulfield was pleasining:

Left to right: Anthony, Lizzie, Robin, Damian, 
yours truly, Lejoe, Lisa, Ashley

Holding their new certificates are:
  • Lizzie: purple I, jiu-jitsu
  • Damian: purple I & II, jiu-jitsu
  • Lejoe: purple I judo; purple II & yellow I, jiu-jitsu
  • Ashley: purple I & II judo; purple II, jiu-jitsu
Congratulations to all, and also to Steve (purple I, jiu-jitsu) in absentia.  Thanks to Anthony, Lisa, and Robin for coming along anyway, even though they didn't grade (this time).

Disappointingly, club kata presentations were bumped because of a tight schedule.  However, we should be very well practiced for next year!

There were numerous black-belt promotions across the organization.  Of particular note, Sharen Cummings, who started training a year after me, but left to work in America for eight years, received her Shodan Ho (provisional first degree black belt) in judo.

Monash mafia:

Left to Right: Sensei Tony, Sempai Sharen, me, Sempai Tim

Also, Sempai Tim Wilkin received his Shodan Ho in judo, and I received my Nidan (2nd degree black belt) in judo.

Well done to us, and to everyone else in the Federation who successfully graded this time, and to everyone for a great year!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Do black belts have to start their own class?

Karate instructor Michele asked Do black belts have to teach? on her blog and lively discussion ensued.  I suspect that those who like teaching gravitated to the affirmative camp, while those who do not tended to the negative.

All I'd add to that discussion is that in our organization -- The Australian Jiu-jitsu, Judo, and Chinese Boxing Federation of Instructors -- I don't think you can make it to black belt without an affinity for teaching.  As the name indicates, there's a lot of teaching in our system, and by developing everyone into teachers as well as martial artists there's a lot more hands-on instruction available than if teacher status is reserved for a select few.

Anyway, there's another dimension I'd like to explore.  The next step after doing some occasional class teaching -- typically stepping in occasionally for the full-time instructor -- is to start your own regular class.  In our organization this means that either you inherit and existing class or start a new club.

While this is something I recommend, you wouldn't want to rush into it.  I've just completed year 5 with my own club, and even only running one class a week (a two hour class, though!), it's a lot of work: Class planning, answering enquiries, record-keeping and collecting dues, maintaining equipment, liaising with the venue owners, submitting grading recommendations, advertising, scrutinizing candidate students.  There's a lot to do, and there's work and family life too, but once some simple systems are in place, most of that stuff becomes quite routine.  Blogging, by the way, should be strictly optional.

Oh, and there's teaching, too.  That's the fun bit!

It never rains, but it pours.  After four years of running my class on a Monday night I switched in 2009 to Wednesday and suddenly I went from a handful of students -- typically 3 to 6 per class, sometimes less -- to more typical class sizes of 8 to 12, peaking at about 14.

There's a lot less hands-on instruction by me on each and every student now.  The students who remain from earlier times sometimes say they miss that, but there's now more energy and camaraderie on our now crowded mat.  And next year should be that much better, with a core group who train week-in week-out solidifying.

Next step may be to increase the mat area!

* * *

Teaching someone else's class or running a short course is a bit like doing some baby-sitting as an uncle or aunt: hard-work, hopefully fun, but you get to give them back.  Starting your own class and/or club is more like parenthood; it's something you need to be ready for, and it's definitely not for everyone.

I highly recommend putting in a few years as an assistant to someone else first.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Superficial teaching, Real teaching, and Inspired teaching

Superficial teaching can sound good, but it's really by the numbers.  In The Anatomy of Change (page 121) Aikido teacher Richard Strozzi-Heckler writes:
Learning to ski last winter, I took a lesson from an accomplished skier and certified instructor.   He initially amazed me, as his instructions were very similar to the ones I use with my students.  He spoke of the importance of relaxation, going with the contours of the slopes, and trusting my body to feel weight, balance, and flexibility.  His images were creative and useful.  I  was inspired and immediately put to use what he was telling me.  But after a point, I got stuck.  The instructor came over, reeled off the terrific aphorisms, and I again tried to put them to use.  But there was no use.  Something was missing.

I realized that he wasn't making contact with me. He wasn't seeing me and what I needed to learn in order to move ahead. His wonderful information lacked a connecting bridge to the more essential part of me. ... Perhaps if he had tuned in, he might have brought forth the suffestion to turn my hip a little this way, or lean slightly that way, or even work with the energy of my emerging frustration.
Real teaching means more than passing on good information -- take it or leave it.  It also involves the contact that Heckler complains was missing from his skiing lesson, including observation and trouble-shooting, and establishing and maintaining a positive learning environment.

Much of the time I demonstrate with commentary, thereby passing on good information in visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (for my uke) forms, thereby catering to a variety of learning styles.  This is still superficial, but given good curriculum and personal technique, this transmission of "good information" is the foundation of effective instruction.

Next, I let the students get to work in pairs and try to leave them alone while they figure out the technique (or refine it) by themselves.  Part of good teaching is getting outta da way and giving the students space to figure stuff out for themselves.

Occasionally I'll intervene, or answer a question.  This is where the observation comes in,.  The student  starts to describe the problem.  "Show me your throw", I say.  I want to  see it in its totality, not hear what they think the problem is.  "Again", I say, so that I can get more data.  Sometimes I'll have them throw a different uke, perhaps with a different type of body.  If I can't identify the source yet I'll have them throw me, so that I can better feel what's going on.  Then I try to give one (sometimes two) succinct instructions, and apply the technique to the person so that they can feel how I do it, and/or to their partner so that they can see it.  I may also imitate what I want them to change.  With more advanced students, I might explain the cause of the problem and ask them to work out the solution.  In my book this is where much of the real teaching happens.

If I see that a problem is widespread, I'll make a particular point for the whole class.  If the problem is affecting every (or nearly every)  student in the class, it's time for me to have a good hard look at the likely source of the problem.  This usually involves a mirror, real or metaphorical.

Inspired teaching, by contrast goes above and beyond.  Sometimes it's when a new activity, or instruction clicks for a whole bunch of students at once.  On an individual basis, it can happen when the problems of the student seem intractable, the way to help uncertain, the likelihood of success low, all attempts at correction thus far have met with abject failure, and yet in a flash of insight the teacher realizes that there's something else that might just work.

Here is Brian's story about his experience tutoring Ali, a boy who was making no progress while attempting to learn mathematics, either at school and under the uber-systematic, yet non-directive Kumon method:
[T]here was one boy for whom Kumon did not seem to be working its magic. Ali was the boy's name, and he seemed to be in such serious trouble that Kumon seemed beside the point. When he did sums they were all over the place. Answers were totally wrong, and figures written the wrong way round. He could hold a pencil and write, but what he wrote was crazy. We seriously doubted if there was anything we could do, and we were ready to give up right there. He would make repeated mistakes, both of calculation and in the way he wrote numbers, and we even started to believe that he might be "dyslexic", or even brain damaged. Also, Ali seemed to be an extremely arrogant little boy. He had a way of lowering his eyelids and raising his head that made him look as if he thought the world to be populated entirely by fools.

At which point I got very, very lucky. I said, let me have a try with him. I decided to do some teaching.

I separated the task he faced into a succession of tiny steps and got him to do each step right before proceeding to the next. You start by writing your name there. No, there. What's your name? Ali. Good. Can you spell that? Good. Please write Ali there. Good. Now: what does this say? I point at a two. Two. Good. And what does that say? I point at a one. One. Good. What about that? I point at the plus in between the two and the one. No? That says plus. That means you are adding two to one. What does this say? Don't know? That says equals. That means what does two and one come to. What's it the same as? What is two plus one, two and one, two added to one? So. What's two and one? Don't know? It's three. Do you know how to write three? You do. Good. Please write three there, which is where the answer is supposed to go. Excellent.

And so on. I never made him guess more than once, and I was unfailingly polite. I always said please before asking him to do anything, and I never raised my voice. I never, that is to say, confused Ali being ignorant with Ali being stupid. I did nothing that would be unfamiliar to an averagely capable aerobics instructor working with a arthritic old-age pensioner, but for some reason this sort of thing, when needed by a child, is not always supplied, even in something as widely known as simple arithmetic.

Aside from not knowing the answers, Ali's biggest problem was writing the numbers the correct way around. He would routinely write mirror reflections of them instead. Not all the time, just rather a lot. (This was what had prompted the dyslexia diagnosis.)

When Ali did this - getting, say, the answer right but writing it mirrored - I would say well done, you got the answer right. The answer is five, and that's what you wrote. Well done. However, you wrote the five the wrong way round. Please rub out the five you did, and rewrite it the correct way round. Good.

As I say, you aren't supposed to do this in Kumon. If all the children were to get twenty minutes of solid attention, the way I was attending to Ali, the place would have stopped being the learning factory for everyboy and everygirl that it's supposed to be and would have reverted to being a few tutors helping a few rich kids. But I didn't care.

And the reason that I didn't care was that it worked. After about three sessions along these lines, Ali reached his personal plateau of arithmetical excellence (a few sums wrong but almost all of them right), just like any other Kumon kid.
So there you have it, a real-life an example of inspired, outside-the-box teaching.  You can read more in Brian's post.

We should all strive to do real teaching all the time, and aim to rise to an inspired level as often as insight allows.  It's worth it.

An amazing transformation

I can't imagine watching this and not being inspired:

The only comparison that matters

Via Patrick Parker:
The truth is that there is nothing noble in being superior to somebody else. The only real nobility is in being superior to your former self. -- Whitney Young
Aim to improve.  Draw inspiration -- not envy -- from the achievements of others.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Self-defence Kata (December 2009)

For the last couple of classes I have been working with my class to create an original kata for part of the kata display on Presentation Day, later this month.

Last year we invented an original kata, The Kata of Possibility.  It proved to be a very rewarding experience, an opportunity for the class to work together as a group to show some of what they have learned to an appreciative audience.

We've still got one more class to finalize and polish up our new kata, especially the formalities, but after last night we have the outline.

Part I: Defences against Grabs

Attack 1a: Double lapel grab (with optional knee to groin)
Some defences: Side wrist throw, 2nd hip throw, 2nd leg throw (knee variation)

Attack 1b: Single lapel grab and punch to the face
Some defences: Double-strike turning throw, 1st leg throw, elbow roll submission, 2nd hip throw (after crossing uke up)

Attack 1c: Front hair grab
Defence: Retreating wrist-lock

Part II: Defences against Chokes

Attack 2a: 4th strangle from behind
Some defences: 1st shoulder throw, 1st leg throw (when dragged backwards)

Attack 2b: Front choke with straight arms
Some defences: 3rd hip throw, 3rd leg throw (when pushed backwards), "Cap'n Kirk" escape

Attack 2c: Headlock while walking forward
Defence: Sutemi between legs, transitioning into first immobilization

Part III: Defences against Strikes
Attack 3a: Right hand jab from southpaw stance
Some defences: 1st leg throw, 1st shoulder throw

Attack 3b: Haymaker
Some defences: 2nd hip thow, 1st shoulder throw, nurse's grip gooseneck

Attack 3c: Wild rush / push to chest
Defence: Drop to hands and knees (side-on)

Typically, I started with some more ambitious ideas for this kata, but over a few "workshop" sessions we've arrived at something suitable for the present group, and largely put together from their suggestions and experiments.

For each of the first two attacks in every category each pair demonstrates a different technique, one after the other, but for the final attack in the category all pairs employ the same defence, simultaneously.

In future years, I intend to work with my class on some of the traditional judo kata.  This year Sempai Tim from Monash Clayton and I will present Katame-no-kata, the kata of groundwork, and other black-belts will also be presenting traditional kata.

Thanks to my models -- Brenton (orange) and Le Joe (purple) -- for the quick photo shoot!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Higher Goals of Judo

This southern Summer, beginning 24 January 2010,  I will be teaching a four-session course, The higher goals of Judo, open to all members of our Federation.  This subject matter will not seem surprising to regular readers of this blog:

The Higher Goals of Judo: Course Aims
  1. Definition and history: To introduce participants to the higher goals of Judo practice, beyond self-defence and competitive skills, and to their historical basis
  2. Dojo / real life connection: To inspire participants to seek to apply what they learn in the dojo in the rest of their lives, and, conversely, to use the opportunities afforded by martial arts training to deliberately further their personal and social development
  3. Practice: To provide a venue in which participants can identify and explore areas ripe for their own personal and social development, in a practical fashion
But wait, there's much more!
Several other Federation instructors will also be presenting four week courses on a variety of aspects of the martial arts.  Other short courses include:
  • Sensei Stephen Cochrane: Combinations & Counters in Judo (starts December 8)
  • Sensei Peter Howell: Weapons of Mass Destruction (starts December 11)
  • Sempai Owen Dransfield: Dedicated Experience in the Art of Judo (starts January 9)
  • Sensei Colin Bachelard: Jiu-jitsu Application of Technique to Survive (starts January 12)
  • Shihan Chris Bailey: The Strategy of Weapons and the Empty Hand (starts February 7)
All recommended: these courses are a great opportunity to examine and train in some in-depth material with a variety of instructors and training partners.

I always look forward to summer training as a chance to learn something different; so I get a break from regular training, without having a break from training!