Recently I had the opportunity to take the beginners training at our dojo again (I'd stopped recently due to baby-related activities), and this time I was taking the class by myself. I was hugely inspired by your recent posts on training methodology (Ode to a warhammer, the girl who learned taijutsu in 10 mins, etc.) and I think that the classes went very well as a result. Many students came up to me afterwards to thank me for really enjoyable and educational training.
It was especially nice to hear from one woman who had literally just started that she found the way I taught to be much more "fundamental" or "basic" than the other instructors and so she could get a grip much more easily on the training. Having trained with Steve in London and attending your seminars plus discussions, blogs, etc. I think that you guys have a really great way of training, especially for beginners who have no context to begin with.
One thing I noticed is that it's very easy (at least for me) to slip into teaching techniques as it is much, much easier than teaching principles. Coming up with a good drill to illustrate distance/balance/timing is a lot harder than "hey, here is my version of Ichimonji which I picked up from a DVD". Also, teaching techniques conditions the students to "win" when they are tori. A really valuable thing that I picked up from training with Steve was "get hit!". I find myself constantly reminding the students that getting hit or making mistakes is perfectly fine and that this is how you learn. As my instructor says: "it's always frustrating to do something that you can't do!". I think (I hope!) that the students are responding to this and finding the training ultimately more rewarding as a result.
So, this is a long-winded way of saying "Thanks!" for all the inspiration! If you have any fun drills that you've been doing recently, I'd love to hear about them.
|il Colosseo, 80 AD|
The idea is to coach the student to navigate through their movement with a partner with only as much information as is absolutely necessary, which, it turns out, is hardly any at all. In fact, in this case, less is not just more, it is way more - I've gotten people moving with just a sentence or two and (here's the weird part) without showing them any kind of physical example, forcing them to do it on their own and make sense of it.
|The Pantheon, 126 AD|
|Oculus of the Pantheon|
The key is to use two principles to illuminate a third. For instance, if talking about leverage - balance - then show it through re-positioning and initiative. If describing re-positioning, show it through leverage and initiative and so on - two will always get you the third. Think of Pythagoras and his theorem.
First, set the tone - this is important. Tell students this is easy. Tell them martial arts are natural and they can already do this, you're simply going to coach them through it. Psychologically, this eases their mind.
So, here we go: Take their hands. Then move and take their balance. Show them that re-positioning breaks their balance and gives you leverage. Let them do it to you. Get their feet moving and allow them to connect re-positioning with breaking the balance. Once they've gained leverage, show them this is the time to keep moving, but in a new direction that places their partner into an even worse state of balance and they fall over.
|Piazza del Popolo|
Now, increase the distance between partners - make them reach for each other. Same drill, same outcome, same feeling - re-position, break the balance, gain leverage, change direction, re-position and so on.
Now, sit everyone on the floor. Start over by them holding hands. Same drill - take partners out of balance and to their back or stomach, but they have to stay on the floor, no standing up. You'll be surprised to find how creative some people's movement will become here and with little direction. Just keep telling them to put partners on their back or stomach. Now, increase the distance - make them reach for each other. Same drill. To switch it up, you can have one of them stand up mid-movement to gain leverage on the other.
|Trevi Fountain, Bernini design, 1762, Rome|
Suffice it to say, the student needs to comprehend just three things to begin successful application:
1. Maneuvering begets opportunity
2. Opportunity begets advantage
3. Advantage begets maneuvering
You can think of it as (initiative begets) re-positioning begets leverage begets initiative begets ... and so on. Or think of it like this - where students need to be moving, what or how they need to be moving there, and when to keep moving.
|Throne of St. Peter, Bernini, 1666, St.|
Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
Once we have secured some advantage, however small, we can exploit it by again changing direction and re-positioning. In effect, we can increase our advantage and decrease the opponent's opportunity to gain advantage over us. Like I tell my folks, the more we get the opponent thinking about themselves (by gaining leverage on them), the less time they have to think about us, and that's a good thing.
Now, it may seem like the key to all this is just to keep moving, or breaking balance, or something, but it's more complex than that. It's really initiative, the most obscure of the three, that provides the gravity here, the connectivity, the 'God particle,' if you will, to the scale that balances position and leverage. Students are out to create and control moments, 'lucky' moments, which are by definition, 'in the right place at the right time.'
|Michelangelo's Pieta, 1499, St. Peter's Basilica,|
Vatican City. He was just 24.
Now, were you to explain all this to a new student, they would jump off a bridge. So, don't. The trick is to allow it to occur on its own, casually - remember, this is something they can already do, they just don't realize it. Our job is to allow them to realize and recognize it. Context is the key - clear away only what they do not need, only what impedes them (generally too much information - like this write up!) and folks can do this on their own.
See, when you dissect it, it really doesn't sound very cool, does it? But, I'm telling you, when it hits, and that person "gets it" - look out, you're in for some awesome. This is powerful medicine because at the end you tell them it is now theirs - they own it - it is their responsibility, it will not improve without continued training, and they should use it only to defend themselves or protect others, thus 'activating' them. The smile alone is worth it.
|Michelangelo's The Last Judgement, 1541, the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City|
The kid's having fun, so I look at my watch - 10:30pm - and I say to him, can you show me on your freaky little clock thingy, what time this is? And I show him my watch. He looks at my watch, looks at the clock, back at the watch, the clock, watch, clock ... And I'm thinking, just move the clock hands, kiddo. And then Dad strolls over, "He's three. He doesn't know time. We're lucky if he shits in the bathroom."
See? What a lesson in context! Forget teaching students to tell time, understand the nature of time, contemplate time - maybe we should first make sure they can shit in the bathroom.
Let me know how it goes. I'd appreciate any insights.