Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Articulation III

Teaching.

It is not the student's responsibility to understand you.  It is your responsibility to make yourself understood. It is rare in martial arts or self-defense that junior instructors are given any training in how to teach.  You earn your black belt (sometimes not even that) and you step into a teaching role.

(Part of this is an artifact of the dan/kyu ranking system.  As I understand it, Kano had instructors wear black belts and students, white.  Later instructor-candidates wore the brown.  That's an aside, maybe.)

So we have people often simply teaching the way they were taught, or teaching things that they may know but they do not understand.

Teaching the way they were taught.  In many of the so-called traditional arts, the first people to bring the art to the west had been members of an occupying army, being taught by former enemies, often through poor translators, and taught to large groups.  None of this was the same way that the same instructors taught their friends or families.  But because it was the only way they had seen it taught, it became the way to teach.

Knowing but not understanding.  This is huge.  There are many things that I was technically proficient at that I did not understand until the rubber met the road. The jujutsu etiquette of the two-man kata seemed like an anachronism until I realized that the way you hand a wakizashi to uke were mirrors of the "action open, safety on" protocol of handing a firearm over.  Etiquette between dangerous, armed people is almost universal.

Without understanding, you can pass on a certain technical proficiency which might fail or be incomplete in the real world.

Whatever you teach must make sense and it must be true.  Stories about ancient monks and platitudes and statements of certainty will resonate with many students.  They will attract a certain following and they will appeal to the koolaid drinkers, the ones looking to feel safe, not to be safer.  People love stories.  Many students will willfully suspend their critical faculties because you wear a black belt.  That is no excuse.  In martial arts and especially if you claim to teach self-defense, the price of error is blood.  The luxury of an instructor is that it will not be your blood.  That makes bullshit more reprehensible, not less.  It adds an element of cowardice to it.

This third and last installment of the Articulation series might seem incomplete.  Fewer examples, less advice on right and wrong.  Know this: Teaching, like any form of communication is a skill.  If you have taken up the responsibility to teach, you have also taken the responsibility to teach well.  If that means breaking out of the box of tradition, so be it.  If that means going deeper, so be it.

9 comments:

Josh K. said...

Rory,

"Knowing but not understanding.  This is huge.  There are many things that I was technically proficient at that I did not understand until the rubber met the road. The jujutsu etiquette of the two-man kata seemed like an anachronism until I realized that the way you hand a wakizashi to uke were mirrors of the "action open, safety on" protocol of handing a firearm over.  Etiquette between dangerous, armed people is almost universal."

This leads me to think there is a forth area of Articulation. Before we can be able to consciously Articulate things to others we must first be able to consciously articulate it to ourselves.

The focus of the first 3 hase been outwared comunication, the 4th is how we explain things to ourselves. If you are lying to or don't understand yourself, that is what is going to be communicated out.

Leading back to blind spots & honarable enemies.

Josh K. said...

To be clear students do have a responsibility to themselves to make sure they understand everything as fully as possible.

pax said...

From my place at the front of the room I have complete responsibility to speak clearly and with fearless honesty. I accept full responsibility for communicating with my students and for seeing to it that the message does get through.

But that 100% responsibility on my shoulders does not lighten the student's responsibility at all.

The student has a responsibility to actively participate in the learning process, which can include making the instructor explain unclear ideas, or challenging questionable concepts, or asking how to integrate apparent contradictions. No matter how dedicated the instructor, in the long run, self-education is the only kind of education there is...

Ron said...

"Teaching the way we were taught" is HUGE in my book. This assumes that "we" had a good teacher to "imitate" to begin with. The MAN who taught me was as true & complete as they come.I intend to pay my respects to him this coming Monday as I visit his grave,,, never forget.

PS: Your book "Scaling Force" is awesome,,, I keep reading and reading again. Keep up the great work.

Charlie James said...

I regret that I was subject to this as were many. I also feel gratitude that in the last ten years so many have provided enlightenment in this arena whereby many have sought out teaching credentials (of a sort ... maybe knowledge would be better).

I am grateful that as an instructor in the Marines I was exposed to many teaching models, although military oriented, that gave me a chance to see that I was wrong in so many ways.

I am also grateful that I was able to see the flaws in what I did for so many years.

This is a post that is long overdue and you put it clearly and succinctly and for that I say "Thanks Rory."

Anonymous said...

I often teach things that I'm technically proficient with, but do not understand. I explain this honestly to my students. I also tell them there *could* be value in learning the technicalities because they might understand it before I do. The investment is their choice (as it is everyday).

nry said...

I've been teaching within Motoha Yoshin Ryu on a semi-formal level for around 6 months now. It amazes me what those who you are teaching pick up on and copy, I've become very careful about anything I do physically, as some people copy and take on almost everything - even movements which are not part of anything you are teaching!

Scott said...

I totally agree with the morality of this post!

As to the tradition of teaching being passed down by conquering armies, I'm going to need a few more footnotes! Japan is a vertical up-down hierarchy, that is virtually incomprehensible to anyone who was not raised in Japan, still we see it, we can imitate it and we can imagine. Also it is important to understand the the public teaching of martial arts was part of the Japanese fascist (we now call it Imperialist, whatever) movement. A short but very influential period of history.

Also, quit picking on Koolaid --I like that stuff!

Scott said...

Hey, I just figured out what you meant by "former" enemies. It was probably obvious to everyone else. Multi-tasking, I should probably put down the chainsaw when I'm reading blogs...