Thursday, August 5, 2010

Circles - Learning and Teaching.

The new student starts training. 
The new student is paired with a senior student to work on technique.  
The new student struggles.  
The senior student guides, suggests and helps.
The new student apologizes for not getting it.
The senior student smiles to themselves and guides, suggests and helps.
The new student apologizes for holding the senior student back from their training.
The senior student smiles to themselves and guides, suggests and helps.
The new student feels they've wasted the senior students time.
The senior student knows that they've gotten more from this practice than the new student, so they smile to themselves and continue to guide, suggest and help.

The new student won't understand this until they are a senior student.

We often talk of circles, be it technique or concepts or life itself.  The above example, to me, is a great example of the circle that is learning and teaching.

Teaching others is one of the greatest ways to improve your own skills.  You get to re-discover the techniques, you break them down again.  Each time you do this, you have the potential to unlock more of the secrets contained in any given technique.  

There are some people who can apply techniques so effortlessly and effectively that they seem nearly magical or mystical in their execution.  You try to do it and it may work, but not nearly as well.  What makes the difference?  Essentially you are doing the same movement, using the same tools, but the result isn't the same.  

'Advanced techniques are just the basics done better'.  

Other than with teaching, rarely do we have the opportunity or take the time to go back to the start, to question and re-examine what we already know and do with little thought or effort.  Doing so may be one of the keys to truly improve and move on to the next level of skill and knowledge.   And moving on to this next level makes us better teachers.  And being a better teacher improves our skills and knowledge.  

And so the circle repeats...


  1. 'progress comes to those who train and train; reliance on secret techniques will get you nowhere' -- a wise, yoda-sized man from japan who formed aikido.

  2. There is a lot of circular style learning in karate. In our system the same 6 punching combinations and 6 kicking combinations appear on the syllabus from about orange belt up to 3rd dan. You are tested on them at every grading. Obviously you are expected to perform them to a higher and higher standard as you progress. Like you said, "Advanced techniques are just the basics done better". In fact printed on our 1st dan syllabus are the words, 'Kihon o wasureru na - remember the basics'.

  3. Excellent post!

    At a recent seminar, Kyoshi Hayes described teaching as a continuous cycle of giving and receiving. We receive information from our instructors and give it to students. I like thinking about teaching in this way...a dynamic, evolving process.

    Personally, there was a noticeable improvement in my understanding/ability as a martial artist after I began instructing.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  4. I strongly agree that sharing and teaching is part of the journey of any true martial artist. The less selfish we are in this process, the more we seem to gain.

    J.C. - I'm sure there's some zen tucked away in that last sentence I wrote. I enjoyed your quote. I agree there are no secret techniques, but I also believe there are secrets to discover within the techniques. And yes, the only path is patient and dedicated work.

    Sue - As an exercise, I once went through the process of going through white to orange belt techniques as if I was testing for belts. I must admit, it wasn't all that pretty. We can never let our basics slip.

    Michele - It seems our journeys are just that, a dynamic and evolving process, to quote you. We must always take from each stage what we can and realize there is always more we can do.

    Thanks for your comments.