Thursday, October 10, 2013

Teaching Styles - Which is Best? Part II

In Part I, I talked about an experience I had with a 'sub-par' instructor.  I was reflecting on different teaching styles.  Here's a few styles I've encountered over the years.

So, first broad teaching style could be called:



-        Student interaction minimal
-        Instructor lead/driven
-        Strict rules
-        Highly regulated
-        Punitive for rules/etiquette violation
-        Variation/discussion limited
-        Reflection on learning minimal

Different stokes for different folks, of course.  The training partner who made the observation later mentioned that if that was what he experienced years ago, he would have quickly quit the martial arts.  His opinion was that he didn’t sign up for people to yell at him and for nothing to every be good enough.
On the other end of the spectrum is the:

Totally relaxed/ Laisser-faire


-        Student interaction high
-        Student driven
-        Few of no rules
-        Unstructured
-        Non-punitive
-        Lots of discussion and reflection

Some people are drawn to this type of atmosphere as well.  Very relaxed and non-threatening.  Sessions tend to have little structure, and tend to drift topics and techniques at random, driven largely by the attendees.  Kind of like a bunch of people hanging out to do martial arts.  Often there is a lot of “what do you want to do” type stuff.  The role of the teacher is much less in this type of environment.  They’re just ‘one of the boys’ (or girls).

And in the middle, you find:



-        Student interaction present to a degree
-        Instructor lead/Student influenced
-        Rules adopted by students
-        Occasionally punitive measures for rules/etiquette errors
-        Reflection and discussion instructor initiated and lead

There are varying degrees  of the Blended category, some closer to one end than the other.

Just as there are different people and learning styles, there should be different styles of teaching.  It’s a constant progress of adjustment and adaptation, just like the arts themselves.

I won’t necessarily berate any one style but the overly hard, militaristic style can tend to automatically discourage a large amount of people from continuing or signing up.  I know more than one person who tried martial arts when they were younger and quit due to this style of instruction, often leaving a negative view of the martial arts for life.

Having said that, many people respond to this type of environment.   I believe they’ll come out fit, sharp, one dimensional martial artists. Very good at one way of doing things. 

On the overly relaxed side, I’ve training with some clubs like this.  More accurately, the head instructor ran and great class, but his senior black belts lead classes a couple of times a week.  When this happened, there was a lot of standing around, kind of working on this or that and the time dragged.  Friends clumped together and worked in their own little groups.  I don’t respond to this extreme either.

For some, however, it is a completely non-threatening environment.  And some might never experience the arts without it.  If it’s a positive introduction, perhaps they will continue.  We’re all wired differently.

Somewhere in the middle is where most long term martial artists end up. 
Productive training should be student influenced, but instructor lead and driven.  The degree will be influenced by the number, age, maturity and level of the students, and by the beliefs and style of the teacher.  This is the balancing act needed to be a good teacher.

There must be some reflection on learning and students must be able to ask some questions.  That doesn’t mean constant ‘what-ifs” but consistently unanswered questions result in lack of understanding.  And if you don’t understand techniques and the ‘why’ behind them, it’s unlikely you will be able to apply and rely on them in a real situation.  How these Q and A portions are set up is also up to the teacher.  Are questions welcomed any time, part way through a lesson, at the end, etc?  This is also up to the teacher, influenced by the needs of the students.

There must also be some rules and etiquette present.  Ideally, these should be set out early and adopted by the students without much prompting from the teacher.  This way, when there are violations, they are usually minor, and the ‘violators’ often know they’re in trouble.  The punishment is enough to acknowledge the breach but aren’t doled out with any malice or ill will.  Crack a joke and laugh, do some push-ups, that sort of thing… 

A good teacher is able to give his/her students what they want and what they need.  These aren’t always the same thing, and that is where a talented teacher comes in.  As with everything, it’s about balance.

As a student, you deserve to find an environment and a teacher that you respond to.  If your primary goal is self defense, make sure you’re getting that.  If it’s camaraderie and fitness, get that.  You’ll get a bit of all of it regardless. 

Enter your training demanding some things from it and your teacher, but being aware you may not have a view of the bigger picture, and many things become clear over time.  Bottom line, do you end most classes feeling you’ve learned or improved somewhat?  Do you leave feeling happy that you went?  Do you want to go back?  If you answer yes most of the time, whatever teaching style must be working for you.

Train well, with balance… 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Teaching Styles - Which is Best? Part I

Teaching Styles – Which is Best?

I attended a 4-day training event this summer.  I had the opportunity to train under a variety of Sensei from a variety of styles.  People come from all over to train.  It’s always fantastic to have the opportunity to be exposed to such a high level of skill and differing styles, in the arts, teaching styles, methodologies and attitudes.

The teachers were as varied as the arts, in execution and in their own style of direction/instruction.

In a training environment like this, I do my best to “empty my cup” and absorb all I can.  There will be plenty of time later to dissect, weigh, criticize and examine.  With this type of mindset, you can open yourself to new or different ways of doing or looking at things.  This is always a good thing. 

I was struck by just how different the teaching styles were.  I was also struck by how some people with an extraordinary level of technical skill have absolutely no teaching ability. 

You don’t have to be the best teacher in the world, but in one session I took part in, the ‘teacher’ was being such a jackass that I ended up tuning out.  I went through the motions of the session as it would have been rude to walk away.  In fact, I ended up having so little respect for this ‘teacher’ that if the class had only been people I knew, I might have walked away, albeit with a bow.  I stayed so as not to embarrass my Sensei or my dojo, or set a poor example for the other participants, many of whom I didn’t know.

This particular person is quite skilled, so I was saddened not to be able to take anything away, other than a lesson in how not to teach, of course.

My main issues were that he was:

1. Arrogant

2. Demeaning

He reminded me of a peacock strutting around, impossibly impressed with himself (no offence to peacocks by the way).  Everything about him was condescending and demeaning.  He was also unclear.  He would say something that made very little sense, and then when people faltered, trying to figure out what was wanted, he would demean everyone.  He acted shocked that we couldn’t even figure out where to stand, what to do, etc.  And he would make sarcastic statements as well.  Then he decided that no one was allowed to talk during the training. 

This meant that we couldn’t speak to our training partners or ask questions of the teacher and yet he would still flit around criticizing and insulting the participants.

For me, it hit a point when I couldn’t care less about his experience in the arts.  A wasted session, sadly.

I noticed though, that other participants were becoming extremely frustrated with themselves.  The clearly thought that they were doing something wrong.  They were mentally beating themselves up for not ‘getting it’ under the tutelage of such a ‘master’.

It saddened me a bit, but eventually the session ended and we all moved on.
This experience got me thinking about different teaching styles.  I was reminded of a conversation I had with a training partner who commented how another session was run in a militaristic fashion.  Warm up, strikes, kicks, blocks, right in to drills were all carried out with the teachers and assistants yelling and barking orders.  Now I’ve seen this style and don’t have a problem with it per say, but I don’t find it overly conducive to learning.  The students from the style represented were fit and their movements were sharp.  Working with them on technique, however, revealed that they struggled to adapt to any variation that occurred.   If it was ‘off-script’ in any way, there was hesitation or confusion. 

Clearly, not a lot of question-asking goes on in that school.  

In Part II, I'll discuss a few more common teaching styles.  Until then, train well.