Over the years I’ve dealt with many students who wanted to train at my dojo but already had experience in another style, with mixed results. It can be challenging to switch styles and reprogram your body to a different curriculum. And the more experience you have, the more challenging it can be. As a result, most of them either don’t sign up or don’t last long. That being said, the ones that do usually have a great attitude and bring an excellent training ethic to the mats.
If you are martial artist in this situation, here is a list of guidelines for training in a new style that will help you get the most out of your training without being disrespectful or interrupting the dojo’s class structure.
1. Keep an open mind. Try your best to perform the technique as demonstrated. The new style may have similar techniques or even the same technique with slight differences. While it may be easier to just resort to the method you’ve always used, you’re there to learn the new style, not showcase your old one. Look for the advantages that this new method may present. You may be surprised if you give it an honest chance.
2. Be respectful when questioning differences. Because of your prior experience, you may wonder why things are done differently. While it’s ok to ask technical questions specific to a technique in class to make sure you get it right, but it can be disruptive to question the differences openly during class with regards to your prior training. Even if done politely, it can take more time to explain answers to these questions, which can hold up the class’s training time. As for integrating your new learning with your old, this is something that you do yourself outside of class. If you don’t think a particular techniques fits into your martial arts schema, note that in your head, but don’t bring any special attention to the fact in class.
3. Don’t act like an instructor. If you are an instructor in your old style, you may find it difficult to just be a student on someone else’s mats. But that is what is expected of you, unless you have worked out an arrangement with your new Sensei. Don’t try to help other students as you train with them. You may think you know what you’re doing, but you probably don’t know all the nuances of the new style and there is a good chance that by “helping” you’re disrupting the learning process by imparting information in a way that conflicts with the Sensei’s teachings.
4. Be cautious and considerate when integrating your prior training. Some open-minded Senseis might be willing to let you practice your prior training, generally not during class, but perhaps during open mat time. If you’re going to do so, it’s better to restrict this to solo training or working with advanced students or instructors. Lower level students may be confused by the introduction of different concepts, or they may not be equipped to handle a particular techniques safely.
Some students with prior experience go so far as to keep their prior training under wraps, which I can respect. It doesn’t really work with me because I can usually tell, but I like that they have the attitude of wanting to be treated like any other student. As the old zen saying goes, “If you want to fill your cup, first you must empty it.”
Anyone out there in the blogosphere have any interesting stories of dealing with students with prior training, good or bad?