Learning to Teach In Order to Learn Martial Arts

In my first style of Jiu-jitsu with the Jitsu Canada organization we have a series of courses that you are required to take as your progress through the ranks in order to lay the foundations for teaching. It begins with an assistant instructor course which is required for purple.

I was covering the BCIT Jitsu Canada class on Tuesday and after the class I was talking to some of the students that were eligible to take the Assistant Instructor course that is being run this weekend. Several of them were a little apprehensive about taking the course, with one who was so nervous, she was tempted not to attend. Her argument was that she still had so much to learn, and she didn’t have the confidence in the techniques she already knew to pass them along. To put her mind at ease, I better explained the course, and the purpose of the course.

1) You’re not going to do anything you’ve never done before. In some facets of life there is a sink or swim mentality. Teaching should not be one of them. You shouldn’t rise through the ranks, hit black belt, then be expected to start teaching classes. Most of the students who attend these courses have been training for at least a year, and have already run a warm up, a cool down, taken responsibilty for laying out mats, or putting them away. They’ve already taken the first steps, it’s time to explore their role as burdenoing senior students a little more.

2) Analyze how people learn. It’s a theory heavy course. Half of it is in the classroom, learning about how people learn and interact. By understanding how people learn, you can figure out how best you learn, and begin to use that knowledge in your own training.

3) Better understanding of how the dojo functions. When people first come to the dojo, the idea is they should feel comfortable, safe, and not feel completely out of sorts. Its the role of the established students to help with their intergration with the dojo, and this course looks at how they can help with that.

4) Become a better student. Not only do you look more at the reasons for etiquette and teacher/student roles, you start learning how to break down techniques in order to teach them.

The way I think of it is that there’s a difference between knowing how to do a technique, and understanding how the technique works. The first one lets you do Jiu-jitsu, the second one lets you explain it (with the proper communication skills).

Not everyone is destined to become a teacher and open their own dojo, but learning how to teach is a big step in your martial arts development and can really help you make leaps and bounds in your technique. I believe I’ve made more progress with my Jiu-jitsu in the past 4 years since I started teaching nearly full time than I had in the previous 8 years that I spent just training. Why? Because I had to really start analyzing techniques to understand them so I can make them work for anyone, regardless of their size, etc.

So yes, learning to teach can be scary, quite scary, but the insights you get into applying technique, the interactions with fellow students, how you become better at learning techniques and ultimately the confidence boost you get from being in the position to help others far outweighs the fear of being scrutinized and being wrong. I’d like to close off by quoting Japanese proverb Lori Sensei is always fond of quoting: “Even monkeys fall out of trees.”

Comments (2)

2 thoughts on “Learning to Teach In Order to Learn Martial Arts

  1. What I remember best about doing the Assistant Instructor course is taking a turn ‘teaching’ – even the simplest technique – to the rest of the class. Sure it’s intimidating, but it was probably the first time I could really feel the ‘Art’ in Martial Art. I could pick what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to explain it, and how I interpret the movements, etc..

    It really nurtures the creative/artist part of it.

  2. I fully agree teaching is a great way to progress and being able to properly explain a technique to others is partial proof that you mastered it (the other part being able to pull it off under stress). I’m not sure whether it’s absolutely necessary to attend special courses on teaching (teaching is a practical skill that you learn by actually doing it rather than reading or hearing about it, that’s at least been my opinion) but it couldn’t hurt. I’m the assistent-teacher in our dojo and I must admit the first time I had to teach a class by myself I was rather nervous but now I’m quite comfortable doing it since I know the techniques and have seen sensei explain them countless times. The only thing I still struggle with is correcting errors: sometimes it really isn’t easy to see what someone is doing wrong exactly but I guess that’ll improve with time.

    Teaching, even it’s only sporadic and under supervision, has been a great experience to me and it really is gratifying to see people improve because of you.

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