Shifting Perspectives: In & Out of the Dojo – Nidan Essay by Chris Olson

Chris Olson Promoted to NidanOn Sun. Jan. 6, I tested for 2nd Degree black belt in Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu. I am happy to report that it went well and I passed. As part of my Nidan requirements, I was required to submit an essay, explaining one or more ways teaching Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu has changed my perspective. Below is my submission.

Shifting Perspectives: In and Out of the Dojo

by Chris Olson

Teaching Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu has had a substantial impact on my perception of the martial arts, my role within the community and dojo, and on my methods of teaching and helping students. It’s also changed my view on my work outside of the dojo and the tools I have to employ while at work in the security field.

When I started teaching Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, I had some experience teaching within the Shorinji Kan style, but it was limited and I never got the chance to develop my own style of teaching. I heavily emulated my instructors, and developed a basic comfort level. I wasn’t terrified of teaching, but anyone watching me could easily pick out the influences of the different Sensei who had taught me from my use of terms and mannerisms.

So when I started teaching Can-ryu, I didn’t feel particularly ready. I was comfortable with my level of proficiency in techniques, but not in how O’Connell Sensei taught them. So rather than emulating her teaching style, I defaulted to the style of teaching of my Shorinji Kan instructors because I had witnessed them longer, and during more of my formative years in the martial arts. Considering most of my teaching was to relatively new students and that the curriculum between Shorinji Kan and Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu differs heavily for the first couple of belts, this style of teaching did not mesh well. I wasn’t quite trying to force a square peg in a round whole; it was more like trying to fit a circle in a square hole. It fit, but not very well.

As I gained confidence in my techniques, and teaching them, I began to be more open to both emulating the different Can-ryu instructors I met, but also moving beyond emulation and developing my own style. This went hand in hand with how my perception of the technical aspect of Jiu-jitsu changed.

With the added confidence in my techniques, and in my presentation, I began to draw links, and see the bigger picture. Rather than focusing on individual techniques, or the micro-level of instruction, I begin to see the larger picture, the macro of body mechanics and movements. I went from seeing how one throw or takedown was similar in mechanics to another, to seeing how the movement of hips, or foot work in a punch could be connected to a throw and a lock, and then using stretching at the beginning of class to work on body movements that would assist these core principles that apply to multiple techniques.

I’ve started moving away from only fixing people’s specific techniques, but their overall Jiu-jitsu by teaching through themes and body mechanics.

Teaching under O’Connell Sensei whose body type is very different from mine, has also made it abundantly clear that body size matters, and that someone like me, tall and lanky really needs to work and think about body mechanics in order to make adjustments for people who do not match my body type. If I want to help anyone who wants to learn, I need to work to perceive their situation, and I think working under a smaller instructor has helped me see more of those differences.

Which brings me to the changes I’ve seen in my role as an instructor within the dojo and community. When I first started teaching, I thought my role was to teach techniques and get people ready for the next belt test, to get them to improve and learn Jiu-jitsu. And I still think part of my role is teaching Jiu-jitsu, but I find I see the end result as being different. Rather than just teaching self-defense and the creation of good Jiu-jitsuka, I also see myself as teaching self-confidence. Regardless for the rationale for training, people who walk out the door a little straighter than they walked in have already gained a stronger self-defense regardless of their proficiency in Jiu-jitsu. A strong attitude and manner does more to prevent an attacker from choosing you as a victim than all the physical skills we teach, especially when mixed with common sense and awareness tactics. People are far more likely to use the break falling we teach slipping on something than having to defend themselves, and I’m happy with that.

The last large change in my perception is in the perception of myself in my role as a security officer. When I originally worked in security over a decade ago, I was always a little frustrated at the fact that for the most part, people didn’t find me particularly intimidating, and I was always a little worried that I had few tools to deal with hostile situations. And that lack of confidence showed, and put me in a position where people repeatedly tried to verbally browbeat me into getting their way. This made for a stressful environment, and I always dreaded conflict. It contributed to my decision to leave security.

Having learned and taught the theory behind de-escalation tactics and the importance manner and attitude as part of Can-ryu and the self-defense courses we teach at Pacific Wave Jiu-jitsu, I have gained a calm confidence that helps me in those scenarios. While I’m always concerned about the potential for violence while on the job, I’m not worried about conflict with anyone. I go in confident and prepared with more tools, like presence, verbal de-escalation tactics and communication. I’ve learned that not being physically intimidating actually gives me more options when dealing with hostile people, as my strong confidence puts doubt in larger people’s minds, and puts me in a better position to verbally defuse a situation. My perception of myself has changed, and rather than bemoaning one aspect I lack, intimidating size, I’ve learned to appreciate all the benefits my size and manner afford me.

All of these changes in perception could potentially have developed through other experiences overtime, and none of them can be purely attributed to teaching Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu. Some have influences from the fact I came from another style, and the differences helped me see more. In other cases, I think the experience of teaching just sped up what would have occurred naturally. But all these perception changes were aided through my experiences teaching, and all of them I view as positive changes that have not only made me happier in going to the dojo, but in overall life. Every change had a positive impact of my confidence, and if there’s one observation I can draw from writing this essay, its that those increases in confidence have all had a positive impact on my happiness in my day to day life.

Comments (6)

6 thoughts on “Shifting Perspectives: In & Out of the Dojo – Nidan Essay by Chris Olson

  1. Congratulations on your Nidan promotion! I enjoyed reading through your excellent essay. I particularly enjoyed your discussion of how your teaching has evolved over the years. I have had a similar evolution myself, moving from technique to more concept and body mechanics oriented teaching. I’m sure that your teaching as well as mine will go through further evolution over the next several years.

  2. Congrats on the promotion. Too bad there’s no video of you performing, this would be interesting although from based on other videos on this site it’s clear you’re skilled enough. I largely subscribe to the essence of your essay (teaching for me has also been a positive experience and it does help in your own development) although obviously I don’t have a tiny woman as a teacher, don’t know if that would have made a difference or not (at least it’s a far more pleasing sight ;)), although I have taught girls & women of similar size and it does pose considerable challenges.

    One question though: in the photo why do you look like a schoolboy that’s just been reprimanded? 😉

    1. Zara, in regards to having a smaller woman as an instructor, I’ve been able to study her performing the same techniques that I perform, and analyze the differences between how we approach the same technique. This has give me a greater understanding of techniques and concepts, and allows me to take those differences and adapt the techniques to better fit my students whose body types don’t closely resemble my own. Which is good, because I think we have two students at the dojo who really match my body type.

      As for the photo – to say I’m exhausted would be a bit of an understatement, and I’m not really a photogenic person to begin with so I think that just the best imitation of a smile I could make at the time.

      1. I can well imagine you’d be beat. I was only kidding of course, I don’t look very good on photo’s either. Again congratulations.

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