Step back and watch – August 25, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

At a seminar it’s easy to jump in and practice what you know or what you think you just saw, but it’s a lot more important to step back and watch what is being taught.

I’m sure all those who attend seminars will be familiar with the partner who seemingly watches sensei demonstrate the technique and then proceeds to do something else. Obviously what he was taught.

Not so very bad, he doesn’t learn, your learning is a bit delayed. What is more annoying is the fellow who actually saw the technique and proceeds to show you how they do it in their dojo. If you’re not very careful you may lose what sensei just showed in the onslaught of “better” information from your fellow student.

This situation never arises from ill intent but from inattention and the earnest desire to teach. Mind you, I’m not sure why anyone would pay to attend a seminar if they weren’t interested in what was being taught. Better they should go get paid for teaching in the second case, that way they could help an entire class instead of just their partner. Let’s hope they can hold the attention of that class better than the current sensei is holding this.

A third case is the fellow who arrives with several students and spends the class telling his students how the sensei is misguided and just plain wrong. You’ve seen this too? Again it makes me wonder why anyone would spend money to ignore or in this case, actively resist the instruction offered.

I’m old enough now that I can’t jump in and bang away for three days, so I spend quite a bit of time watching sensei instead of practicing. In some cases I am asked to help out. Because of this I get some time to watch the class as well as step back and listen to what sensei is saying. I’m especially careful if I’m helping out because the understanding is that help means just that, to help teach what the instructor is offering, not to wander off on your own tangent. That last is actually harder for me than you might think. It’s easy to show the shape of a thing accurately, but if I have to show the bones of the technique, the underlying principle of what sensei is explaining, it’s often easier to slip into my own body knowledge rather than guess at someone else’s.

Paying careful attention helps, sensei often gives clues to the principles while he’s speaking. Attention, unfortunately, is not what I see with most students. This is a rank-related thing. Junior students tend to think that there’s only one right way to do perform art. As a result they watch long enough to figure out “which technique it is” and then go into their heads to rehearse until they get to their partner. It’s a natural thing, humans like to take shortcuts and they like to know stuff. Combine that and you get stuff slotted into file folders that may not actually be the best place for the note. The longer a student has been around, the less likely they are to be eager to get to the practice and the more patient they are with the explanations. They want to understand what sensei is trying to teach. They get that there is “more than one way to skin a cat” (as my gran used to say, and I’m sure I’ll get hell for that). They step back from swinging their arms around and watch.

To put it another way, beginners figure a seminar is a chance to practice. Seniors figure a seminar is a chance to learn.

From the front of a class it’s pretty easy to see the heads turn and the eyes wander while sensei “drones on” about some minor point. Those are the folks who will then do something different than what sensei just asked, in some cases something that sensei has just specifically asked them not to do. By thinking “yep I know that one” the students saved lots of time and got to the important stuff, the doing. What they have actually not done is saved any time at all. While sensei is talking they aren’t practicing so what has happened is a chunk of their lives has dribbled away in contemplating the peeling paint in the corner of the room. Better maybe to step back from the assumptions and actually watch sensei during those stupid waiting around times between kata.

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