Ask him, he’s the sensei – Aug 27, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Often when I’m standing around in a seminar a student will come up to me and ask a question. The easiest thing in the world is to answer it, but that’s not the way to do it.

At a seminar there’s one instructor… well OK I’ve been in classes where I was team teaching but that was a long time ago and you need to be talking mostly with someone else’s voice. We were both students of the same guy and it was really him teaching rather than the two of us. Regardless, one voice or it gets into a discussion and thats best left for a regular class or, better, beer afterward.

A student comes up and says “how was it that we did it again?” Since I was listening I can answer, but I try not to. If I’m over in the corner explaining things to students the instructor will get distracted and wonder what’s happening across the room. If I’m standing right next to the instructor and get the same question it’s just plain rude to answer for him. He’s standing right there, ask him directly.

In our main seminar of the year I get a lot of questions when I drift toward the back of the crowd. Shyness is a problem for those who don’t want to admit they don’t know something but want to know it anyway. OK I’m not being generous, students just don’t want to be centered out by asking sensei directly. In those cases I’ll often ask sensei the question myself. I don’t care if I look stupid, I am stupid, I embrace stupid, it’s the way I find room in the brain to learn. Even if I know the answer I’ll ask the question. If a student asks the question even after I’ve told them the answer prior to the seminar, it means they aren’t hearing me and will likely hear the visiting sensei better so again, I ask.

A student may not have heard the last instruction. If I can answer in a word or two I will answer of course, for the sake of saving time, but if you can’t hear, move forward. If I’m answering those simple questions, however, I’m missing the next bit of instruction myself. Don’t be surprised if I tell you to move up rather than answering. Or maybe just put my hand on your back and shove.

As an instructor in a seminar I have noticed that I stop talking when someone else in the room is answering a question. That sort of thing doesn’t bother me but if two people are talking, about half the room will be getting less than half the information. You can’t listen to two things at the same time. I’ve noticed that the explaining folks will finish, notice the silence, look at me and say “right?”. Yes, usually they’re right, sometimes I’ll start with “absolutely, but….. ” Remember that I’m thoroughly western, I don’t have an expectation that folks will listen intently to my every word just because I’m up front. Others might not be so tolerant of multiple voices in the dojo, so keep the co-instruction to the minimum and if you’re a senior it’s best to say “ask him, he’s the sensei”.

All this is in reference to my current practice, mostly sword arts taught in solo kata so it lends itself to to explanation and copying. Other arts may encourage a bit more chatter but every now and then in partner kata work I’ll hear a class erupt in chatter the moment sensei says “try”. It’s as if we have to re-talk through the instructions before we actually move the body. Again, I don’t mind so much, I expect my seniors to explain a bit to the juniors since I’m a rather lazy teacher, but I do draw the line at five minutes or so, if nobody has tried to hit their partner on the head after five minutes of chat it’s time to yell.

In general, if you wanna teach, go start your own class, don’t teach in front of sensei, it’s just rude.

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