Can I attend the Senior Class please? – July 1, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Whenever a senior class is announced there is a flurry of requests from those below the cutoff criteria to be allowed to attend. It doesn’t matter whether that cutoff is rank, “dojo leader” or whatever, the rest of the folks want to know what’s going on. I suppose it’s human nature, we’re curious monkeys.

What is going on is that the seniors are getting some instruction. That’s it. Nothing secret, nothing that everyone else won’t hear about eventually. So why the big deal? Why not let everyone attend or watch if they want to?

Let’s deal with “attend”. First, seniors (and I’m talking 20 year folks here) don’t benefit much from general instructions like “square up your back foot” or “move from your hips”. They’ve heard it, I’m sure you’ve heard them say it, yet that’s the level of instruction that must happen when beginners and middle ranks are in the room. It has to happen as well when there are too many seniors in the same room. Time is limited and instructors rare so individual attention isn’t going to work in a crowd. Yet that’s what seniors need most.

So ask yourself next time you want to attend a senior class. Do you want to take away your teacher’s chance of doing some work on his own practice? Don’t you think you get enough time in a year without asking for this small bit as well? I’d buy it maybe if you were at every single practice, or at least as many as your sensei has made, which is quite often every single practice.

What’s that you say? You can benefit from senior level instruction because you are so talented? Perhaps you are. Perhaps you could, but what secrets do you think are being handed over? Seniors are working on the same things you are, they just don’t get to be students when you’re around because then their title is either teacher or “one of the faceless horde”.

So what about being able to watch, or what about taping the class? You won’t get in the way, you promise, you’ll be a fly on the wall, real quiet. You will be in the way, you know. Being in the room or being shown a tape later will prevent your sensei from getting hell from the head instructor.

Sure, I know your sensei has no ego, that he says he’s just a student like everyone else, and I believe it. Problem is, if I’m teaching that senior class I am not going to tear your sensei a new one to force him to see that he’s got a lazy back foot and isn’t using his hips. I AM NOT GOING TO DO IT. Not in front of you. If you don’t understand why, you really do not need to be in that class.

Let me ask a question. Do you think that the secret to improving is more practice? You don’t need a senior class. Do you think that it’s important to get the newest standards for your kata? You don’t need a senior class. Do you think that personal instruction from your teacher’s teacher will benefit your practice? You don’t need a senior class. Do you think you’ll be told how to pass your next test? … All that happens for you in regular class, even the teacher’s teacher thing. Where do you figure he learned it?

When you have put in the thousands of hours of practice and have attended enough seminars to understand that there is no standard, even for the standard kata, when you spend all your available practice time teaching and supervising those below you, then you need that senior class. Until then you should spend your time telling your sensei to go to senior classes and maybe even arranging one for him, rather than asking to tag along.

So what about that other junior you heard was at a class? How come not you too? Life isn’t fair is it? Sometimes juniors get shoehorned into senior classes for reasons of need, benefit, or just plain priviledge. They may be there because the instructors need them for something, they may be there because they don’t get much chance at practice and need it all when it’s available, or their sensei may have enough pull to say they want their junior in the class. Regardless of the reason, be comforted that the class won’t do them any more good than it would have done you. That is to say, no more good than if they’d been in a room alone practicing for that same period, reviewing their sensei’s instructions in their head. They aren’t being taught any secrets, in fact it’s a pretty good bet they aren’t being taught at all.

On the other hand, they may just be seeing their sensei get proper hell for making a mistake they also make. Probably are. Does this sound like a place you want to be? Senior classes can be difficult, for a junior in attendance it can be like watching your parents argue. More likely though, that senior who shoehorned their student into the class may not be getting taught at all.

Kim Taylor
July 1, 2015

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