Teaching, always teaching. – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

I see there’s a teaching seminar coming up at a dojo down in the big smoke. They have a lot of those and I suppose it’s a good idea if you’ve got many people teaching in a dojo (they do). You need to keep things unified. I should mention that this dojo concentrates on Seitei Iai so a standard that is agreed upon by the entire teaching staff is a good thing, otherwise the students get confused.

As for we and our house here in Guelph, we’ve got the opposite situation exactly. I’ve got 5dans who beg me not to make them teach. They do of course, I mean they step in when I’m not there but that’s not often and they almost never teach while I’m in the room. Six brand new bodies show up and sure, they teach. I’ve got lots of students teaching at their own dojo of course, no choice there, I’m not traveling around the place. I’m not going to tell them what to do in their own house either. They seem to do a good job of teaching without ever having been taught how.
Yes. Of course they were taught, they were taught every day they were in class. If they were paying attention they were learning how I teach, which is how my teachers taught me. Allow me to be proud of my students, they teach well. Part of budo is learning how to read an opponent and if you can read an opponent you can tell what a beginner needs to be working on. My students know how to read a student and give them their next goal.

Oh, yes, one more thing, most of my seniors spent a good chunk of their lives in school, as in up to Masters and Doctorate levels, so they have had experience in teaching academic subjects, in presenting papers in front of their peers, and other such things. Seriously, they don’t need lessons in how to teach, some of them do it for a living.

We don’t worry much about having everyone on the same page here. In fact, we actively seek out other viewpoints by practicing several arts with several different instructors. This makes for a broad education, one that is understanding of many different paths up the mountain, shall we say. We are generalists rather than specialists and that is by design, not accident.

Yet we can produce quite conservative students. Our guys can be as intolerant of other ways as anyone I’ve seen. Mostly it is because they truly believe in what they do, because they can demonstrate that what they do works. This is partly because they have a single viewpoint per art. Me. They get a unified theory of each art because it’s my way, so they aren’t distracted with alternatives.

Which is exactly why I seek out senior instructors in our arts, to shake up their bias, to rattle their certainty, to kick at their props. In my crawlspace at the cottage is a pale, spindly plant. There is no air movement at all under there and this poor plant would snap in half if you did more than breathe on it. This is what we call a “hothouse flower”. It has not been exposed to the wind and rain, it has not been attacked by insects or dug around by cats. Only with stress does a plant become strong. Only with challenges do budo students become strong.

One art done one way for 20 years makes for a really impressive demonstration. Tell that person to change, make them react to a different challenge and they may not be able to handle it. I’ve seen people quit rather than admit that there are other ways of thought. I’ve seen wars begun over “them immigrants with their funny ways”.

So I make my students think. I make them decide what their budo is, for themselves. As I was taught. None of my sensei ever said “this is right and that is wrong”. None asked me to be a clone to themselves. I don’t ask it.

I also don’t ask my students to teach. If I’m in the room it’s my job, I don’t mind it because I’m old and I need to set my own pace. I am also reluctant in the extreme to rob my students of practice time, of learning. Why would anyone teach if they could learn? Sure, teaching can be a way of learning but I never learned a damned thing from teaching for my first 15 or 20 years of teaching. All I did was parrot what I was taught. A video and a book can do that. (Mind you, telling someone to read a book isn’t as ego boosting as “teaching”, which is another reason not to ask my students to teach.)

It was only when I realized that student questions were a way to my unconscious, that watching students practice and explaining to them what they just did, was a way of accessing my own understanding of the principles beneath.

I can’t teach anyone how to get there, you have to teach for a decade or two. I can teach how to put together a lesson plan, but I can’t teach how to invent a lesson plan by doing a kata and knowing what the class needs, and teaching that for the next hour or two. Progressively.

To do that you have to be arrogant in the extreme. You have to believe that you will come up with a class that starts with a simple idea (distance, timing, hard vs soft, that sort of thing) and builds on that for the rest of the time. You have to trust that your brain will come up with the next part to slot in with what you’ve already taught.

Egotist that I am, I do that, but there are occasional times where I clap my hands because it’s time to move on to the next part and I’ve come up dry. Nothing. No idea what to do next.

That’s when I point to one of those 5dans in the class and say “what’s next”.

And that’s when they get a lesson in how to teach.

Kim Taylor
July 21, 2017

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