Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023
Sometimes teaching is as much about amusing yourself as it is about getting the information across to the students.
Last evening we had quite a few beginners in class, and I wanted to move along with the seniors. What to do? Well one way is to go at the topics from a different direction. That way everyone is learning. It’s not that seniors can’t learn by repeating the same old fundamentals, as the beginners get the same lesson the seniors got. They can. But it’s hard to pay attention to something you’ve heard many times before. Now think about poor sensei who has been teaching it for decades.
I love it when students try to help things along by stomping on the punch line of my dusty old jokes.
So what do do with a mixed experience class, to teach the beginners, keep the seniors learning, and avoid falling asleep yourself? Well, there’s only one thing that can be done. You gotta make stuff up.
So I did. Nothing earth shattering, just some simple fiddling with the kihon, the partner basics of the jodo we were practicing. We had a lot of jujutsu types in class so we would do one of the movements against the sword as usual, then we would do it against a grab to the stick. The first kihon is honte uchi (normal grip strike) which involves pulling the stick back, moving your hands around the ends, and smacking your partner between the eyes with the rear end. The stick moves end over end. Now, what happens if your opponent grabs the end of the stick? Well you can run your front hand down the stick to his hand, rather than tug at the stick, then you bring the back end over top to hit him on the head. Simple thing, who knows it it would be practical or not, but it makes for a couple of good teaching points. First, it gives the idea of the stick moving end for end. Next it points out the problem with the end over end movement without moving your front hand around the end to change the grip (it ends up twisted awkwardly), and it gives the feeling of advancing across the room.
Plus, it’s fun (until someone gets hit with a stick).
The second kihon is gyakute uchi, with the front hand reversed, which means it is in the good grip position by the time the back end moves over to strike. Easily seen when the stick is grabbed.
Third kihon, why would we leave the stick out there to get grabbed, pull it back as he tries, right back to the chamber position and then smack him. It’s often hard to get beginners to pull the stick back while learning hiki otoshi uchi (I think it’s the name, it’s long so the movement must be complicated). Instead of repeating over and over, “pull it all the way back” we just provide a reason to pull it back.
For the next two we also snatched the stick away, but not by pulling, instead by lifting it up and thrusting with the other end. You get the idea, sneak up on the motion, provide a clear reason to make the motion, and then it’s easier to understand, it’s not just waving a stick around in the air.
I couldn’t face the idea of doing the first three kata yet again so we hopped to five, Sakan, and did the first couple of moves, but again, we snuck up on the problem, the switch of hand from one end of the stick to the other.
First we just shoved the right end of the stick into the swordsman’s face by stepping forward on the right side of the attack line (making sure that the sword guys waited with their sword on their hips so as not to step into this thrust). Then we did the other side (first movement of Ukan) to “make it balanced”. Now we stepped back and caught the sword thrust as per usual, but hey, the sword thrusts again. Oh, if we try to keep both our hands on the stick we get jammed up. OK how about let the top hand go and just carry the jo in front of ouselves to guide the sword past. Nice, that works, now we do the kata by letting go with that top hand once more but grabbing the bottom end. Ha HA, one of the hardest moves in jo and all the beginners got it right away because we snuck up on it. Aren’t we clever.
Was it any faster than the usual “switch ends with your left hand” commands? Probably not, but it was a lot more fun for me, kept me involved in the class, and it kept the attention of the seniors as well because they weren’t sure if the beginners were going to do something strange and poke them. OK beginners often do something strange and poke you but if you’re asleep it sometimes connects.
It’s all about attention. Grab that 2 by 4 and smack the donkey, THEN whisper in his ear. (Someone in ear shot will have heard that joke if you haven’t.)