Showing posts from October, 2012

Lessons from Mr McIntosh

My previous article got me thinking about another issue that runs to the core of good vs. bad teaching. I think it is best illustrated by giving you an example from my past:

When I was just 10 years old I moved to a new school in a new country. For the first time in my life I was subjected to a very rigorous discipline – smart uniforms, hair-length regulations, shined shoes and the threat of the cane if anything was amiss. In addition to this we had twice yearly sets of formal examinations and regular marked assignments in all the distinct subjects (namely two languages, mathematics, history, geography, science, as well as sundry subjects like art and woodwork).

For whatever reason, I thrived. Perhaps I was searching for some sort of structure that my previous "New Age" schools had not provided. Whatever the cause, it seemed that overnight I went from being the kid who had to repeat year 5 (and for whom "special schooling" had been suggested – I'm not kidd…

Effective teaching: finding the right key

Many years ago, I recall my teacher Bob Davies saying the following to me:

"What sparks a revelation in one student won't in another. Something that motivates or inspires a particular student might have no effect on anyone else in your class. In each case there is a key. If a student can't do a particular technique or isn't progressing generally, look first to yourself as the cause of the problem. Have you found the right key? If not, keep trying until you do."

Now it's true that there is a limit on how much an instructor can beat him/herself up. But that doesn't mean he/she should stop trying either. A good example was a class I held last week:

I was pouring heart and soul into teaching a group of taiji beginners: I was amiably and patiently going through the movements, being careful not to over-correct or over-explain while ensuring that they had the requisite information. However I could see that, despite my best efforts, they were still strugg…

Gauging martial artists by "how they move"

I remember many years ago, sitting on my first grading panel assisting my instructor Bob Davies. I had grading sheets in front of me and was responsible for writing down appropriate, constructive comments on two of the students' performances.

At the conclusion of the grading Bob turned to me and said: "What did you think of student A?" I said that I thought student A had made some sequential mistakes in one of his required forms and clearly did not know it inside out.
    "What about student B?"
I said student B had executed every sequence properly, but the form wasn't very good.
    "Who passes?"
    "Neither?" I guessed.
    "No. In this case student A passes and student B does not."
    "But, with respect Sensei, that doesn't seem entirely fair. Student B fulfilled all the requirements where student A did not."
    "No, student B didn't fulfil all the requirements," he said. Then he poi…

Kata, kinaesthesia, proprioception and motor learning

Nowadays it is common to hear martial artists say: "Kata teaches principles – not techniques." And many of us will sagely nod in agreement. But what does this expression really mean? We might have an intuitive understanding that this is a true statement, but how does it manifest? Put another way, how does kata teach "principles" and not "techniques"? What is the process by which this occurs and what are some examples?

I have shelved writing an article about this for some time. I knew that the answer lay in an analysis of kinaesthesia and proprioception and their role in motor learning. But that is a big topic, requiring some considered thought and planning. And I am inherently lazy. However a recent exchange with a correspondent made me realise just how little incisive, accessible information there is about this topic. Sadly, it seems "proprioception" and "kinaesthesia" are often just "big words" thrown into a mix o…