Monday, August 3, 2009


In two days I'll be leaving for Los Angeles for the 7th Semi-Annual North American Taiko Conference!

This year, I'm teaching two workshops, one on wrist technique/chops and another on rhythms/syncopation. I've been preparing for them intensively for the past week, and feel like I'm going to be able to deliver a really strong presentation.

There was a time, whether in teaching a new song I was writing or a drill, I wouldn't prepare all that much. I would think about what material I had to get across, but didn't take the time to talk it out as if I was actually teaching it. It usually led to less-than-optimal satisfaction as I was forced to think one step ahead of where I was teaching at the time.

Two things changed how I approach teaching now. The first was college and the second was karate.

One of my favorite classes in college was Communication and Culture. The professor focused on how literature can teach others about a culture, from poetry to fiction to interviews. He was personally very involved with performance and required at least one monologue from *something* as part of his curriculum. I wound up really taking to that and in memorizing 10-to-15-minute monologues, I was forced to write up a script and verbalizing it out loud many, many times. Once, during my senior project/monologue, I had a brain fart, but because I had acted the part through so many times, my body knew what came next and the words caught on from there.

I also learned, from my Argumentation and Debate class, that interrupting someone's rhythm can be catastrophic. In practicing how and what I want to get across, there are few interruptions and I can pick up from where I left off or start over. In the performance of it, that luxury is often gone. People will ask questions and if you're not prepared to answer AND then continue with confidence, they will pick up on that. I've seen great debaters stumble over themselves after simply being asked for clarification on a point. I've seen teachers who have a great concept get really shaken up when asked to explain something they hadn't thought about first.

In karate, when I hit my first black belt, I started to run the belt tests. All that's required of the test leader is to facilitate a good test: know the material, call it out clearly. I had to know who did what and when and do it with confidence - forgetting the material or saying it meekly made for a less-than-optimal test for the students. Repetition out loud over and over and over was the only way to get it right.

Nowadays, I like over-preparing. It's extra work that pays off. The more I do it overall, the less time I need to prepare the next time. The more I go over things, the more I find to improve upon. The more I know what I'm trying to teach inside and out, the easier it is to answer questions and get back into stride.

I know not everyone reading this has the occasion to teach their art, but for those who do/will, take preparation into consideration. For those that perform/do forms of some sort, think about your own preparation...can you do your song/solo/form so well that you can mess up and still come back to where you should have been without extra pause? If not, why not?

The more you can teach a thing, the more you know a thing.

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