Thursday, July 4, 2013

Please don't say this...

I haven’t ranted in a while, but this one is fun…

There are two phrases that can really test a teacher’s patience.  The first, less insidious one is: “well, *I* learned it this way.”

How often does that phrase really help things along?  It implies that the student disagrees with what they’re being taught, almost as if they know better.  It’s as if the instruction is seen as an attack to what’s familiar to someone, to which they have now put up a defense to preserve things.

In my experience, it leads to further explanation from the instructor until that person is eventually doing what was asked in the first place.  If the instructor isn’t able to assert leadership right away, this can break down into a lot of people offering their opinions, which just takes up a lot of extra time.  If the instructor is less inclined to explain and just wants to move on, this can upset people who aren’t “convinced” and didn’t like how things were handled.

Mind you, sometimes a teacher is open to that sort of dialogue, or hasn’t planned something quite thoroughly enough to where someone really should be stepping up and saying something.  This, however, is the exception.

The second and more dastardly phrase is “our style/group does it *this* way.”  Unless the instructor is asking for this sort of information, this phrase is much like the first but hides behind “the style” and puts a kibosh on progress.  How so?  Well when it’s you telling an instructor that you do it differently, they can engage you.  But if you say “my style” or “my mom” or “Clint Eastwood” tells you to do it a certain way, now we’re attacking it/them when we tell you to change.  And even if one party doesn’t see it that way, the other party might.

Why do I bring all this up?  Last week at the dojo, I had two incidents during the same class.  It’s not like this never happens, but twice in a row was a bit much…

One student wanted clarification on a specific technique, and so I provided one - to which he said his style taught it a different way.  And that left me wondering what exactly he expected.  Did he want to hear me say, “you’re right, forget that you came here to learn something, you just do it however is easiest for you”I understand comparing the differences in style and being observant, but c’mon…  If I’m going somewhere to be taught a style of something, I don’t want to just be allowed to do my own thing, because then I’m not learning what I came there for!

Another student asked me to show which part of the foot we use for a specific kick because his previous style used a different part.  In explaining that we use both but have a preference, I referenced another kick where he was taught to use again a different part than we teach, saying he did it in tournaments and it worked there. then why did you ask me in the first place?  Even though he wasn't getting upset about it, he was basically arguing with me about the answers I was giving him, simply because it wasn’t what he was used to.  Ultimately I told him it's what we expect to see on tests and it’s up to him whether or not he wants to pass.  That’s not my preferred response, but I had already tried logic through words and demonstrations and couldn't spend more time with him.

There's a variant on this which goes, "that's not the way I was taught..." which is usually in response to getting conflicting information.  This is more likely to happen within a group when information is contradictory or has changed over time.  Sometimes it's said in a defensive way, but other times it's a way to make sure that the instructor is on the same page as the rest of the group.  While this phrase isn't intrinsically bad, if it's a person's default "mode" when getting confusing information, they're preventing the chance to learn something new and seeing where the instructor might have planned to go.

I also find that when someone is being taught by a person they greatly respect (or fear, ha), these phrases never come up.  If someone my sensei invites to give a workshop tells me to do xyy, I will do xyy and try my best.  No way in hell am I going to say “well, I was told to do xyz.”   Maybe after it’s over, I can ask for the reasoning, if I haven’t figured it out for myself.  If Tanaka-sensei comes up in a workshop and tells you to turn your wrist a certain way when you strike, are you going to say “but my group does it differently?”  Would you really?
We all say these things to a certain degree and I’ll admit I’ve gotten caught up in it myself, but think carefully before you say either one of those two phrases to someone teaching.  It’s often more of a defensive mechanism rather than anything else, but it can turn a learning experience into something much less productive.  Finally, how do you know that doing something differently than what you’re used to won’t lead you to a greater understanding of things?

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