Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Teaching - a learning experience

I've taught skills before, such as machinery operation, running a small office and using computer programs, all in an occupational/job scenario. To this end, I actually did a course many years ago, for which I have a pretty certificate to hang on my wall.

Primarily though, I've taught people how to handle and ride horses. I have a lot of experience to back me up and to help people, as I've been around horses since my teens. It's a subject area I enjoy very much. I find teaching fairly easy, mainly for those reasons. Casting a self-critical eye over my teaching skills, I have to admit that often I've been somewhat impatient. I guess I fell into the trap of making the assumption that things which are easy and/or obvious to me, are so perceived by my students. I didn't understand just how difficult the learning of a new task can be, as it had been some time since I learned a totally new set of skills. (I think that was learning to scuba-dive just over 10 years ago.)

I knew I was in for a lot of learning when I stepped on the Dojo floor for the first time in March 2008. I wasn't wrong.

I was asking my body to do things which it had never done before. I watched my teachers perform movements with effortless ease. When I tried the same (basic) movements, it looked like a parody performed by a wooden toy with inbuilt wobble-effect. Well, it felt bad enough, most of the time I was too embarrassed to look in the mirror. I was determined to get better and I did. But still, there were and are times when it seemed near impossible to string together three simple movements. And when the frustration set in (doesn't take long with me), it becomes even harder.

Then I started BJJ and learned yet another completely different set of skills, using (and abusing ;-) ) my body in ways it hadn't experienced before.

Haha, now I knew how my riding students felt!

Well, as a result I'm more patient with them and I break things down further. I have more realistic expectations of training outcomes, too. So learning one art has made me a better teacher of another art.

Now I've come full circle. I was asked to teach basic grappling skills to a class. I felt honoured to be asked but a bit apprehensive, too. After all, I have only been grappling for some 10 months, and - pardon the pun - I'm still grappling with the subject matter ;-) . There is so much of it. Sure I know some basic drills, basic positions and a number of attacks, sweeps, reversals. But I know that I only have a basic understanding. The fact that BJJ black belts still improve on their basic stuff is a bit humbling, after all, most of them have been grappling for 10 years or more. I am getting to the point where I am seeing underlying principles and beginning to string techniques together. I'm feeling for points of balance and I can see a point of attack. But I am humbled every time I roll! What I'm trying to say is that I know how little I know and how much more there is yet to learn. Even though I know a lot more than those I'm teaching, I'm acutely aware of the gaping holes in my game, but I will teach them to the best of my ability.

I took one class tonight and I feel it went quite well. It wasn't a big class, and I know all the guys. Basics is what they need and that's what we worked on. For example proper back control with hooks in and a correct RNC.

But teaching sure is harder than learning. When you learn, you only have to worry about yourself. When you teach, you have to worry about everyone in the class :-) But more importantly, different persons see different things and as a result ask different questions than the ones you asked when you learned the same thing. Other people have different body types, and what works for you may or may not work for them. To be able to teach something, your level of understanding of the subject matter has to be much higher, so that you can deal with the differences and the questions arising. However, this goes both ways. Watching and interacting with people you teach also helps you reach a higher level of understanding. When students are truly passionate about learning something, they will really apply themselves and they will ask holes into your head as well as freely share their observations.

So I view the teaching part of it as part of my learning experience. It will make me a better martial artist, and the skills I teach will help others to become better as well.

And after the first session, I'm not so nervous about it any more. I enjoy grappling too much :-)

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