I was teaching class this week and found myself unable to completely get across certain things to my students:
- Why you need to turn your hip completely into that kick, even if you hit plenty hard without it.
- Why you should always come back to the on guard position in training.
- Why hitting hard is not the most important thing and pursuing only that limits your other skills.
- Why it’s vital they follow procedure when training and not get creative before they have more experience.
The list goes on and on. Each of those points requires a long explanation to do it justice when they ask “Why?” But class is not the place for that. So as a teacher, I try to condense the most important keys to answer the question and still get the point across. But that inevitably always leaves out so much. And too often, the student still doesn’t get it.
How do I know? When I spot him doing the exact same error five minutes later instead of practicing what I explicitly told him to. Not all students are that way but many are. It isn’t “fun” to drill in a correction until the error goes away. Sparring and hitting the bag is cooler. But it’s through that error that they’ll get tagged by the opponent who spots it. And then all the other cool stuff will be useless.
It isn’t as simple as that, but I’m making it simple to get the point across: many times, you’re better off just doing what the teacher says instead of asking an explanation. Not always, obviously. But most often, you need to follow the advice and not ignore it or simply gloss over it.
I’m not a big fan of the old Chinese teaching method of “Shut up and do it because I tell you to” but it does offer some benefits in this specific area. If a teacher gave you advice on how to do things, you did it until he said otherwise. This is a powerful teaching method. Flawed, potentially dangerous, but it works. Here’s a good example, from my failing memory so don’t sue me if I get the details wrong:
Kenji Tokitsu once wrote about how one of his sword teachers told him to hit a car tire with his bokken, 500 times each day. And so he did for years on end. His teacher never asked about or mentioned the exercise again, though. So after several years, Kenji stopped doing that exercise.
The next time he saw his teacher, they had just started training when the old man asked “Have you stopped practicing on the tire?”. Kenji had to admit he had done exactly that. With further training apparently useless, his teacher ended the class right away and told him to resume practice.
I always liked that story, even though I thought it was exaggerated when I first read it twenty years ago. Today, I can honestly say I get it. I’m no grand master or anything like that, but I can tell which students practiced the exercises I advised them to do at home. And those who didn’t.
Anyway, this rambling came about after Thursday’s class combined with hearing this song again yesterday. It’s a great one, with loads of great advice. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did: