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Traditional teaching style


Since most students have only had one instructor during their martial arts training, most instructors use the same style of instruction as their instructors, the traditional style. The traditional style of teaching has been used in the martial arts for centuries because it works. This is not to say it is perfect, it has its problems, but with some modifications to correct its shortcomings, it becomes an even more effective way to teach the martial arts.

Traditional style of teaching

Traditionally, there has been only one way of teaching the martial arts—the traditional way, or what is known in the world of education as the direct way. Since the martial arts were based on warriors and combat, the instruction style traditionally used was a military based style. Learning was meant to challenge the students’ willpower.

The instructors gave orders and the students obeyed them without question. Classes consisted of long periods of exercises and drills followed by even longer periods of step-sparring and pattern practice. There were long sparring sessions without the benefit of modern sparring safety equipment and the classes culminated in a period of meditation. The instructor would show how to do a technique and the class performed it. If someone did it incorrectly, the instructor would step in, possibly with a few choice words, and demonstrate the technique again with little talking. The only feedback the instructor expected from a student was “Yes sir!”  when told to do something

Intimidation was a factor. The instructor was the superior and he or she was to be obeyed without question. The instructor used techniques as an instrument of discipline and to teach self-discipline. If you were lax in your performance of a technique, you were ordered to do it again with no excuses tolerated. From this constant repetition, you gained power and learned self-discipline. A perfection of form was gained from imitation of what you were shown.

This style of teaching was passed down from a master to a student successor, who may or may not have been a bloodline successor. Sometimes this teaching style was attributed to some divine insight, which the founder learned from years of arduous practice and meditation.

Students learned through following orders and hard practice, rather than from rational teaching. This way of teaching supposedly built “body-learning,” which was considered better than "mind-learning" and thus was more readily retained.

However, the traditional teaching style has some shortcomings:
  • Students learn as part of a class. There are no procedures to account for students who learn faster or slower than the class, except for rank tests. Faster learning students get promoted and slower learning students don’t get promoted and must repeat the previous training.
  • It’s slow. Students concentrate on perfecting a few techniques for weeks or months before being taught new ones. Many stop training because it becomes boring.
  • Students do as they are told. Questions about why they must do it are discouraged. You do it because it is the way it must be done.
  • Students must constantly relearn techniques. Techniques learned incorrectly during their first months of training because they did not understand why the techniques were to be done a specific way must be relearned.
  • Doesn't permit critical thought. Although traditional teaching increases the powers of observation since the student must watch a technique and duplicate it, it reduces the powers of analysis since the student isn’t allowed to question why the technique is done a certain way.

    Students may perfect their own technique, but they cannot analyze what is wrong with someone else’s technique, even though they may know something is wrong with it.
  • Little knowledge is presented. Students can perform a technique, but they know little about where it originated, what it’s for, why it’s done a certain way, or when it’s to be used. Little is learned about why patterns are performed the way they are, the history of the patterns, or the purpose of each movement in a pattern. 

Ways to overcome the shortcomings

  • Add an assistant instructor. The assistant can roam through the class and assist individual students who are having problems.
  • Modify testing procedures to allow for exceptional students. For example, set up a detailed scoring system with a minimum score to be promoted and a higher score that, if exceeded, allows a student to be frocked to the next rank. Frocking means the student gets to wear the next rank belt, perhaps with some modification such as a black stripe down its midline, but the student must test for the next rank to be awarded the actual rank.
  • Explain things. When teaching a new technique, demonstrate the technique but also explain what it is for and why each part of it is done the way it is done. After the students learn the technique, teach variations of it that allow it to be used under varying circumstances. When teaching a pattern, tell students about its history and the purpose of each movement and why the movements must be performed perfectly.

     All explanations need not be done at one time; they should be spread over many class sessions, so the pace of the class is not hampered. Be clear but concise with explanations. Provide sufficient detail without being wordy. Don’t sugar-coat the message, be very direct and candid to get through to students.
  • Encourage questions. However, don’t allow them to slow the pace of the case. Encourage students to talk with you after class for more detailed answers.
  • Encourage comradery. During partner training drills, encourage students to spot problems with their partner’s execution of techniques and to point them out to the partner. When a partner performs a technique exceptionally well, encourage students to tell their partner about it.
  • Prepare. Prepare in advance for class; don’t wing it.
  • Encourage students to work as a group. Each student should try to excel but not be arrogant. They should let their actions speak for themselves. 
  • Build leaders, not followers. Encourage students who exhibit leadership qualities.

You are still the master

Making these modifications don’t make you less a master. You are still the superior and must be respected and obeyed. Martial arts classes are a dangerous place. Punches, kicks, etc. are being used in a group setting. If rules are not followed, someone may get injured. In a martial arts class, the instructor is the drill sergeant and must be obeyed or you will regret it.

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