That was really hard!
That phrase, sometimes combined with an expletive, is usually the first thing one of my team says to me after I’ve asked them to teach a full lesson for the first time. Sometimes I’ve given them the chance to plan in advance, on other occasions they’ve just had a moment to look at the group dynamics and ‘go’.
A planned lesson is something I ask all potential Dan grades to do before I’ll put them forward to attempt the physical exam. On other occasions I might ask it because I believe the challenge of teaching will improve their technical ability and understanding. No-one gets thrown in the deep end without some experience; they’ll all have had to teach or supervise some element with a small group within the main class on a number of occasions.
I choose not to teach using line work.
I teach fundamental techniques against pads or partners in armour. For thin-air refinement of stepping, turning and techniques I use Kata. In addition to Kata and pad work Kihon is further reinforced and assessed through static, dynamic and alive Kumite which is taken directly from the Kata I teach. To do this I try to limit how much time I spend in class on ‘solo kata’ because I believe that when you have training partners you should be using them. Solo Kata in class is the teaching and assessment of a training method that I expect Karateka to be working on in their own time.
One of the consequences of teaching without line work is that there are always a lot of different activities taking place. Sometimes everyone is doing pad work or doing sparring at the same time, but due to the kit involved and the broad student age and grade range, no-one is ever going to be doing the same thing or working at the same level. We correct general points before and after a section of class, but in most lessons every student will get individual coaching feedback of some kind. The result of this is that while an instructor might not be training, they are constantly moving round the class talking to participants and demonstrating. It is physically and mentally demanding and an eye-opening experience for those doing it for the first time. They don’t realise how busy the instructor is.
Not everyone likes to teach or train this way. Some people prefer everyone in class to be doing the same thing or at least moving to the same count. That does make life easier for the instructor, it might also help those on the autistic spectrum. Personally, I have always felt that enabling students to set their own pace and explore their own options for the majority of the class allows for better learning opportunities. I was first exposed to this method in the years I trained regularly in Aikido and I chose to drop line work in my classes within a year of developing the Heian Flow System (now Pinan Flow System) in 2004. I don’t use line work in my Shotokan or DART classes.
One thing I do use is the instructor potential of my students. Is a 3rd kyu or 5th kyu going to instruct something as well as the Dan grade supervising them? No. I don’t expect them to. Are they likely to cover enough of the foundations of a drill or combination to enable a grade below them? Yes. If they weren’t they would not have been awarded that higher grade. Teaching may not be for everyone, and it’s certainly not something I’d expect anyone to do all the time, but it does show both student and instructor the scope of their technical knowledge. That is invaluable introspection. The junior grade receiving the instruction is not likely to take away any ‘more’ at their level from teaching by a senior instructor, developmental repetitions are more important than continuous coaching interventions, but the intermediate grade will benefit tremendously from having to teach. That creates a positive development loop.
Whatever the teaching subject area, kumite, kata, or kihon, any student can teach a pair or a few pairs with supervision from one or more Dan grades. You don’t have to change the training method, you can still use line work, you just split up the class into as many or few groups as you choose, for as much or as little of the class as you want, and supervise.
So, if you don’t do it already, perhaps it is time to get your students to spin a few plates.