Learning to Teach

I SIGNALED FOR THE ATTACK TO BEGIN. My opponent came at me with a stomach punch. I blocked it; he struck with his other hand. In quick succession: block. spin, grab his wrist and shoulder, pull him off balance, takedown. I then hyperextended his elbow and applied pressure. He slapped the mat twice; the technique was over.

Sensei stood nearby, smiling, as we rose to our feet. “You have the basic idea,” he said. “A few points, however.” He then proceeded through demonstration and polite explanation to point out many of the mistakes I’d made.

I tried again. Another set of corrections. My back leg needed to be bent further after the spin, flexible but tensed for the next pivot. “Grab the wrist from under, not on top,” Sensei said. “And stay low. You are pouncing from above. This is more of a level technique.” More attempts, more instruction. Then, finally, “Yes!” he said, “Much better,” and he went off to help other students in the class.

“Well, now I’m really embarrassed,” I said to my partner, a black belt who was also doing his best to help me. “Why?” he asked, looking confused; struggling with a new technique is perfectly normal.

“Because I taught this technique last Thursday at Rec & Ed class,” I said.

A 1st control position, used in many techniques.

Thursday’s class had been just me and another student working toward 1st Kyu, and our instructor had taken the opportunity to give us some more experience in our school’s teaching method. During warmups he asked us both to select a technique we felt comfortable teaching. I chose the 1st-control takedown from our upcoming test, which I’d received some pointers on earlier. And according to his comments, I’d done rather well. Wrist grab, leg position, stay low – I’d covered all those points. Now here I was at the main dojo on Monday, acting like I’d never even seen the technique before.

What had happened? Nerves, perhaps, or thoughts focused on other things, but the most likely reason was not yet having the deeper understanding of the technique that summons the mental and muscle memory. That would come with more study and practice. After class I thanked Sensei for his patience and apologized for my mistakes. “Oh, no,” he said. “There was much improvement.” In other words, don’t worry, just keep training.

My Rec & Ed instructor demonstrates a particularly effective leg pin.

Back at work that afternoon, a co-worker stopped by my office to ask about a report he’d written the day before. I’d reviewed the report and been pretty annoyed about it. This was his second attempt at writing it, after I’d marked up his first version with corrections and suggestions. It was still not ready; it was clear he didn’t understand the topic well enough, and there were many grammatical and spelling errors that made the document look sloppy. That morning I’d been tempted to tell him to go back and do a more professional job; fortunately, I’d held off. Now here he was, looking for my feedback.

You can guess where this is going. How could I behave toward him other than how Sensei had behaved toward me? With the focus on improvement instead of negative criticism, we had a good discussion about the proper format and content of the report, and he apologized for the grammatical mistakes and promised to improve his proofreading. My experience in class had become an opportunity to turn a potentially unpleasant, unproductive situation into a useful and productive one.

I continue to be grateful for the excellent example my Aikido school provides on how to relate to people in a positive and encouraging manner. For this, my years of training and experiences have been invaluable. Thank you again, Sensei, my other instructors, and my fellow students. You have helped me grow in many ways.

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