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Seeking Zanshin: Blood, Sweat, Tears & Aikikai Blog Tools Rating: Rate This Blog
Creation Date: 02-24-2005 10:53 PM
One small gal + a dojo full of big guys = tons o' fun
Blog Info
Status: Public
Entries: 270 (Private: 12)
Comments: 195
Views: 834,538

In Teaching On Teaching My First Class Entry Tools Rate This Entry
  #237 New 09-17-2008 11:32 PM
How odd it feels to be writing this post. The title seems so surreal to me. I've been doing Aikido for almost seven years ago now, began keeping this blog in 2003 and after revisiting the old posts, realize just how quickly the time has gone by. I've spent so much time ruminating and critically picking apart my own study of this art that over the years it has rarely occurred to me to view myself in anything BUT a student's role. Yet for the very first time last night, I found myself as the teacher. Such a strange and foreign feeling.

I never really wanted to be the teacher, after all. Seeing how my own Sensei had become an instructor out of compulsion and necessity, hearing how he'd often regret not being able to practice as he would have liked --- when push came to shove, this honestly rather put me off the whole teaching thing for the most part. I figured that I would just get in the way of my training. I wanted to be a student forever --- to continually siphon off the knowledge and instruction of others and let someone else bother with how everyone else was learning. I'd told as much to Sensei. He'd occasionally "test" me and the other sempai out, letting us each have a taste of teaching by demonstrating a particular technique to the rest of the class. Unsure of myself and my own ability, fearful lest I portray a confidence not yet earned, I would qualify everything I said: "Well, as you know, Sensei would do this or say that, etc." and look over my shoulder constantly to gauge Sensei's expression --- all as if to check to make sure that I wasn't missing anything.

Last night, however, this all changed. Sensei had to work late and the other senior student who would normally lead the class was out of town. So guess who was left to run adapted Aikido night? Little old me. And Sensei said I could teach whatever I wanted, so we discussed some possibilities. The funny thing was, I already kind of knew what needed to be taught. I'd attended enough classes and watched the other students progress enough to be able to discern areas that needed more practice. Funny how that happens. All along, I thought I was just paying attention to me --- my progress, my technique, my Aikido, my struggles. Without even being really conscious about it, I'd been observing everyone else as well. Who knew? It made sense, though. We're a team, after all.

I knew that we needed to work more on weapons stuff. Since we started practicing at the new venue, the space limited the amount of time we could spend on Bokken and Jo. Many of the new students had little exposure to running through the kata enough times to memorize it and work on proper striking technique. Last night would have been Jo night. I wanted to run through all that, but wouldn't have been able to make it home and back in time to pick up the dojo's weapons bag. The logistics of taking over the class at the last minute prevented it. Jo would have to wait.

So with Garry as my demo uke, I ran the class (it was just him, me, Jarrett and Lisa) through a series of adapted exchanges we do that start with some fluid, evasive Tae Sabaki (a great way to stay loose and relaxed and maintain continuity after the warmup) and continually build upon this different strategies of movement and atemi --- working your way up to training striking extension, aim, spotting openings and picking proper targets; all the way to the point where you're throwing a combination of at least three continuous strikes as a counterattack and then an exchange where your attacker blocks and you have to adapt to it and counterattack anyway. After 10 minutes or so (I worked in with them, of course) into the start of each series I watched them all work together and after considering a few things I thought might help (especially in the areas of atemi and better body placement) I brought them back to the group and demonstrated additional strategies to practice within the same exercise.

It's interesting, because I found that if I made a point of drawing one certain aspect to their attention and asked them specifically to practice it for a few minutes, by the time we moved on to adding the next "layer" in another exchange, they were more apt to use the principles they practiced before once the parameters for practice became more open. It pleased me to see this because it actually (even for a short time) broke some people out of old habits that weren't serving them too well and seemed to open them up to different possibilities for counterattacks. I guess it just goes to show that we're creatures of habit and that taking a building-block approach to learning can have its advantages. At the very least, the more one practices such things, the more they are increasing their muscle memory of those movements.

At the end of class, I had them put it all together against two attackers simultaneously and added on some hints about how to help create more openings when you're feeling stuck or cramped. And then finally, because we hadn't done so for some time now, I got everyone to work on speed drills to help improve reaction time (just deflecting fast attacks without bothering to counter) and then got them to add on leg attacks as well to get more practice with this particular kind of "split"/soft focus. I always find that kind of practice quite challenging as it feels like a division of mind in a way. And I do love speed drills --- pushing myself to see exactly how fast I can deflect. Sometimes it surprises me how well I can keep up.

But in the end, what surprised me most of all was myself as a teacher. That I might be able to impart this particular knowledge in a confident and consistent, structured way kind of blind-sided me. After all this time, I guess I'd absorbed and paid attention enough to be able to articulate what I'd learned in a capacity I had not experienced before. I'd thought I had internalized so much that there was no way I could externalize it without all of it being lost in translation.

In the past I vowed to myself that if I were to assume a teaching role in Aikido, I would never qualify things again --- Sensei had advised as much; that lack of confidence in myself would erode the confidence others would have in my teaching --- he found that out the hard way. At first I believed that teaching without qualifying my knowledge would imply an ego --- that I had "arrived", that I knew it all. Who was I to say I knew anything, anyway? But I was wrong.

You need confidence to teach. And the concepts of teaching and your own search for knowledge are not mutually-exclusive. Here I was, waiting around for that magical moment when I would feel like I had reached this apex of learning and skill in which, finally, I had somehow earned the right to teach. The fact is, I never will. Nor will anyone else. Not only is it a continuous process, but (*laughs*) I doubt I will ever reach the lofty standards that I set for myself. They are dreams, goals, aspirations. They exist to continually push me forward so that I might become more than I am.

So I continue to learn, to study, to absorb. But in the meantime, I cannot ignore the fact that I HAVE actually learned some things. That time has started to fill my cup, drop by drop. And I have learned just enough to be able to share knowledge with others in turn. So long as there are others who wish to learn.
Views: 2388 | Comments: 2

RSS Feed 2 Responses to "On Teaching My First Class"
#2 09-22-2008 01:00 PM
jducusin Says:
Thanks, Cat! If only it felt natural... :-D
#1 09-21-2008 03:31 AM
CatSienna Says:
Congratulations...you sound like a natural!

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