View Full Version : The path to becoming a sensei

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Someone anonymous
01-05-2010, 05:21 AM
I'm posting this in the anonymous forum as I don't want to include any names, affiliations, locations etc. but would like some genuine feedback.

I'm an assistant instructor at our dojo and in the grand scheme of things a very lowly student (only training for seven years and the paint still wet on my shodan grading). I've been a student of the martial arts since I was eleven and had a solid background in kyokushin karate before coming to Aikido.

Last night I ran a class on some basic bokken suburi trying to emphasise considerations on distance, timing, kokyu and zanshin. The movements were reasonably straightforward with the exception nage performing nukitsuke from the outset.

The class was moving along with a few minor corrections until I started to see a pattern of students cutting incorrectly or ending up in the wrong place. I made some suggestions on how to correct the footwork and handgrip, but it wasn't until one of the students asked me to re-demonstrate the draw and stated that they could see me "...moving my whole body forward with the bokken to make the cut, not just swinging my arm". The particular student has been training for about six years and even though he is kyu-graded has a good level of experience.

I stopped, ran through the movement in my mind and realised that inadvertently I was drawing and cutting with one movement and using my center to drive the strike.

The thing that struck me upon realising this was that although the resulting demonstration was what I had intended to convey, I hadn't specifically thought to emphasise this to my students.

I've taken dozens of classes before, both in karate and Aikido as well as training in my normal job, so I'm comfortable and familiar with the role, but it just grated that I'd moved beyond needing the think through a particular technique but hadn't really converted that into my teaching method.

Is this something that other people experience? If you have experienced it what did/can you do to minimise the chances of it occurring again?

Eric Winters
01-05-2010, 11:48 AM

Yes that sort of thing has happened to me. I can't think of any other way to prevent that, other than REALLY paying attention to EVERYTHING that you do. If you break down the whole technique into minute details that should help, especially with beginners. Also doing that could confuse beginners, so you have to find a balance between too many details and not enough.


01-05-2010, 01:06 PM
Dear Mr. Anonimity...:)

Is this something that other people experience?


If you have experienced it what did/can you do to minimise the chances of it occurring again?

You can do nothing about it...Now, you have discovered the reason "Shodan" is the true beginers rank. That so-called elusive "Black Belt' is the the entry level position of learning.

Be prepared for many more similiar experiences.

Train well,


Too lazy to log in
01-05-2010, 02:12 PM
I don't really see the problem, beyond an interesting observation in languageing (marked ***) : someone saw a different part of the pie then you had intended to emphasize. If it's still the same pie - how are you to know what appeals to each person?

For all you know, what he meant by his descriptor and what you mean by it may be completely different...so is there any point in using the same words to mean different things, especially if Tom,Dick and Harry will have their 'own takes' too?

Had it been me, I would have shrugged and said "Of course" (if I didn't especially think the point was relevant to the exercise, without necessarily being wrong). Or, more realistically "good point. If that makes sense to you, do it like that".

***I think the best you can hope for is to constrain the scenario enough to produce the correct outcome and teach to the middle of the curve.

***Kicking your own butt because folks are doing something contra is non-productive - unless you can use it to better frame the directions.

Personally, I think telling them to 'use the whole body to make the cut' is about as equally open to confusion, and without specific setup, leads to even bigger problems. YMMV.

01-05-2010, 02:54 PM
I run into this constantly when I am teaching people in the horse world. Certain things become so automatic that yuo forget you do them because you don't every think about them.

If a student notices something I've done that I didn't mention I will congratulate them on their observation and then tell them what it was they saw and whether at that time they should be concerned about doing the same. Ive found that when it is important for me to emphasize that detail for a student I generally will then think to mention it. Otherwise it may make things more complicated than what they are ready for.

Dan Rubin
01-05-2010, 03:17 PM
A skilled teacher (as opposed to a skilled student) can not only demonstrate and explain the correct way to do a technique, but can also see what mistakes the students are making. In your case (if I understand your post), you saw that your students were doing something wrong and in response you made suggestions on how to correct their footwork and handgrip, but you failed to see that their real problem was failing to move their bodies.

This is something that a new teacher can work on, but I think few teachers (in the martial arts or skiing or baseball) develop this ability to a high degree. Students who are able to attend class frequently have the advantage of hearing the same technique explained differently by various teachers, or even by the same teacher in various classes. Eventually, you or another teacher would focus on moving the body, and a light would (or might) go on in your students' heads.

01-05-2010, 05:56 PM
Takes time and practice. I believe situations like that happen to everyone. Sometimes a motion is so natural that you don't even realize you are doing it anymore.

In my old style, I frequently taught myself techniques. By teaching myself, I mean teaching myself as if I didn't know the technique already. It helped me notice some of the smaller things. Mirrors are great too. Helps you notice the things you aren't conciously picking up on.

01-06-2010, 10:46 PM

Well, it sounds like you have a great student there, who can help you highlight subleties that you've automatically integrated, but now need to explicitly state to students (when they are ready). Interactions with sharp students are always a pluse and make teaching more exciting, I think. :cool:

It sounds like a good thing, rather than something to beat yourself up about (if that is what you are doing ,but i am not sure you are).

I'm not sure that there is any way you can highlight every single detail, but as the importance of the details become more apparent and relevent to you, you can teach them to the students. It may take some time for you to develop that skill, if not done so already. That may be why there are structured teaching schools/programs that they put potential instructors through.

just my two cents..

Linda Eskin
01-07-2010, 01:46 AM
I haven't done much teaching, but have worked in technical communication for years. One of the hardest things to do is to write instructions for people who are new to something that you are very experienced in doing. It's much easier when you are just a little ahead of them in learning, because you are answering the questions you yourself had to ask recently.

When I have to write instruction-type documentation I test it on someone who represents a "naive" reader/user. For instance, I had a temporary receptionist install a Linux tape backup system, ages ago, just using my quick-start guide. I watched for where she got into trouble or had a question, and revised the guide accordingly.

If you can get a confident beginner - perhaps someone with teaching experience in another field, or experience learning other things, like dance - to be your practice-student, maybe they could give you feedback on what they find confusing, or suggestions for how you could explain it so it would be clearer for them.

I would think that with just plain more teaching experience and some specific practice and feedback you will learn what confuses students, and then you can give that a little more focus in your teaching. I wouldn't be discouraged that this happened, and I'm sure it will happen (again, and again, and again...). :p Teaching is another new thing to learn. Mindful practice over time will improve your technique.

Amir Krause
01-07-2010, 06:39 AM
teaching and particularly M.A. is as an art by itself, no less then the actual M.A.

One has to slowly learn to teach, just like one is learning his practice. It is even better if you have a teacher who can point your teaching mistakes to you.

My sensei does this at times - ask a yundasha to teach and then take him aside and give him comments, take a sempai and tell him to teach part of the group, ask him which mistakes a trainee is diond, which would you try to fix first, whic should be second and which would you leave for the next practice?


01-07-2010, 11:43 AM
IMHO, there is no path to anything. There is a direction traveled and the opportunity to share it.

01-07-2010, 02:12 PM
Another thing to keep in mind is each person adapts techniques to make it work for them. You kind of have to go back to the basics and teach "the generic way" sometimes and let them figure out what does and doesn't work for them. My old instructor always said teach it as you were taught, but do what works for you.

Evan Hughes
10-03-2016, 07:33 PM

Don't worry about it, unless it really worries you. If it does, use your worry to fix it. That's true for everything.

In this example, you forgot what I call a "religious practice" detail. It is simultaneously irrelevant and utterly critical. So fundamental to your being that you forget it's even there, like a fish forgetting water.

It is (hopefully) understood by your students that *all* motions should come from the whole body. It doesn't matter what art or style or technique, they all should be happening with the help of the rest of your body or in perfect timing with another movement (both movements working together toward he same goal).

It's hard to remember to mention such fundamental concepts for every technique, and it's not completely important to do so either. Ideally, every student will have been introduced to those concepts early in their path. Realistically, no matter how much you forget to mention it, it will be figured out by the student on their own.

None of these techniques are Ueshiba's, Funakoshi's, Hatsumi's, Kano's, Gracie's, they're not Japanese, Chinese, Asian, or anything but human in their nature. Your average Knight of the Round Table knew at least half of your sensei's arsenal, regardless of the art. Most of teaching is introducing ideas with good form and answering questions. I hink that a good teacher is best marked by whether or not their students ask good questions.

I'm sure you're finding your own balance of what to mention to the class vs. what to correct individually. I'm sure it's wonderful, because you clearly are working hard and care a lot.

My only admonishment is that there *will* come a day when you do everything perfectly, remembering every important detail in your explanation, and you explain it with style and grace that exudes your true voice and deepest self. On that day, everyone else will be checked out, thinking about dinner, their homework, their husband's results from the doctor, their sick pet goldfish, whether or not that's gum stuck to the wall over there, and how hilariously the zit on your forehead bulges when you raise your eyebrows.

Be ready for that day, because it's every day eventually, just to varying degrees. Dont worry. There's a reason it took you (and me and everyone) so long to earn your rank, and they are actually learning out there.

Robert Cowham
10-05-2016, 03:34 PM
To paraphrase Jane Austen: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that as a teacher, your students will pick up your bad habits much faster than your good habits" :)

With experience you start to learn better methods of teaching, and pitfalls along the way - things that people miss, or misunderstand etc. Also that you need to address "horses for courses" - different people learn in different ways.

The first requirement is awareness (of issues/problems) - which you are showing by asking the question. So keep going (with awareness) and keep questioning - you will improve!

Tim Ruijs
10-07-2016, 05:01 AM
This experience is a prime example of the road ahead. Enjoy your travel!