Any number of folks have commented on a perceived lack positive cost / benefit in relation to how much it costs one to attend a major event like a camp and what one actually walks away with in terms of new material to work on.
Some of this is a product of what I see as sheer laziness on the part of some of the senior teachers. I have been to classes at which virtually no actual instruction took place. The teacher would demonstrate a set of techniques (sometimes the exact same technique he does at every seminar), the attendees get out on the mat and do the techniques exactly how the knew how to do them when they walked in the door, the teacher stands around for ten minutes or so, doesn't give anyone any feedback, then comes back on the mat and does another technique. This goes on all weekend and everybody goes home saying what a great seminar it was (when no one actually learned anything new).
Other issues have more to do with size. When you get 75 to 150 or more people on a mat, even if the teacher wished to help the students, there's no way for him or her to tailor the instruction to the individuals present other than to provide vary general instruction on what seems to be common issues with their technique. Typically it is the seniors who take most of the ukemi... most attendees will not touch the teacher more than once or twice during a class, if that.
So, how can you get the most bang for your training buck out of these events? Well, one of the great things about most camps is the number of senior folks who attend. If you want to get the most out of a camp, don't train with your buddies. Go after the seniors. Have your next partner already picked out for the next technique and make sure you are sitting next to him or her when the current technique ends. Do not be shy about doing this. Train over your head. Every person who is senior got there by working with people better than they were when they were coming up. The vast majority of seniors will be happy to help you. They may not seek you out, as a junior it is your job to go after them, but I know almost no seniors who won't work with you if you have the guts to ask them.
Get yourself up to the front of the mat in the center. So many folks train as if their goal is to escape notice. They sit in the back and hide out. They do this because they don't feel confident in their technique and don't want to look bad in front of the teacher. Well, get over it. The folks who train this way show up every year in the same state and never actually get better. If you get up in front you have a far better chance of attracting the notice of the teacher. If he rains all over your technique, great... he or she is giving you feedback that you can take home and work on.
The single greatest opportunity for learning is actually after the class is over. If you watch most folks, the moment they've bowed out they fold their hakamas and go off for lunch or dinner or whatever... If you REALLY want to have a tremendous camp, at the end of every class, find one of the seniors whom you think had a good grip on what the teacher had been doing in class and ask them to help you. You can walk away with fifteen or twenty minutes of private instruction after everybody else is gone. By the end of a week of camp, it will be as if you gad two or more classes that no one else got.
One of my friends has taken this to a level of mastery that few other shave. When the class ends with our Shihan, he immediately grabs another senior and starts working with him right at the edge of the mat where the Shihan is changing out of his hakama. Our teacher actually does care if his students are getting better and he is almost incapable of watching you have a problem with a technique without stepping back onto the mat to work with you. Even if you had a good grip on the technique in question, he'll jump on the mat and show you another level or variation. My friend can get 20 - 30 minutes of hands on, individual instruction from our teacher after the class proper is over.
Too often people come and go to these events and simply take whatever is handed out. You want to get better, you need to be hungry. Yo have to go after the knowledge, not wait for it to come to you. You also need to master the art of being the type of student whom the teachers and seniors want to help. You have to be eager, open to help, flexible about changing what you've been doing, and, most important, appreciative. You get extra juice from seniors on the mat, send them an e-mail or message them on Facebook and tell them how much you appreciated their help. If the Shihan actually notices you and gives you something to work on. make sure he sees you working in it after class, show him his assistance was important to you.
People often reference how long they have been training as having something to do with how good they are. But the fact is, its about how you've trained during that time period. The folks who manage to train as I have described will end up with twice the benefit in the same period of time that the folks derive who do not do so. It's really up to you how much you get from these events. Yes, some are better than others. Yes, some teachers care if you get better and others clearly do not give a damn. But mostly, this issue is under your control far more than most folks realize. Be hungry and don;t be shy. Go after it and you'll come away with enough to work on it will carry you for months.
(Original blog post may be found here