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Old 06-17-2016, 05:58 PM   #1
Brian Sutton
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Pro's and con's of asking questions.

More traditional teachers discourage students from asking questions, at least during class. In American culture, we love to know the why as much as the how and we feel entitled to ask questions when we don't understand something.. I've actually been on both sides of the teacher/student spectrum and have observed some pro's and con's of asking questions..
Pro's of asking questions:
It allows the student to communicate to the teacher where the students skill level is and where they are in their training.

It shows genuine interest, on the part of the student for learning the art.

It shows the teacher what the students interests are, thus helping the teacher better relate with the student.

It shows the words, phrases and communication style of the student, also for the purposes of better communications between teacher and student.

Con's of asking questions:

Martial arts are ultimately learned with the body. If skill in Martial arts is sought after, it can only be revealed kinesthetically. Questions usually relate to theory and a map is nice but it's not the territory.

When we ask a question, we are relating what is being taught with what we understand at the time.
This can be very limiting when it's time to advance to a new perspective.

The timing of a students question is often not appropriate with the lesson of the day and what really needs to be taught/learned gets delayed. In other words; an interruption.

And the traditional beef with questions is that it shows a lack of confidence from the student to the teacher to transmit the art and answer all questions in due course.

I have noticed with better teachers, there are less questions.

I would love to hear your views, observations and thoughts.
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Old 06-17-2016, 06:27 PM   #2
Walter Martindale
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

The better teachers do all the asking.. Having been a professional coach for 30+ years, I've found that, and also been trained that - asking athletes (e.g., dojo students) tough, appropriate questions helps them learn things better and more quickly because the thinking box gets switched from "rote" mode to "alive" mode. (that's not the proper pedagogy jargon).

My deal is that I coach rowing, largely by asking questions about the technique, race strategy, training...

In the "yonkyo musings" thread I've described how Rocky described the ma-ai for ikkyo to yonkyo and koshinage in response to shomenuchi (and other attacks, of course)...But it all started with "How do you know to do ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo, or koshinage?" I stumbled for a moment, and mumbled out that it must have something to do with ma-ai. Fortunately I was right, and he demonstrated the differences to me in my (at the time) alerted mindset.

Great teachers ask great questions.

Oh... And... sorry, but the grammar nazi in me is coming out to play... It should be "Pros and Cons" - plurals are made by adding "s" without the apostrophe. The apostrophe makes the Pro and Con into possessives. The exception is "its" (possessive) and "it's" (contraction). And, yes, I know, I do all kind's of other grammar mistake's such as run-on sentences and thing's...
;-)

Last edited by Walter Martindale : 06-17-2016 at 06:32 PM.
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Old 06-18-2016, 06:10 AM   #3
Brian Sutton
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Mmmm. Socratic Method. A nice tool to have in the box but with any tool, you need to know when to use it. After a few years on the mat , it can be very useful. I think the time to use it would/could be alot sooner in less nuanced activities than Aikido. Gi waza, I think draws upon this method. But we see that in the upper kyu and Dan ranks. I guess my only beef with the Socratic method is that you need perspective before analysis. We can't think our way to knowledge. Knowledge comes from experience. And it's experience that we're looking for when we approach a teacher..
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Old 06-18-2016, 07:41 AM   #4
rugwithlegs
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

There are different types of errors for students to make. Physical errors, or structure and relationship - these need to be felt I think. I'll ask a student about one position, or a break in their structure but I am trying to bring them mindfully to a point where they notice something kinesthetic. For most of our lives, we are told exercise is effort. Students expect and chase the feeling of effort and need to be reminded that we should chase no effort. Years of high school gym class have wired most people to not feel for less work in their exercise sessions.

If someone asks a question and I tell the rest of the class to keep going and the student looks crestfallen that they have lost their audience, that's different. If the question is to show what a genius they are, or that they just want to not sweat so much but can't say they need a break out of pride, or if they are trying to set up an egalitarian dojo where the beginner and the teacher have equal say on what is practiced; very different. If someone wants to know how to do a variation to accomodate for an injury, or a police officer is wondering how to finish a traditional pin with handcuffs, I am happy to answer privately. If a student is asking about material they are not ready for, I try to refocus them.

Other errors are about understanding. Training for options, mobility, safe positioning. Don't step overtop of me because you'll get one in the sack kinda stuff. Aikido is about being ready for an attack from any direction, but most training is one one one. In an MMA contaminated world sticking the head down or laying on top of someone might seem correct, so I ask where the door is, where the weapons rack is, what time is it, or I walk up to a pair training and lightly tap someone. If someone has good physical stuff happening but their movements don't make sense or something is wrong, I need to know why and I need to challenge the problem at it's source.

My biggest pet peeve with the never-ask-questions-it's-all-kinesthetic crowd is when it crosses the line into mind reading. Questions verify understanding. With no questions, I've seen teachers start with character assassination on the mat. Something was done wrong because you're (the student) a terrible person. Often this happens while the teacher is collecting visual data (not actually getting thrown but watching two people train so feeling nothing kinesthetic).

When a teacher never allows questions, or trained with never asking questions, then a teacher might not question how they teach something, or their own understanding of a technique or a principle. Their technique and methods become dogma, and they are untouchable and unquestionable. It is to everyone's detriment on the mat, and the art as a whole suffers.

Koryu Budo is about the transmission of knowledge. With the rise of the imperial forces in Japan, the military changed some things. It wasn't about passing knowledge teacher to student to create a new teacher, but more drill sergeant breaking down and rebuilding a platoon with the goal of rapidly created obedient unflinching never hesitating soldiers. You don't give soldiers a way of life; you give them tools to function in a group to carry out a mission and fully expect and demand they will die for doing as you told them. No variation allowed, don't-ask-me-how-high, do and die, there aren't supposed to be old soldiers attitude. I don't always keep the two training methods separate in my mind, or see where there is one or the other. I like to think questions are one of the dividing lines.
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Old 06-18-2016, 11:13 AM   #5
rugwithlegs
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

One more thought on how we learn - one of my favorite stories about Kano Jigoro is that he was having problems throwing a much taller man he trained with. Kano did research, and found a book on western wrestling showing a fireman's carry. With inspiration from a book in a foreign art with what was probably a poor quality picture by today's standards, he developed kata guruma and threw his nemesis.

My wife is someone who always believes in kinesthetic learning, to the point that she says books and videos are a waste of time. I think developing the right questions, forming them in a quantifiable, researchable, useful manner that leads to improved skills is a whole art form in itself. Learning from other sources, taking a variety of inspirations from disparate experiences I think depends first on asking the question. If the student never has the question, a teacher cannot appear.
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Old 06-18-2016, 03:07 PM   #6
Janet Rosen
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Quote:
Walter Martindale wrote: View Post
The better teachers do all the asking..
When I'm working with beginners in my low impact class I like to ask questions to see if they are thinking....like offering a shoulder for attack, I ask which hand they would attack with and why and that leads to a more (to them) interesting discussion and exercises on safe space. Instead of telling them to end up facing me when doing an attack or concluding a technique, I ask them where they (or their belt knot) is facing and then ask them who over there is posing a problem, and that leads to them self-correcting their body position relative to their training partner.

Janet Rosen
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Old 06-18-2016, 03:09 PM   #7
Janet Rosen
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Quote:
John Hillson wrote: View Post
My biggest pet peeve with the never-ask-questions-it's-all-kinesthetic crowd is when it crosses the line into mind reading. Questions verify understanding.
Yes! As a student I appreciate being able to clarify if what the instructor said = my understanding via relating it to previously covered material. "So, is that like the feeling we have during doing blahblahblah or is it more like drawing a sword?"

Janet Rosen
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Old 06-18-2016, 07:05 PM   #8
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

On the mat as a student, I was never encouraged to ask questions.
I just mimicked what I thought I saw and came up what whatever explanation made sense to me at the time.
Most of the time, I was wrong.
Later, mostly through reading and after work out conversations, I realize how much of Aikido was the application of the unseen/unspoken principles and the mental focus/intent.
After that, as an instructor, I started offering more explanation and encouraging questions.
I often wondered if instructors didn't want questions because they cannot really answer them.
I have found that students/people who truly understand what they are doing progress faster and go further.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 06-18-2016, 10:04 PM   #9
Brian Sutton
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

You bring up a good point ,Senseir L.
I too have often wondered if Teacher's with no dialogue , simply don't know how to articulate what they know. But alot of them can certainly communicate non-verbally. But also I've seen teacher's with only dialouge, they can answer any question and then have no application..I guess like most things ,it's a matter of balance. Understanding, communication and application.
My other thought is; why would there be such a high expectation on the teaching skills of Martial Arts Instructors. I mean that as a completely rhetorical question.
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Old 06-19-2016, 05:37 AM   #10
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Questions are good after a student has been training long enough to ask a logical one. New students should wait until after class unless it is about safety or where is the bathroom.

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Old 06-19-2016, 12:15 PM   #11
SeiserL
 
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Quote:
Brian Sutton wrote: View Post
My other thought is; why would there be such a high expectation on the teaching skills of Martial Arts Instructors.
IMHO, there is not a high expectation on "teaching" skills.
There appears to be a high expectation on student "learning" skills.
Somehow we are supposed to observe and "steal the technique" making it our own just by spectating and mimicking.
Must admit, I have never been that bright and am thankful for the instructors who took the time to answer my questions.
Until again,
Lynn

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 06-19-2016, 01:23 PM   #12
rugwithlegs
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

I agree. The Shihan I met decades ago had poor English, and would have been frustrated or embarrassed to give an extended lecture in English. They compensated as best they could visually and kinestheticly. Now easy to find a teacher who speaks English, but if they teach as they learned, they'll keep their mouth closed.

Angry White Pajamas, the author had to have a "teaching" portion on his test. I have not seen that in any testing in three different associations. Aside from a few, I think we are taught to imitate not educate.
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Old 06-19-2016, 02:08 PM   #13
Walter Martindale
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

I tend to agree that a lot of learning in aikido is through kinaesthetic learning - feel something and then attempt to produce it. Trouble is, my nervous system is not the sensei's nervous system, and nor is it my student/athlete's nervous system. We may be physically connected, but we don't have the same perceptions of the same movement.

I know what I do to make a technique work "effortlessly" (but why am I breathing so hard... oh, I'm out of shape and 62 years old, that's why). I know what it feels like for me, when you make a technique work effortlessly, but I don't know what YOU feel when you do that. So I try to guide learning. In my coaching situation, it's "try doing this exercise with the oar handle... good - looks good to me - what difference in feeling do you get when I give the feedback that it looks good... (today it was "I feel more pressure on my feet and my glutes are loaded up when the oar goes in that way."). Take that to aikido and "what feels different to you when you throw me that way because it felt like you nailed it" or "here - what happens if you move your foot here while you move your hands straight down.. Wow, you got it.. made me fly - what did you connect".. And the question asked, depends on the skill being practiced, the person being asked and on the person asking.

Instructors who rely on demonstration and no feedback. Hmm. That depends on the instructor. I've been thrown by one shihan who, when I attempted to hit him, disappeared (not really) and I ended up banging on the floor without really knowing just how I got there. Another instructor went through what he thought was the same movements but felt like a piece of wood. Which instructor do I want to take kinaesthetic learning from?

There has to be a balance between instruction, demonstration, sensation, and 'socratic teaching' - if that's what it's called... (it is, but New Zealand Sport calls it "the New Zealand Coach Approach"). I guess I'll add to my earlier statement - the best instructors know how to balance their delivery and adapt it to the person/group they're leading.
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Old 06-19-2016, 06:53 PM   #14
rugwithlegs
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Good point Walter - I haven't had anywhere near the kinesthetic experience with perfect technique that I have had with perfectly terrible technique.
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Old 06-19-2016, 07:53 PM   #15
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Ultimately, aikido is a physical skill. And so while I understand that different people learn in different ways, I try to encourage students to experiment physically rather than asking questions verbally.

Of course, 'experimenting physically' can and should include questions and verbal feedback. Where I see people run into problems is when they try to think a technique through in their heads without actually making contact with their partner.

Katherine
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Old 06-20-2016, 07:08 AM   #16
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

It's not just physical skills vs. non-physical skills. If a student, on day one of a chemistry class, asked the professor to explain redox reactions, what's the professor supposed to do? They can give an explanation, but the student lacks the background to understand it. It's the same with any learning: you need to learn the fundamentals before you can understand the advanced topics.
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Old 06-20-2016, 10:36 AM   #17
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
-Abraham Lincoln (or Mark Twain)

Questions cut both ways. I can ask a stupid question and I can receive a stupid answer. I have witnessed as many "stupid" questions as I have witnessed "stupid" answers. My general advice is to use questions to clarify what you believe to be the instruction at-hand. If your instructor can't clarify what she is doing, be suspect. If you ask a question that is far afield of the instruction, be suspect. Questions are like echo location - use them to find your target. This often correlates with the observation that better initial instruction requires fewer questions to clarify the instruction.

Our questions say a lot about where our level of learning stands. Our answers say a lot about our level of understanding. If I were to witness a math teacher inappropriately relate the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus during geometry, I might be suspect of the quality of instruction. Why? The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus is a big part of advanced math, doesn't that mean the teacher is good? Not necessarily. Similarly, a question asked with improper timing may be more instructive of where the student is getting confused, even if the question is poor.

Kinesiology is a big part of our training. But there is a legitimate need to clarify movement with questions.

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Old 06-20-2016, 01:07 PM   #18
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Do you mean "be suspect" (whatever that is) or "be suspicious"?
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Old 06-20-2016, 01:42 PM   #19
rugwithlegs
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
It's the same with any learning: you need to learn the fundamentals before you can understand the advanced topics.
I would say that cuts both ways. Don't understand enough fundamentals to ask a useful question, questions are wasted.

But, don't understand the fundamentals, then advanced topics are going to be out of reach and maybe wasted too.
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Old 06-20-2016, 02:43 PM   #20
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
Do you mean "be suspect" (whatever that is) or "be suspicious"?
Yeah, I am just using the verb, not the adjective. At some point, you will have something to suspect of some kind of behavior (bad teaching, inaccuracy, etc.).

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Old 06-29-2016, 06:28 AM   #21
Amir Krause
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

A few comments:

1. I am doubtful as to "traditional" equating "no questions", I suspect this is only true for some styles and martial-arts, and not all. Personally, as Korindo aikido student, I have always been encouraged to ask questions, both at local dojo, and when visiting our hombu in japan as a young shodan. Was invited to a koryu dojo too, and they did not try to discourage from asking questions either. I actually had the opposite impression - teachers wishing for students to ask.
If I were to guess, the martial arts in which they discourage questions are those adapted to teaching very large groups and give seminars, or to teach in high schools. I would also suspect the language issue mentioned above was involved.

2. It is possible to learn by trying and practicing alone. yet, the purpose of a teacher should be to help students get shortcuts in the learning process, for some people this involves explanations, for others, just feeling the technique, and for others, visualization is best. This may also depend on exact fix for that student at that step (if he needs several, explanation will focus him on right one).

3. Answering questions opens up the possibility to talk of principles behind movements, also the options of adjusting to change (the classic "what if he does ...?" question). If teacher has real knowledge to transfer, and he kows to teach, he is probably able to teach in more than one manner.

Amir
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Old 07-03-2016, 01:15 PM   #22
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Re: Pro's and con's of asking questions.

I encourage questions at my place, as long as they are limited to what we're working on in that group, on that day, or between the pair.

Sometimes you, as the teacher, are asked a question to which you don't have an answer. I've found that the best way to answer this one is to admit it and try to find out, right then, by enlisting the students involved.

Question: (whatever etc etc etc."
Me: "Hmm... you know, I don't really know. I think [X] but I'm not sure that's right. Let's go into the lab and figure it out."

Hands-on practice, working through the question presented as best we can.

Obviously, most of these types of questions come up with dan grades working on advanced stuff for which I myself had had only about 15 years or so acquaintance, so I've not lived my way through it enough myself yet.

I find it interesting that the kanji character for kuzushi illustrates a mountain falling on a house.
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