For centuries, being the uke of a skilled instructor has caused cold sweat and second thoughts in students. There’s something about bowing and walking toward your impending doom that seems like a bad idea.
Times have changed somewhat, and with the increase in school sizes and seminars students are more likely to watch techniques from an expert rather than experience them. In fact, a lot of students get good at melding into the background when the instructor gazes around the room for viable volunteers.
This begs the question – what do you get out of watching a technique vs experiencing it?
Back in the ‘ooool days, teachers didn’t do a lot of active discussion. They mostly demanded repetition from students and then tossed them around to demonstrate technique. There’s something intangibly effective about this method (just watch the old masters for proof).
However, we’ve learned a lot more about pedagogy since then and the ways in which we can maximize human learning.
It’s silly to ignore the value of discussion, explanation, and cognitive science. That’s why western style teaching has ultimately influenced martial arts all over the world. A dominant part of the western teaching philosophy is watching and listening (just imagine any given classroom).
When you watch a martial art technique performed, you get a big picture sense of what’s happening. You can observe the distance between the two opponents, the way the engagement occurs, and the way it concludes.
A detail-oriented teacher can explain the ways in which he/she is using physics to maximize force or leverage. They can show how and why they are disrupting their opponent’s timing or balance.
This is all very valuable input, but not a complete learning experience. Think of it this way: You could watch Xgames skateboarders every day for ten years, including every instructional video made. Armed with all that knowledge, what do you think is STILL going to happen the first time you step onto a skateboard?
You might think to yourself…well yea Matt, your point is obvious – a student has to train to get better. That’s why we do partner drills after an explanation, so that we can try the technique!
Not so fast.
Two people that don’t know the technique can help each other improve…but are either truly doing what the instructor is doing? Is it as good? How do you know?
Being the uke for an experienced instructor, while often regrettably painful, offers a unique learning experience. You get to feel exactly where the pain is supposed to focus, how the body’s balance is broken, where the points of relaxation and emphasis are placed, and what rhythm is needed to optimize effectiveness.
In addition, you get to feel the energy and spirit pressure placed upon you by someone at a higher skill level.
Of course, there’s a flipside. When acting as uke during intense techniques, your mind is often narrowed and sometimes blanked by the intensity of the event. You can certainly feel things, but recalling exactly how it happened (and why) is another story. There have been many occasions where I’ve been uke for an instructor and shortly after their demonstration I’ve walked back to my training partner in order to ask what happened.
Receiving high level technique is critically important…but not independently ideal.
The Best of Both Worlds
Maximizing your learning potential requires a little bravery. First, you have to take your best blending-in-with-the-crowd tactics and stuff them in a box under your bed. Get up there and experience the real thing. On top of that, you can’t be afraid to ask questions, even if it means going through another round of demonstration.
On the other hand, you don’t want to get too caught up in the action. Give yourself a chance to slow down and really look at what’s going on. Analyze the science in order to get to the art.
Remember: technique speed and physical strength are the go-to methods of students who are trying to breeze over the finer details of a technique. Do things slow and relaxed until you get it right. Pay attention to the small things like foot placement, body movement, angle, timing, etc.
If you have a teacher who tends to discuss technique while relying on partner pairing, politely wait for him or her to become available and ask to see the technique a bit closer. Every teacher I know is happy to oblige such requests.
There’s no question that caution and common sense should always guide your training, and I’m not suggesting you throw yourself headlong at every teacher you see (that would be impolite, and some teachers should genuinely be avoided because they lack control). But if you are with a good, kind teacher that also happens to be very skilled…it’s in your best interest to experience what they can do first hand.
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Howdy everyone. As you know I work closely with the Karate Depot team to figure out new ways in which to help martial artists.
Recently we realized something unusual about martial arts retailers – every company has a standard store front with wholesale tacked on the side as an afterthought. Karate Depot was just as guilty! We realized that with such a large contingent of school owners getting online to promote their business and supply their students, why shouldn’t there be a resource dedicated entirely to them?
It was with that idea Zengu.com was born.
Zengu combines the resources of multiple different retail sites, including http://www.karatedepot.com, http://www.boxingdepot.com, and http://www.mmaopinion.com. Pooling these resources into one location resulted in a greatly improved product selection. The prices were then dropped as close to factory as possible while still allowing for a sustainable business model.
After that core framework was taken care of, we went in and started building features that would benefit martial art school owners specifically. For example, on Zengu you have the ability to create and save lists of products that you may need for tournaments, demonstrations, or routine school maintenance (click here to learn more about Zengu’s tools). Each list is separate and can be quickly ordered or re-ordered any time they are needed.
It can be difficult to remember which products you need (and how many) when taking registrations, prepping events, promoting students, etc. so these kinds of tools provide a streamlined experience.
To become a part of Zengu, simply sign up for a free account and submit your proof of business. After that the KD team will activate your account and you’ll be good to go. Also, for a little added publicity for your school, don’t miss out on the Zengu Network.
I was glad to be a part of this project, and I hope Zengu adds to my core goal of helping other martial artists in their training journey.
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One of the best ways to stay hungry for improvement and stave of complacency is to get exposed to high level martial artists.
Observing top practitioners of any classical style can quickly fill you with a mix of emotion (admiration, uncertainty, self-consciousness, inspiration, etc). It can also be a surefire way to stay humble.
If you think about it…a martial artist who trains with 10-15 people will eventually start to base his/her sense of ability on how they perform against those other individuals. If said martial artist starts to dominate, he/she could easily lose perspective and let ego grab hold.
If that pool of people were much bigger and included some top practitioners, the artist would be much more inclined to keep perspective.
I’m fortunate in that I have the Heilmans and their four Kyoshi to keep me in check routinely. But this last weekend’s IKKF Annual Training served as a reboot for every student present.
At our annual gathering we get a chance to train under premiere instructors like Bill Hayes (Shorin Ryu), Jody Paul (Motobu Udundi), and Miguel Ibarra (Aikijujitsu). But this year we also had the pleasure of hosting some of most senior Okinawa Kenpoka such as George Epps, Larry Isaac, Vic Coffin, and Al Louis (some of whom also brought senior students from their respective dojo). Put that together with the Heilmans and their Kyoshi and what you have is a gigantic soup of experience.
While all the teachers no doubt enjoyed reconnecting and sharing with each other, we (the students) were the lucky ones as we could not turn around without seeing or learning something interesting. I was in attendance for all three days and still couldn’t attend a seminar by every instructor.
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If you find yourself training in a vacuum, constantly re-convincing yourself that you know enough and are the keeper of “the truth”, I highly recommend making an effort to connect with other respectable martial artists. They can be within your own style, or from something completely different.
The key of course is to use such connections to enhance an already strong foundation. Being a seminar jumper or video collector without a core operating system results in a lot of surface level, superficial understanding. But, when done right, such experiences can help you keep that classical mindset of humility and curiosity.