Teaching Ed Parker's American Kenpo Karate; respect all, fear none.

Teaching Ed Parker's American Kenpo Karate; respect all, fear none.


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Involve Me and I Learn - A Call to Action

One of the most important aspects of martial arts (and martial sciences) is the student-teacher relationship. That relationship is key to drawing students in, helping them to truly understand our System, and getting them to employ critical thinking to really become martial artists. As instructors, it is important for us to be stewards of information; and to do our best to ensure that students not only receive that information, but effectively retain it and put it into practice as well. Too often in seminars, however, I have seen instructors that do not effectively teach even though they are effective communicators. The reason I did not feel they were especially good instructors is that, even if they understood the system well, they only used the spoken word when teaching.

We speak to entertain and inform; to relay concepts and ideas. But one cannot truly teach the martial arts and sciences through words alone. There is a Chinese proverb that can be roughly translated:

Tell me and I forget,
teach me and I remember,
involve me and I learn.

The last part of this is the key to it all: involve me.... and I learn.

As a part of the human condition, we are creatures innately programmed toward action. This is demonstrated through our evolution as skilled hunters. It is shown by our need for large amounts of repetition to embed movement into memory (Repetition is a key to learning that could and may become an entire article unto itself). To this end, my call to action for all Instructors is to make sure you are doing just that: involving your students. To aid in my call, I will share the 3 things that I have found effective instructors to do - and that I strive to do when instructing - that have helped me retain and learn as a student.

1Engage with students through direct eye contact, speaking clearly and concisely on principles and concepts.
[Tell me and I forget]
Don't just tell them. Lectures are effective for some types of information. But for Kenpo instruction that's not the case. We have all been in conversations where people are talking to us, not speaking with us, or demonstrating to us what we need to see. Make sure you are using proper body language and eye contact to impart knowledge. Furthermore, employ self-awareness so you are paying attention to students' body language and attitudes. Note: This is not to say that you should tolerate disrespect on your mat. It should not be difficult, though, to discern disrespect and disregard from disconnection.

2Break information down into digestible pieces.
[Teach me and I remember]
This concept is commonly referred to as 'chunking'. Dr. Troy Wilson (Ph.D. in pedagogy), a personal Kenpo instructor of mine for numerous years, showed me the mutually beneficial and multi-pronged value of this lesson. Chunking provides value to the instructor by making information easier to convey. It provides value to the student via precise information exchange, and by allowing the instructor to relate critical concepts to each other while preventing overstimulation (i.e., information overload). Note: I have had other instructors demonstrate this lesson in how they engaged with me, but it was Mr. Wilson who first brought it to my attention to say, "...this is how the human mind works and why teaching this way is effective." He was right. 

3. Execution is not application. Application requires involvement.
[Involve me and I learn]
I choose my words carefully in the above statement... not executing the technique, applying the technique. Yes, we must start with a strong base in instructing. And that strong base comes from teaching basics and using those basics to build techniques. Yes, we must explain to the student the fundamentals of a technique (concepts, moves, rules and principles of motion, etc.)... but this is where too many instructors stop.

There is another critical step: application. Application does not just mean putting students in Kenpo's well-known technique lines. That is merely another aspect of execution. Application requires involving the student. Application, in its purest form, is a 1-1 action set between the instructor and the student. The instructor must demonstrate the technique correctly to show why and how the technique works (pain included, where feasible), and correct the student's execution when refinement is needed. This is a key point for the instructor: Not just speaking, not just 'teaching,' but doing.

The student must imitate the instructor as closely as possible (considering different body mechanics for different body types, of course) and then, after receiving correction, instill the technique through proper repetition. That is application; by definition, "putting something into operation," and that takes involvement. The message to our students (given enough time and good partners with whom to practice) should always be: "Don't execute a technique, apply a technique." And as an instructor and a practitioner who admittedly 'did it wrong' for many years, I can always tell a difference between the two when a student performs via class, testing, etc.

For these reasons and many others, it is crucial for instructors to involve students in the learning process.  Without involving them, both physically and mentally, retention is only partially attainable – and the ability for a student to apply what is learned, remote. In other words, if all you do is talk at your students, don't expect a good return on investment for your time (and in most cases their money). 

So that's it. This is my call to action: Do not tell your students. Do not teach your students. Involve your students. In doing so, all we can do is make Kenpo better - both our own and our System.