Friday, June 11, 2010

Pedagogy in Martial Arts Part1


I have been to numerous seminars over the past handful of years and have gotten to see first hand how aikido, judo and varied other art forms are taught at the seminar level. I have also spent the past ten years in teacher education seminars, some of the presenters were great, other dreadful.

I have come to a conclusion. All seminars are not created equal. I have been to stunning life changing events, and I have been to dreadful and boring sessions. Just because someone has rank in a style, it does not make them a insightful or skilled teacher. Teaching and learning is the art I study both professionally and for my martial interests. Because of this I really notice a poorly taught seminar, and they pain me greatly. The amount of time and money I have spent on poor education in my life has been staggering. I will drive across the state or country to attend a seminar, spend money on accommodations, gas, food and fees. But....I expect something in return. Teach me! Show me the magic!

Dear teachers, your single job as an artist hosting a seminar is to impart information. A vast majority of the seminars I have been to have no focus - "what do you want to learn?" is a question I have heard many times.

What I really want to learn is all the stuff I don't know. Enlighten me!

Do you know what the problem is? Is most martial arts teachers don't study the art of being a teacher. Knowledge of kata, or technique is not going to cut it. Study pedagogy! Study it those of you who will be emerging in the coming decades as the next generation of teachers!

"Pedagogy (pronounced /ˈpɛdəɡɒdʒi/ or /ˈpɛdəɡoʊdʒi/[1][2]) is the study of being a teacher. The term generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction.[3]

Pedagogy is also occasionally referred to as the correct use of instructive strategies (see instructional theory). For example, Paulo Freire referred to his method of teaching adult humans as "critical pedagogy". In correlation with those instructive strategies the instructor's own philosophical beliefs of instruction are harbored and governed by the pupil's back-ground knowledge and experience, situation, and environment, as well as learning goals set by the student and teacher."

So I attended a seminar sponsored by an Aikikai dojo some time ago. The system of teaching at the seminar level equated to a teacher coming out, grunting and throwing the uke once or twice. He then went to the side and sat and watched as the overcrowded room practiced whatever they perceived him to do. While this is a traditional model of teaching, I venture to say it can be improved. It wastes time because half the time the people did not know what they were supposed to be doing. There was no goal to the teaching. it was a 'do as I do' seminar. Merely copying and regurgitating technique. What teachers like this are doing is showing a lack of growth in teaching methodology.

How do you effectively teach a seminar? Let me use Lowry's winter sessions as a good example.

1. First, let us know what you want us to learn. What is your goal? Clearly define it for yourself and your students. Have exercises work to develop that clear objective.

Lowry Sensei told us he wanted us to learn and practice skills for multiple attacker scenarios.

2. Use students existing skills, and focus them on drills towards the goal. Drill with a focus on the goal!

Lowry Sensei took techniques all students in his system know, and slowly built drills and exercises around them towards the goal of multiple attack.

3. Build upon successfully drills one variable at a time - always keeping the goal in mind. In case you did not hear that last sentence - BUILD WITH THE GOAL IN MIND!

Lowry Sensei carefully crafted each lesson to make it more challenging, but keeping it in the realm where the students could be successful. Every lesson logically built on the next - towards the goal.

4. Highlight the successes and creatively test and access people during the process!

We went through the sequence of learning several times. Every person in the room that came to most of the sessions found success.

Clear goals, based upon building students previous knowledge, exercises to build and challenge new skills, assessment and individualized instruction. Key factors in a successful seminar teaching session.

Teachers, I show up to learn. Please don't waste time with poorly constructed teaching. A great teacher can change a life and practice with one session. Take this responsibility seriously.


  1. I think teacher-student connection is paramount. If that's not happening, then not much is. Especially for a seminar which is a one time deal with a group of students, the teacher should make an effort to at one point connect with each student. In martial arts, I think that requires physical technique practice, as well as some verbal exchange. I don't care if there are a lot of students, I think that's the responsibility of a teacher.

  2. One thing I love about Eric is that he is a student. While he has taught me much, his most important lesson is to always continue to learn. This article is a snapshot of his mind's impression at one point in space and time. It resonates with truth, but he is lo longer the man who wrote it. He has learned from the process of writing the article and has grown in his own art by organizing these thoughts on "paper." In our laboratory we experience and learn from one another. He learns from his students and everyone he encounters. Like every human, he can resist some lessons, but eventually he succombs. Eric invests in failure, and by learning from failure he succeeds in his ultimate goals.

    I have met many teachers who profess but no longer learn. The ego can close even the broadest of minds over time. Anyone walking this path of ours should take this lesson with the spirit it is given, and cultivate that which seems relevant to his or her own art. I have met many teachers who would get their feathers ruffled over this article, and I find the best lessons to be learned from them are antithetical.