Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lessons learned from teaching

As I got back from Madrid, where I conducted a Systema seminar less than a month after the previous one in Belgium, it was time to summarize the thoughts and conclusions drawn. As I have pointed earlier, for me, teaching is a wonderful learning experience. Especially so when you are able to intersperse regular training in your group/club with occasional seminar or two.

Spanish batch

What seems like the biggest difference in approach is that in one's group it makes more sense to go with a relaxed and not to tightly structured sessions, as knowing the people and feeling their mood allows for a more intuitive approach. It does not mean going with a totally haphazard manner, though. The point is that since the majority of club members are around most of the time (at least they should be), sooner or alter they will be exposed to all parts of the curriculum (if you have one) and learn all the fundamental stuff you have to offer.

In seminars, on the other hand, the presentation must be better structured, no matter the chosen topic, so that the attendees can put thing into perspective. In my case, it means showing the entire (or as much as possible) progression in developing some skill, thus hopefully helping the information retention with the participants. Obviously, it can mean several things.

First, mechanical fundamentals of the skill you are teaching. Preferably, you will do it in a "chronological" manner, i.e. following the logic of "what they need to know first, and then next, etc". For example, blocking an attackers strike with stick with your own will be weak if you do not know how to grip the implement; kicking someone in the head does not make much sense if you do not know how to do a low kick, and so on.

Next, adding the external force to the drill. Essentially it means some form of resistance on either side. In doing a takedown, the opponent will try to prevent the fall; in executing a punch or kick, the partner will be moving... On defense, you may first learn the rolls and breakfalls on your own, to be followed by a partner pushing you.

Finally, add the emotional content. This is a very important aspect, and many people/schools fail to do it. IN line with the above examples, you will be looking for a takedown while the opponent is punching you; same with striking; or instead of being pushed into rolls and falls - you are kicked etc. This is where sparring becomes essential, but it does not stop there, nor is it the only way to achieve the desired outcome.

The bottom line is - train with aliveness (yeah, get acquainted with Matt Thornton's work if you have not so far), but go both symmetrical and asymmetrical with it (read my own previous posts if you have not :-)

Again, back to the class vs. seminar issue. The last mentioned part of the progression is easier to realize in the club setting. simply, in seminars there are way too many factors that have to be taken into account - logistics (protective equipment, space, weapon facsimiles...), matching people's level and experience, monitoring so many people at once, so on and so forth.

Naturally, some domains of fighting are easier to govern as you go further. It is obviously less risky to go run people through the full scope of resistance in grappling then (kick)boxing, wrestling than stick fighting... But that is probably the subject to be discussed at another point in time.

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