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Teaching beginners at Myoken.

By Myoken Dojo, Jun 7 2016 08:30AM


Since we started the beginners course in September last year Elena and I have tried a new approach to teaching beginners. Elena has a degree in Sports Coaching, so we decided to adapt (please don't be offended) methods taught for teaching children. The basic principle is to have fun, not let them get bored and not let them have time to think about, or overthink, what they are trying to achieve.


In the past we had both been very intense, trying to help students learn as much as possible and improve as quickly as possible, and in the process the drop out rate was about 90% or more, and those we retained seemed to either not value what they had learned or quickly loose the foundations when they tried to progress. So we decided to just let them have fun.


Of course there must be some teaching, but we kept it to an absolute minimum. "Do this" (show them Honte Uchi... no explanation - at all, nothing - just do this. Back and forth across the dojo till they were sweating, us doing our practice at the same time, doing our best performance. We noticed that some watched and gradually adjusted to match, but we said nothing. Then Gyakute Uchi... "Do this"... no explanation. Back and forth across the dojo.


After a while (an hour or so) "open your thumb like this" (some had worked this out for themselves), "and finish with the end of the jo on the centre, if you can and about face height." No pressure, no shouting. And then do it again. 2nd week the same and 1st kata. No explanation. When we watched what they were doing we could easily have given in, stopped them and have spent all the lesson teaching and improving, but instead we held our tongues, joined in, showed them what we do and left them to practice.



They loved it.


Iaido came later, first they need to learn to use a sword, so basic suburi: men uchi, kote uchi, kirioroshi, with me, no explanation, just watch and copy. After an hour I showed them the technique in Kendo no kata 1 and 2, no formality, just cut, get out of the way, cut. If they were to see a video of what they were doing then, they would most likely agree that it was awful, but we let it go and allow it for now.


They loved it and they all came back.


As they progressed we gradually added bow to each other, bow to the front. Later adding the Japanese names. Shi Uchi kotai: at first random chaos, but not interrupting the get on and practice feeling. Later walking together in time, later handing the weapons correctly. All over a period of about 6 months. The focus was always on doing it as many times as possible, just the way you do it now. More teaching would follow, but not yet.


Similarly when they started iaido, I showed them a kata and said do this. I practiced directly in front of each one in turn as they gradually tuned in to what I was doing. No pressure, no lengthy explanations, just do it and do it and do it.


From the teacher's perspective it is very difficult to not jump in and try and change things, but from the start we wanted them to work so hard that they didn't have time to think too much, to avoid overthinking. Later we would add just a detail here and there for them to focus on, but nothing more.


6 months in and we have 75% retention of new students. Their progress in relation to Ikkyu and Shodan is perhaps slower than other dojo, but none of us is concerned about that. No pressure. When they are ready they will be there and in relatively high numbers I think. In the spring, if they can afford it and take the trouble I suspect we wiill have about 10 taking ikkyu jo and iai, maybe more We'll see how it works out.


As we move forward now, about 6 months into the experiment, what we find is that

1. they learn new things: kihon, kata, whatever, much quicker and

2. When they learn something new all the foundations of posture, footwrk and so on are retained.

This gives me hope that in the long term as we gradually become more formal and traditional in the training, the fun element will be retained and the foundations will be solid for future growth.


This is now the method of Myoken Dojo. I'll keep you posted.

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