“I’m going to watch you,” are not welcome words from someone who outranks me when I’m teaching an introductory class to fresh-off-the-street kung fu students. It’s even more uncomfortable when Sifu’s the one watching, as he was Monday night.
I’ve only assisted in teaching the beginner class for the last six months, but I’ve spent years making basic techniques muscle memory for my own body. When I have to instruct someone who’s completely unfamiliar with martial arts language, I’m often surprised at how hard it is to verbalize to others what is automatic for me.
A veteran black sash put it best just a few days ago: “First we learn how to do it, then we have to learn how to teach it.”
One would think the latter follows naturally from the former, but not necessarily. People earn degrees in education. So, clearly, someone caught on a long time ago to the idea that folks need to learn how to teach whatever their expertise is, particularly to young children or those with minimal foundation.
So what’s the big deal about having to learn how to teach kung fu, one might ask? It was indisputably harder to learn how to do it, and that part – at least for the first degree – is over.
What’s bothering me is this: there are almost as many different ways to teach as there are personalities. Teachers, like parents (and people in general, for that matter) have their own style. And style is valuable. It’s what makes one teacher a favorite and another a snoozer.
But teaching is also about uniformity. Everyone should be getting the same information, be told to do the same technique in the same way. It’s what I always wanted most as a kung fu student. In fact, it could often frazzle my type-A personality to be given variations on the same technique, because a variation meant that whether I was doing it right depended entirely upon which teacher I was talking to. That just didn’t sit well.
Still, there’s a difference between being taught to make sure that the technique is uniform and being taught to make sure that the manner one uses to teach the technique is the same. Which takes me back to where I started.
When a more experienced instructor (especially if it’s Sifu!) is watching me teach, it’s my style that’s under the microscope, the thing that’s personal. I’ve been told before to tweak how I deliver the lesson, not what’s in it.
In short, it’s hard not to take personally a threat to something that’s personal. But that’s one of the things we so-called grown-ups are expected to do. And I’ll get there, I know. After all, the hardest part of my kung fu education is already over.