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Why Can't They Teach

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Why Can't They Teach

Ted Sumner, Judan
10th degree black belt
Tracy's Kenpo Karate

Your best student has just earned their Black Belt. Everyone is ecstatic over the accomplishment. Your first assignment for the person wearing the stiff new black belt is to teach Kimono Grab to a new Yellow Belt. As you watch, the Black Belt stumbles over their words, evades the student's questions and simply "shows" the student repeatedly how to perform the technique.  What is wrong? The person is a Black Belt, surely they can teach a simple Orange Belt technique like Kimono Grab.

The fact is, most Black Belts can show a student how to perform a technique or movement, but do not possess the skills to teach the technique. Why is this? Simply put, teaching is a science, just like Kenpo is a science. Until the Black Belt learns the science of teaching, or more specifically the science of teaching Kenpo, they will only be good for conducting group-training sessions, not teaching.

So how do we prepare our premier students to become capable teachers?  We must expand the context of the learning experience for the student.  The reason that there are so many mediocre teachers of the martial arts is that they simply teach "procedural knowledge". They show the student how to do the technique, and then require that the student do it just like they did. They do not explain the context in which the functionality of the principle is valid. Nor do they require a demonstration of "declarative knowledge". If you want to find out how much your student has learned, simply ask them the "explain" to you the technique they just learned and under what circumstances it would be the appropriate response.

Deconstruct and Reconstruct

In order to accomplish a successful learning experience the instructor must provide the context of the problem. Then offer the complete solution. Now your student is probably completely confused. This is where the teaching begins! You must deconstruct the component parts of the attack to their smallest identifiable unit. Then reconstruct those parts so that the student understands the total nature of the attack. The same procedure should be followed with the defensive technique, which will sometimes require the procedure of deconstruction and reconstruction to be repeated several times.

Once the student can perform the movement, or demonstrate "procedural knowledge", the instructor must reinforce the students "declarative knowledge". The student should verbally deconstruct and reconstruct the component parts of the technique over and over until they have constructed "meaning" of the knowledge offered. Without meaning, there is no relevance and the knowledge offered is just so much data, like the New York City Phone book, when you are trying to find someone in Cleveland.

This process should also involve experiential stimuli. The student must physically manifest their new knowledge by working the components of the relevant principles of defense on the instructor, or if you are getting as old as I am, a suitable uki. This not only gives the student control of their learning, but also provides an intense, credible experience that develops meaning. Intense face-to-face interaction, analysis, evaluation and performance is the only way to assure a successful transfer of not only skills, but functional knowledge. This is the process of "constructing" understanding. This is how you prepare your students to become quality instructors of Kenpo.

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