In January of 1992 I started a training group at the request of my teacher Mark Davis. He told me that teaching this art is about creating an experience for the student so that they discover the principle you are trying to teach them on their own.
Take a moment to understand that statement.
Teaching is not about memorizing the movements of a kata. The kata are learning tools. They teach principles that change the student’s perspective and understanding.
You have to study the material, take it apart and then put all back together again so that you can find the principles inside and then set up exercises for the student to discover those principles. The nice part about our art is that the lion’s share of the work is done for you with our To-Shin Do curriculum. Now the question is, do we understand it?
Recently during a training session with a number of instructors we looked at taijutsu concepts underlying each of the elemental levels. Kamae and ken tai ichi jo (body alignment and the use of gravity) for the earth levels, Mai (alignment and distancing between attacker and defender) for the water levels, etc…
I explained to them that I don’t explain these concepts to students at those levels. I use the To-Shin Do curriculum as the experience to pass on these concepts. For example koyoku at the earth level, I may ask a student which direction is their arm moving when it strikes the hook punch coming in. Then explain to them that the direction their knee is pointing is the direction their energy goes in when they bend their knees.
I recently did this and the student made the leap to “I should make sure my knee is pointing in the same direction then.” Yes exactly, they discovered the principle within the technique, they own it.
Another example of this type of teaching is trying to get people to move backward into ichimonji no kamae for water movement. It is a very difficult concept for some, I have noticed especially for strong, young male students.
So instead of telling them all the things I’ve learned about ichimonji no kamae. I ask them if they have ever been in a tug-of-war. Then I take off my belt have them hold one end and I the other. Then on the count of three we have a tug-of-war. That I say is similar to the movement of water and how to get into ichimonji no kamae.
Is it exactly? No of course not but it is a start, an experience they can relate to so they can begin to understand. If at that moment they try the kata again with this new understanding and get success they have forged a new synapses in their brain to the idea. They are learning.
The taijutsu ideas for each of the elemental belt levels are guidelines that we as teachers use. I don’t talk to earth level students about wind level taijutsu ideas because it is not time yet for them. Any corrections made for a student at the earth level are only about body alignment and using gravity.
If I am correcting a blue belt it will be about alignment between them and the attacker or it could be about the earth level body alignment and gravity because they have already been exposed to it. I can correct backward in levels but not forward.
You have to give people time to internalize this material. It cannot be watched and then regurgitated because memorizing the steps of the kata are not the art. The kata are ingenious experiential learning tools that pass on principles. Memorizing kata and saying you understand the art is like holding up a paintbrush or a guitar and saying I am a painter, I am a musician. Not unless you can do something with them you’re not.
As I understand it “sensei” means one who has gone before. It is our job, as teachers, to guide the students so they can find their way, not tell them ours.