Sunday, October 16, 2011

Balancing Opposites

The three opposites I’ll address today are Compliments and Criticism, If /  Then and of course Go / Ju
 Compliments and Criticism
Have you ever watched the faces of the children when you are teaching or judging them? Do you see their faces light up when you give them the smallest compliment? Do you use the methodology of placing your corrections in between some words of encouragement? A black belt recently mentioned that he thought students were getting weaker. I would like to offer an opposite view. Maybe children aren't weaker. Here are three ideas on that subject:
1.       Our memories are based on the difficulties we overcame as kyus. However, if I really look back, I have many memories of my Sensei giving me encouragement. I have memories of him believing in me more than I believed in myself.
2.       The saying “I do to my students what was done to me.” isn’t necessarily the healthiest teaching style. Unless you have a photographic and objective memory, it is possible that what was "done to you" was much more complicated than you remember. A few people do have photographic memories. I don’t know anyone who judges their own past objectively. Most of us are quite subjective.
3.       The student grows to admire the Sensei in a way that borders on worship. There is such a responsibility on the part of a Sensei to properly manage that trust. If all we do is correct  and criticize the student verbally, and they don’t have a great self-image, we need to think if we are partially responsible for that.
I am not asking teachers to lie to students and tell them they're great when they’re not. I’m asking you to include empathy in your teaching style. Think about how it feels to constantly be corrected without compliments or encouragement to balance out the work. Here is a (hopefully) quick example. I have a 6 year old who cannot hold still OR be quiet. We’re working on it. At a few points during the training I will turn to him and mention that I see he is holding still (or holding his words in). He beams at the compliment.
One last opinion: Keep your mind open for something to say to everyone within the training time. Please don’t be a person who only compliments the physically talented students and doesn’t notice  the effort of the majority of the students. Oos?
If / Then
I sometimes wonder if I am the only teacher who has students with self-control issues. I cannot imagine I am. We all know the standard ways to work through these. Here are a few I use regularly:
1.        Remind the kids before class of your expectations.
2.        Redirect their attention during training.
         Keep them busy. 
         Be a good example.
         Give them incentive.
         Ignore the indiscretion.
(Reminders and incentives are subjects I am interested in, yet there is no room in this post to go into detail. Write me if this is something you have ideas, questions, or opinions about.)
What I want to discuss here is the waste of effort in the use of the words IF / THEN. First let me give you an example. Teacher to student: “If you interrupt me again, I’m not going to let you spar.” This creates a lose / lose situation. The reason this is lose / lose is because you have created an adversarial relationship with someone you are trying to mentor. Also, in karate, we’re trying to raise people who are willing to step up to a challenge and now we’ve created a negative challenge. How could it surprise us when they step to the challenge? There are many ways to figure out how to handle this kind of situation. Write me and tell me what works for you. (It is almost time for me to post some reader feedback). I’ll tell you a couple of strategies that I like. (I’m going to use the example of kids talking during training. But the strategy will work for other interruptions.):
1.       Especially if it is sound related. I’ll stop training for a second and address the comment. ("I'm thirsty!" is an example.) Then I’ll say “Does everyone agree we should get back to training. "We'll finish this and then all get water?” And we’ll go back to it.
2.       If someone interrupts again with the same problem, I’ll say "Would you guys rather do that than get to the end of the day game that I planned?” Sometimes people ask” what is the game today?” I smile and say I won’t tell. Everyone agrees we should get back to work.
3.       With a really young class (ages 5 – 7) I have situations where the student wouldn’t or couldn’t control him (or her) self. Here is my first choice in that situation. If I am alone, I get the class repeating a movement to a sound (usually music). While they’re moving and the music is noisy, I go over and privately ask the child if he thinks he can start to control the behavior. He almost always says yes and we push on. (Then I notice and say good job as we continue.) If I have helpers, I let a helper teach. Take the child and ask him if he thinks he can control the action, join us and have fun. I try not to seem impatient. The child usually says yes.  We go back and I use the compliment when I can. I also compliment after class when I can.
Here the teacher is spending a minute of class time teaching kids to ignore by being the annoying person.
4.       I ignore it. I have an entire game where I teach my kids to ignore annoying distractions. In the game, they sit and talk to each other and the teachers are the annoying people. The children's job is to ignore the annoyance completely. Don’t look up, react to it, or address it in any way. It is tricky, fun and a great learning experience.
The thing I try to remember daily is that I am trying to make a student who is strong, confident, self-disciplined and courteous. I’m not trying to make a mini-me. I’m trying to make a magnificent Them. To close off this portion of the post, I want to relate a story a parent told me. One of my students wanted to go to a karate summer camp. I said “Go. Have fun!”. A few days after camp started the mom came to me and said she pulled her son out of camp. The camp Sensei came to her at the end of the day and told her that her son was “a tough nut to crack” but she would do it! To me this is a prefect example of a Sensei who doesn't really understand that the job of the Sensei is to create a great individual, NOT squish out all traces of individuality.  Needless to say, the young man was ready to leave when mom suggested it.
Go / Ju
This last little discussion isn’t really about kids. It is just about opposites creating the whole. Of course Go means hard and Ju means soft. That is the style of Martial Art I study. Many of us talk about balancing hard and soft. Examples abound: courtesy and fighting spirit, exertion and meditation, work and play.
However, I’m interested in the idea that teachers still mistake kindness for weakness in themselves. The saying “Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.”  was told to me by my teacher many years ago. It is one of those sentences that is easy to say, but elusive to live by.  I encourage you to look closely. Call upon your kindness and notice that when you call upon something it originates in your chi line. Therefore, because of it’s origin, it is powerful. Then, you might notice, the next time you call upon your chi to say “no” it will be more powerful, confident, and less reactionary.  Let me know what you find in your journey.