Sharer not Teacher

Sharer not Teacher

I always enjoy a good chat with Steven and I told him about my recent experience teaching Aikido. We both have very similar ideas towards teaching, or in his context, sharing.

As mentioned in my earlier blog post, I decided to ‘teach’ and not split my efforts trying to train. We explored in depth and agreed that teaching brings a practitioner’s journey to full circle, and teaching doesn’t mean that learning stops, there are other learning points as a teacher. If you don’t learn something while you’re teaching, then there is a valuable opportunity wasted!

So while I decided to teach, I also walk away with plenty of lessons for myself to become a better teacher, person and sharer of knowledge.

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Knowledge is knowledge shared

Steven is right to point out, we are all amassing our own nuggets of wisdom and knowledge and if they are not shared, they will be gone… just like that, when we die. I’ve been in Aikido for more than half of my life and that would count for something as a sharing. Aikido as an art is constantly evolving, as the people trained in this discipline are evolving through the various societal pressures and adjustments. I have to play my small part to help perpetuate Aikido into the future, and make sure the link to the past is not forgotten.

As a practitioner, I’m beginning to see the growing importance to make sure I impart Aikido to those who are keen to take it from me. (I almost wanted to type ‘younger’ guys, but I stopped myself, it would have a mindset, limiting myself to a stereotypical knowledge transfer from old to young.)

Not always so.

Not being a conceited teacher 

There is a reluctance to teach due to a competency issue, but we discussed rightfully that I never wanted to teach, but the students found the teacher in me. This is an important revelation for me, as I need to be very careful, do I want to teach, when I am not ready? Or would I fall into a trap where I am ready to teach and yet, turn away from becoming one?

It is a judgement call, and I’m glad I made the right call.

It is kind of the same in my perspective of getting your grade. Say if you got a black belt, there is a few scenarios:

  1. Your level of skills does not meet the requirements of a black belt (work harder!)
  2. Your level of skills exceed the requirements of a black belt (long overdue!)
  3. Your level of skills meet the requirements of a black belt (almost never happens!)

So similarly, taking on a role of a teacher, I am very acutely trying to avoid scenario 1, where I wear a hat too big for myself. Scenario 2 is where I think I am at, and at the same time, I need to play my own devil’s advocate and make sure I do not become scenario 3, which mean I would have a level of conceit seeping in. Which is not only not good for me, but worse for the people I’m trying to teach. (On hindsight, there is also a level of conceit in scenario 2, if we are not careful!!)

Share, Transfer, not Teach

Steven shared with me an experience he had with one of his art students, the student wanted Steven to teach him how to draw like way Steven does his drawing. To which Steven replied: “I cannot teach you, but I can show you, how this pencil is held in my hand, and how my arm move, and create the drawing as desired. But I cannot teach your hand and your arm how to move to create that drawing.” I think that student was very disappointed. He has to draw his own drawings the way his hands and arms move he pencil.

But Steven is right, there is no way for us to really ‘teach’.

At the end of the day…

…there is really nothing to teach that the student already not know. You cannot teach what the students are not ready or unwilling to learn. I’m very thankful that my fellow Aikidokas, juniors, seniors and peers alike sees a value in my perspective and is generally encouraging towards my effort in imparting my knowledge to them.

Please enjoy!

It is a phrase I use often when I am taking a class, and I am a firm believer in enjoyment. While there is a martial arts part of Aikido class, where you need decisiveness to defeat an opponent in a potential life and death situation, it doesn’t mean a dojo have to have that aura.

Training needs to be tough, in a way people enjoys it. My aim is to make it enjoyable for people to attend class.

Come on, let’s be realistic, Aikidokas are humans and have a life, they left their life and give 2 hours to you so that you can show them some Aikido stuffs. They need to learn something, enjoy the journey, it is not a Special Forces selection class. They came by choice and they can leave by choice. Let the students enjoy the lessons so that they can better absorb the experience.

Show and tell

Likewise, a valuable lesson I learned from Steven, which basically crystallizes my thought-process further. There is nothing to teach, I can only show and tell the class how I do what I do, and what is effective for me, which might not be effective for them, they need to take what I’ve shared, and do a little show and tell for themselves to see if it works for them. If it doesn’t, well, don’t take it. Take it but put it aside, you might find a need for that sometime down the road.

So all a teacher can do is show and tell. And thinking about a class like a sharing session, a laboratory, a test-bed for dialogue, not a monologue. Going in to teach risks a monologue, sharing helps me learn what my students can share with me in return and together, both the ‘teacher’ and student grow and mature together.

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It’s ’bout damn time

It’s about damn time.

I can’t say I have arrived as it is always work in progress.

Ee siang asked me to take a Class on last evening, and this time, I decided to do something different.

I decided to teach, I mean really teach.

WHAT???

Yeah, I realised that my previous class was kind of a mixed, because of my attitude.

I still want to learn while I teach. “Learn” as to continue attending the class as an Aikidoka, and not as an Aikido teacher. That subtle difference in the mindset made my session messy, as I still want to roll and practice, but at the same time I had to share the  teaching.

I’m not sure where I got my epiphany from, but I told Tri a couple of days back, that this time, I will choose to teach. I’ll own the class, and not just go there for the practice; as it just dawned to me, if I am going there to practice, that makes me the student, so, who is going to be my teacher?

It may sound kind of duh to many, but it is an identity I struggle with as I clock more years in Aikido. I want to continue practicing and be the ‘hands-on’ guy, and at the same time, my expertise is called upon, as there is a need for me to share my experience and skill.

More importantly, I want to continue to develop my skills and keep my edge sharp, I don’t know if teaching is going to help that, as in the process you sharing and teaching Aikido, you will not really be practicing, and perhaps lose your edge.

Last evening’s class was different as I decided to pick only one role, and keep the identity clear. And it helps to have this decision as it gives my energy clarity. I focused on sharing and teaching and not just hurriedly share a technique and then join the class as practicing that technique. I am able to focus on making sure the class really receives my teaching properly. I didn’t train with the class, and spend time walking the mat, giving pointers to the finer details of the technique I’m teaching. I was also able to pace the class properly as I have oversight of the timing, and flow.

As a matter of fact, I was able to be myself and let my personality show, when I decided to just choose a role. Choosing to teach makes me more aware of my long held fear, that I am not good in teaching, but my owning the role of the teacher, I become good enough, while I will never be perfect (there is no such thing anyway).

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

How many times have we heard that before?

Perhaps there was never a proper ‘train the trainer’ kind of indoctrination and I was the student and tasked to teach, before I can teach properly, I need to be a student to teaching. So I need to teach myself how to teach others Aikido. At the end of the day, perhaps I am just making a mountain out of molehill. There are teachers out there everywhere to takes to teaching like fish to water.

It is not as second nature as it seems, because I’m still attached to an identity, and I am still a student to my teacher, and being his student, there is a strong desire for me to do well passing on the skills he taught me. While I want to regard myself as skilled enough, I still don’t think I am skilled enough to teach, and that’s a problem.

At the end of the day, everything has to be done in good faith, just as I practiced diligently as a student, now I must apply the same diligence when it comes to teaching. The learning I guess never stops, you learn as a learner, and you still learn while you are teaching the learner, perhaps the learning experience is different and I really need to discern that part, so that I can further my learning in Aikido.

I have only One Aikido Sensei

I have only One Aikido Sensei

This is quite a common phenomena, students becoming teachers. It happens everywhere, and it is most likely a good thing.

So why is this an issue then?

It is when a student assumed the role of a teacher.

Harry sensei is a very nice teacher, and he love all his students. You will become a very competent Aikidoka under his tutelage, many people can vouch for that. You can get very senior, 3rd Dan, 4th Dan, and sometimes, part of the package is a huge ego, and Harry sensei isn’t the greatest in managing egos.

While Harry sensei is a very competent Aikido sensei,  he is not so great when it comes to administrative things, and without my sempai, Nasheer and James helping out in the day to day fee collection, administration, paperwork, it will be quite a challenge for Harry sensei to run the school properly.

Over the years, there has been many sempais that has done the administration for him. Some even went as far as thinking that they can run the school adminstratively, they can be an Aikido teacher, and seize control of the dojo, booting out Harry sensei out of the school he took over from. I won’t go into that dark murky details of Singapore Aikido history.

Like I said it, Harry sensei is very nice to everyone, so much so, some will take advantage of his kindness and starts instructing even in his presence. It is an ego thing, just because when some student got a Dan grade, that doesn’t mean you can teach. It sometimes does annoys me, when Harry sensei is walking the mat during class, like any sensei would in a dojo, there is another person in hakama doing the same. I know Harry sensei enough to understand when he does nothing to stop such behaviour, he is him, this will be his life problem, I cannot solve his life problem. By letting another of his senior student walk the mat during class like he does, creates confusion, and it will undermine his authority.

I can only be clear about one thing myself, there is only ONE Shoshin Aikikai Singapore sensei, Harry Ng. He did not and has never appointed assistant instructor(s), instructor(s) or allow anyone to instruct under his school, that is as far as I know. We are a small Aikido school, and Harry sensei is a hands-on kind of teacher. There is no confusion, we all learn from him, and him only.

Maybe there is something else I don’t know.

That doesn’t matter.

What matters is; I know I have only one Aikido sensei. Not anyone else, and nobody else.

It will be this way for as long as Harry sensei breaths and as long as I breath. That will not change even if he pass the baton of the school to another person, he will still be my sensei, period.

As students, we have to remember, while we become very competent in Aikido, that doesn’t mean we can teach. Get Harry sensei’s blessing, before teaching, and teach in a new Aikido premises, not in his dojo, not in his presence, he is still The Sensei, not me. There is a pecking order, and often Harry sensei don’t quite care about the pecking order, we must, as this is very much a how we conduct ourselves and respect our teachers, even when we become teachers.

Unless one decides to open a dojo without his knowledge, because there is the money to do so, then that will be another interesting story to tell altogether, wouldn’t it?

Becoming an Aikido Teacher

Becoming an Aikido Teacher

I think I can see my role slowly evolving. Usually, I repel at the thought of me being a ‘sensei’, an Aikido teacher. I am usually the ‘relief’ teacher, and rarely do I take classes.

Every class I take, it is about sharing. not about me imparting my skills, because I choose to see everyone as peer, and everyone has just as much to contribute to the class as I do, there is not student, there is no teacher.

I held on to this view and I think this view is obstructing my vision. I came to this realisation when I took last Friday’s class, and shared a lot of Aikido knowledge that is quite unique to me, as I’ve yet to see another Aikdioka do what I do. Just three to four small little details I shared with the class.

…it is about Applied Aikido

These are things I do as an Aikidoka, and for those who practiced with me will know; that I am quite hard to throw when I am a uke for irimi nage. Simply because my nage doesn’t hold and control me properly, I will always see that opening and escape the throw. Not a lot of nage knows why and how I did it. I share that with my nage and hopefully the nage can understand and learn. (usually they don’t!) This time for Friday, I shared that with a class of about 20 odd students.

Arrest the commander. (My other Martial Arts friend, Steven Lim will remember this!)

I learned this move from a shihan many many years back, and its was the single most effective move in irimi nage, because the move makes a lot of sense, and it is practical. I share this with the class, and showed them that, when effectively done, there is no opening, you can skillfully bring down anyone larger than you. And I’ve not seen anyone used this move anywhere else.

Ikkyo pin.Elbow facing up.

I never knew I know this finer details of the lock, until I brought the whole class closer for a macro examination. More often than not, as a uke, I can escape quite a few pins, it is also because the nage’s movement does not keep a constant pressure on the lock and there are gaps and lapse. I will always escape, even when the pressure is being applied.

So I showed the entire class how I get out of a lock and how to effective pin so that even I, cannot escape. It was a good learning lesson, even for me.

Rolling your uncooperative partner aka ‘flipping the fish’

This one, tried and tested. I called this ‘flipping the fish’. Sometimes in Ikkyo, the person will end up facing up, and with the lock, you have to rotate the person to a face down position. I can be notorious in being uncooperative, and many of my nages cannot roll me from face up to face down.

Again, I managed to show the class the finer details of the shoulder rotation and many of them got it, and some got interested to delve into the finer details.

After class, I realised that these  are all my ‘trade secrets’ actually. And these tricks makes me unique and gave me an upper hand as an uke. But I realised that there is a lot of my tricks and techniques that I can share with people.

Not I’m not formally trained to take an Aikido class, I sort of grew into the role. Strictly speaking, I’m not a person who knows the Aikido pedagogy by heart. I have mistaken many moves and tried some other more adventurous ones. For me, it is about Applied Aikido, things that works. And I realised I know a lot of things in Aikido that works, and worked well against other Aikidokas. If the students I impart my experiences to can learn them quickly, they will be able to get out of many locks and when they apply their locks, not many people will be able to escape them!