Friday, March 21, 2008

Learning by Teaching

I've often heard people complain about being required to teach as a part of their training towards black belt. Many dojos require a year of service as an apprentice instructor before a student will be considered for black belt grading. I've always thought that you learn as much as if not more through teaching than you do through training alone, particularly at the higher levels. The other night, I experienced a classic example of this.

I had noticed that some of my students were lacking the crisp movements I like to see in their strikes, so I decided to take a class to focus on what is necessary to achieve this. I demonstrated technical principles like hip movement, lowering centre of gravity, and keeping the body loose throughout the movement of a strike while snapping at the time of contact.

As I watched one of my students performing a backward elbow strike to the solar plexus, I noted that he started the movement with his palm down so that he could snap it upwards as he landed his strike.

"That's pretty slick. Where did you learn that?" I asked, thinking he had learned it from the other style of Jiu-jitsu in which he had trained.

The student gave me an odd look. "Uh, I was just copying what you were doing."

I did a double-take, then grabbed an uke to see for myself. It was true. That was, in fact, the way I did it. Yet, because I hadn't put such intense focus on that particular strike in awhile, I had just plain forgotten that it was something I did.

It's little discoveries like this that make teaching so rewarding. It's not just about helping other people to learn. You actually learn a lot yourself in the process. Sometimes you don't even realize all the little things that serve to produce quality technique. Not to mention all the benefits you gain in helping people with different physical and mental perspectives than your own.


Wayne said...

I've often found that I "relearn" many things when I'm teaching someone else. Small details about positioning or weight shifting that have just become part of my movements.

I also find that when I teach others and have them dissect a technique, I gain a deeper understanding of it by explaining the "why" rather than just the "how" while being able to pass on subtle refinements that come from years of practice.

Instead of just saying "your foot should be at a 45 degree angle", I find myself explaining that by turning your foot at that point, you're saving yourself a fraction of a second when you go to throw a kick in the next movement.

That fraction of a second could be the difference between an effective technique and one that fires too late.

Michele said...


I learn something in every class I teach. Instructors really need to know their material in order to convey it correctly and in a manner that makes sense to beginner students. Often times, students questions make me take a deeper look into my own training.

Sylvie LaRose said...

Congratulations for your blog... I enjoy reading your articles...

Personnally, I was honoured when I was asked to start teaching the youngsters in my karate school. It has been a learning experience for me and I probably even get more out of teaching than the kids!

I need to explain why we do certain movements and I am forced to ask questions that I might not have asked myself otherwise.

I enjoy giving back what I have learned!

Lori O'Connell said...

I used to teach children back when I was a brown belt. I found it posed more challenges than teaching adults even. I definitely learned a lot from it.