Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Being a Student in My Own Dojo

Last night, I participated in a class at my own dojo, but not as a teacher, as a student. One of my students is a brown belt a different style of Jiu-jitsu, Shorinjikan, so I let him teach for a change of pace. After having run my own Jiu-jitsu classes in Vancouver pretty consistently for 2.5 years, it was wonderfully refreshing to train as a student.

As I went through all the motions of warming up, doing breakfalls, learning new techniques, being the instructor's demo uke (partner), I seamlessly slid back into old training patterns I knew and loved. I threw myself into everything, trying to make every technique, every breakfall as good as it could be, losing myself in the moment.

Training with my students as a student was great fun. I got to see my students from a different perspective. I could have fun with them, work with them on accomplishing the same goals. It gave me a sense of camaraderie with them I don't usually get as an instructor. Being an instructor can sometimes be lonely because of the natural separation between student and teacher. But by participating as a student, this temporarily melted away and I could see more of the true personalities within my class.

By being a student, I also got to practice with them and help them, but not within my usual instructor role, as a participating student. I yielded authority to the instructor whenever he was close. This took away the usual pressure that comes with teaching. At the same time, being being my students' training uke, I was able to appreciate how far some of them had come in their training, which put a huge smile on my face.

Another thing I liked about this experience was just having the opportunity to work on my own technique. As an instructor, you often don't get to practice regularly and sometimes your technique degrades over time. I was working with one student who is a fairly big guy with a Judo background. He has a tendency to drop his weight when you try to throw him, making him harder to throw. I used train with similar people back when I was a colour belt, but not having trained with someone like him regularly in a long time, I was having a few difficulties doing a circular moving shoulder throw on him. I knew I could do it, but my feel for it was disconnected. So after class I took him aside for a few minutes to try and regain the feel. After a few tosses, it clicked back and I was tossing him a very satisfying 'smack.'

I know I'm rambling a bit here, but only because I got so much out of the experience of training in my own class. If you're an instructor yourself and you can get the opportunity to do the same, take it. You'll be glad you did. It's a good way to show your students that you are, in fact, human and still pushing your own learning. In theory, you never achieve perfection in the martial arts. By continuing your own training, you demonstrate this and help students realize that you're not a martial arts god and that you're all on the same path of development. As a teacher, you're just a little further down the path.

In a couple of months, after he has tested for green belt in my own style, I intend to have last night's instructor teach classes regularly at my dojo as I expand our training nights. And when I do, I look forward experiencing all these benefits of which I've written here on a regular basis.


BlackBeltat50 said...

Lori. That's great. I train at a big extremely well-managed dojo. Each class is split into 3 phases and they change instructors for each phase. And frequently, the instructors take class with us. This past weekend, on a bugo day, the sensei took class with us. It was amazing. While you are right that it's fun for the instructor, it's thrilling for us to just work with the staff. Great idea, Keep it up. And thanks for stopping by. Did you see my self defense post? Are the reference point defenses related to jitsu?

Lori O'Connell said...

It is similar. In my style of Jiu-jitsu (can-ryu) every hold escape starts with some kind of weakening strike to loosen the grip or distract the attacker. It also always ends with a throw or takedown of some sort.