Teaching Different Types of People
Changing teaching methodology depending on the needs of the particular student type(s)
As with instructors of any type of subject, whether athletic or academic, martial arts instructors must keep the individual student in mind while teaching. Typically, teaching in Japan involves trying to fit everyone into the same mold. With this approach, some students are bound to achieve less than their potential while others are likely to quit in despair. This type of teaching may be good for those who happen to fit the mold. But how many people actually do? Although instructors of larger classes cannot tailor every minute of every class to each and every individual in it, they can often at least customize in general terms, depending on the general level(s) of participants in the class.
When possible, it is usually a good idea to make separate classes, or at least to split up a class into sections, to allow for similar students to work together. Otherwise, to have various types of students working on the same exercises next to each other, at different paces or levels of comprehension, may be a hindrance to the students’ development. This obviously requires multiple qualified instructors and/or an instructor with a lot of time to devote to teaching classes. Some instructors are not able to teach more than a few times a week and thus cannot teach separate classes for different types of students. Even if an instructor had enough time to teach a few different types of classes, the schedule could probably never be perfect for everyone.
Below are several examples of general types of students. Within these types, it is possible to have sub-types. Sometimes, students can belong to two or more of these student types. Each learns best from a certain type of instructor/instruction. Some types require much more attention than the “average” student.
Children generally have shorter attention spans than adults and this is more obvious the younger the student is. If possible, children’s classes should be broken down into different age groups. Sometimes, boys and girls should be separated as well. Generally speaking, children under the age of about 13 are usually not mentally or emotionally mature enough (although they may be sufficiently physically mature) to join an adult class. Teachers of children must be able to tolerate less structure to the class at times, as younger students (particularly boys) may have a tendency to be disruptive. Mixing in physical games (including running or jumping) with their regular martial arts training may be a good idea, especially for the younger ones. Classes for younger children often have to be shorter, as these students cannot retain as much information and the instructors get tired faster while dealing with the potential for disruption and wandering attention of their students. Corrections should usually be more general than for adults, working on improvements in stages, over a longer period of time.
We must be conscious of the fact that not everyone is able to follow detailed descriptions of techniques, kata applications, a complex sparring drill or remember a complete kata after going through it only a few times. Part of this has to do with recognizing learning modes and matching teaching modes to accommodate. But it can be more than that. Some people have dyslexia, which may make it harder for them to figure out which foot is supposed to go forward. Others may have some kind of brain-damage and require more patience. Remember that just because someone does not “get it” right away does not mean that he is “stupid.” Some people require more time and/or a different teaching mode. Teaching these students can be frustrating at times, requiring a great deal of patience. But this patience can pay off when the student finally does “get it.”
Chronic Injuries and Illnesses
Examples of this include diabetes, asthma, poor eyesight and physical deformity. Each case must be treated independently, as rarely is more than one student in any given class afflicted with exactly the same problem. Diabetes usually means a student needs to be careful to maintain a certain level of physical activity, not training too hard or sitting idle too long. Asthma may require a student to sit out a section of class sometimes. Poor eyesight may cause a student to have problems in kumite drills. Physical deformity, such as a shorter limb may require alterations in stances or techniques. It is usually helpful to discuss these conditions with afflicted students to see what their perception is of their limitations. In addition to possibly making alterations in teaching these students, the teacher may also want to remind other students to keep such limitations in mind while training together.
Temporary Injuries and Illnesses
Examples of this type of affliction are broken/sprained joints, recent surgery, pulled muscles, blistered feet, and influenza. As with chronic injuries/illnesses, each situation must be treated individually. Teachers should not push students too hard when there are injuries or illnesses involved. Hard training can sometimes make the injury/illness worse. However, a good sweat can help to push some people through a fever and building up muscles around an injury (once healed) can be a crucial part of the rehabilitation process.
There are many potential obstacles to consider when teaching older people. Some examples are heart problems and arthritis. When teaching someone with a weak heart or prone to seizures, it is probably a good idea to check with that person several times during each class to make sure all is well. For those with arthritis, there should be no sharp jarring motions of the inflicted joints; for the hips/knees, this includes jumping. Instructors should realize when to allow (or even suggest) students with various conditions to sit out and/or alter a given training exercise, due to their particular limitations.
The “Perfect” Athlete
Even the ideal athletic student can have problems. Teachers must be conscious of fatigue, pulled-muscles, dehydration and more. Those in their physical prime may have a feeling that they can do anything and therefore may be even more prone to injury than those who have problems of which they are being careful. A problem a teacher of high school or university students may sometimes face is that he may hurt himself while demonstrating to students, forgetting that he has some physical limitations that the students do not.
Thoughts for the Student
Most of the above was written with the teacher in mind. For the student, he or she should consider that not everyone else has the same limitations on training, nor the same abilities; nor similar aspirations. Just because one older student is slow does not mean that they all are. Just because one training partner understood the sparring drill with only one demonstration from the instructor does not mean that the others did. We must all remember that a class is not composed of people with exactly the same attributes. We are all individuals. As such, we must consider each other’s cases individually, as much as possible.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published November 2001)