Karate Thoughts Blog

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Students learn at different rates. If three students all start Karate class at the same time, within just a few weeks they will all be at different levels.

Part of this has to do with how much each student practices. Obviously, a student who practices more will remember the movements better and be ready to learn new material before another student who does not practice.

Age is also a factor. I teach students from the age of 11 to the mid-50s. I have had students who were in their 70s. Generally, children and teenagers learn more quickly than adults.

I will give you a personal example. It took me about 3 months to learn Sakugawa Nu Kun, the second bo kata in our curriculum. When I taught the kata to my second son, who was about 19 at the time, he learned it in about 2 days. I also have a 14 year old student who learned it in 1 day -- she seems to have a photographic memory for movement. She learned Gojushiho by watching it twice.

Kata is different from reading books. Kata are movements in three dimensions, four, when you count time. Some people learn kata by memorizing images of the sequential movements. Others learn by memorizing the feel of the movements. We all learn a little differently. This is important for instructors because we sometimes tend to teach all our students the same.

Some students can easily copy what we do. For others, you have to physically position their hands and feet.

Last night at ballroom dancing class, I was having a hard time with a particular sequence. I could not figure out which foot to step with first and was basically lost. One of the assistant instructors, a very nice woman, came and took my wife's place. By following her movements, the complicated sequence became simple. I could not learn by observing the movements but I could learn quickly by following the feeling of her movements. And I could then show my wife how to do the sequence too.

Sometimes if a student is stuck, you have to try a different teaching approach. My first Shorin-Ryu Sensei, Rodney Shimabukuro, was very good about getting down on his knees and placing my hands and feet in the right positions. He would push my back and press my shoulders down, literally shaping me like a clay puppet. He also made a point of never positioning my feet by using his feet. He would always use his hands as he felt that it was not courteous to use his feet. Even when I was a brand new white belt student, he showed me great courtesy, as he did to all his students.

Later, he urged me to "break down the movements" when I was teaching. Like a mechanic, an instructor should be able to break down any movement or sequence of movements into their most basic parts. This is especially important for body dynamics, where rhythms and flows cross convential delineations of movements. He used to always say that basics are the most advanced things and that no matter how high an instructor may be, he is not advanced if he has poor basics. A fifth dan with poor basics should actually be a fifth kyu.

If a student does learn a bit slowly, it is important for us (instructors) to be supportive and encouraging. We should never make them feel bad or embarrassed. Sometimes the students who learn slowly (relatively) become the best instructors.

I certainly learn slowly, but I tend not to forget things once I understand them mentally and physically. Learing slowly, I also have time to appreciate the parts of each movement and their connections to other movements, both dynamically and in applications.


Charles C. Goodin