Each class our Sensei teaches has a theme. In my journey to become a sensei, I wanted to discover the positive theme being taught in each class. When Sensei Mae was training on her way to becoming a sensei, I could easily see the underlying theme of the class. Our Sensei has been teaching for so long it is like breathing for him to weave his theme into the teaching for each class. And he is able to continue the theme even when the class is not ready for the myriad of skills he wants to teach to go along with that theme.
As I prepared for the sensei test, my struggle was getting the class to flow with my theme. I had to negotiate with them. The negotiation was between what they wanted to learn and what I, with my limited universe of teaching experience, was able to teach.
Of course any higher belt student already understands what is expected by the sensei teaching class. They already know the normal routines and behaviors expected in any karate class. So, my issue was mainly in teaching students new to karate. They do not yet have an understanding or know the expectations for themselves. One of the main lessons, therefore, is teaching the student to follow the sensei’s instructions. The barrier to the next belt is often not the ability to throw a punch or a kick; it is, as my Sensei says, “Does the student have the discipline to learn?”
My negotiation began with one or more of the students saying “no” to follow my lead or my instructions. I wanted all students to say “yes” to my theme. Of course advanced students are conditioned to follow the teaching for easy items such as lining up properly and all the fun things we do as students. To convey my theme and to get the students to say “yes” for my theme or teaching was an initial struggle for me. I recently read The Power of a Positive No by William Ury. As far as I know, he is not a karate sensei. He did describe some of my issues with teaching and provided some positive ways to get to “yes” and ultimately have the students learn what was being taught that day.
Here is how the book plays into teaching and the theme for the day. My “positive no,” as William Ury says, is to immediately say no to undisciplined actions and yes to learning karate. My mom was a kindergarten teacher, and I asked her about kindergartners. She said that immediate action to stop the behavior you do not want is the best course of action. As a result, I am going to forget the underlying theme for my class of speed or timing. My teaching goal is now: Will students behave enough to make progress and therefore return to the dojo to learn additional lessons? My overarching “yes” is to impart knowledge that will assist them in life from self-defense, posture and positive attitudes such as “do not quit!” We have a lot to offer when a student walks through the dojo door. Of course, when I joined I did not realize that discipline was a primary outcome. When I am a better teacher, I hope to weave both a theme along with teaching a skill.
Incorporating negotiation or moving students to my “yes” is shaping my lesson plan for the class and the day. As I review this post and think on the theme that Sensei so expertly weaves into class, I am amazed that he negotiates with us so successfully each class. Now that I have recognized the positive outcome I am looking for, I am better at the “positive no” regarding behavior that is contrary to the “yes” I am looking for when instructing.
In preparing for my sensei certificate and test, I often attended all classes offered during the day. Because of this I see our Sensei with a theme each day that may not be apparent to each class—such as the 4-6 year olds or even the adults. I am amazed that the waza or technique taught varies while his theme for the day continues.
I am still listening for the theme of the day from Sensei. It was during a lesson on fighting this last week when I noticed that our Sensei’s real lesson (or the lesson behind the lesson) was power. Wow—I finally caught one!
How about you? Do you see your Sensei’s theme during or after class? Does he have one? I know that I do not always see the theme. When I am learning a particular skill, I am generally so focused on that skill that I only see the skill and not the bigger message. I need to remind myself to step back and look at the bigger picture. Do you hear the lesson behind the lesson being taught?
See you in class soon. I will be watching for the theme as well as working on sharing one of my own.