Posts tagged ‘martial arts’

A Martial Artist is Not a Number

When you meet someone who does martial arts, it’s easy to ask what rank the person has. I won’t be so daring as to say the information is useless, but it certainly treats the issue in it’s broadest sense.

For the uninitiated, most martial arts rank their students by a two part system, most visibly represented by the belt a person wears. A ‘black belt’ is someone who has a good grasp of a system. Below black, there are a series of kyus or gups (they name varies by martial art) which are graded in the number of ranks until black belt. Often these are the ‘colored belts’. Our systems have ten ranks, where any beginner is 10th gup/kyu and his first test is to receive 9th. Our styles once again have ten ranks, or dans, of black belt. Ranks above black belt take linearly longer to achieve, and there might (might) be one 10th dan, the founder. (It doesn’t quite form a number line, since there is no ‘zero’.) Other systems have different numbers above and below. Don’t get me started on martial arts titles.

The assignment of rank varies by style and school. In other words, two people might look at the same student and label that skill level with two different ranks. And don’t even get me started on the colored belt system – our own school uses two different color systems and has changed one of them in my memory. I tend to try and refer to ranks by gups or kyus, because it at least transcends arts and color assignments. Assuming, of course arts that have the same number of grades, which I’m doubt all do. Beyond that, the assignment of a grade to a particular skill level is essentially arbitrary. I won’t even get into the rumors of people buying belts and certificates outright, with no skill basis.

Of course the real problem is the idea that you can quantify a person with a single number. At times I’ve toyed with a system of basing the single number on a series of subgrades – kicking, joint locking, teaching, spirit, and on and on. It was an attempt to come to grips with the fact that different people might have a particular rank for different reasons, and somehow rationalize using the same scale for both. Of course, it just postpones the problem to different level – you are still trying to squeeze a person into a limited set of limited-precision numbers.

“I’m not capable of imagining you in all your complexity and… perfection.” – Inception

Faced with a messy reality, we get the ranking system. Many martial arts derive from rigid oriental societies – people have to line up in a certain order. Teachers have to keep track of an ever changing body of students. Assigning a rank is ‘good enough’, a convenient kludge to contain the complexity of real people. There are nominal rules, but in reality they bend to try and bring the raking system in line with what we intuitively feel – one person has a high rank because he has an affinity for physical activity and executes technique well, while another is a loyal supporter and servant of the school that keep thing running smoothly. The cost is this: given only the rank, you can’t say if either of those (or both, or any other quality) applies.


Next weekend there is a Ruby on Rails Outreach for Women I overlooked it at first, figuring they would want women teachers as well. Last week the organizer corrected me by making the request for help to an all-male room. As much as I feel like I spend all my time doing volunteer work, there are two reasons that this is interesting.

One: I’ve often felt uncommonly blessed to have quite by change stumbled my way into a technology and community going gangbusters. While I don’t know if I can say I’ve received job offers, I’ve had several job inquires. I’m turning away work – of course it may just be the Chicago Ruby vacuum I wonder if I should be giving back – although most of the time I think that I should get a steady income for myself before giving it away.

Two: I sometimes think I might enjoy teaching. Perhaps it’s my problem solving nature – you don’t know something, lets fix it. Perhaps it’s a socially acceptable form of showing off – if you’ve got a question, allow me to distill my experience into something clear, concise, and understandable at your place on the journey.

And yes, there probably is a three; I won’t meet someone if I don’t meet anyone. Invariably somebody will take that the wrong way, and surely if I wasn’t sworn to brutal honesty one might say it was better left unsaid. The problem is: it’s there whether you say it or not, and few people would miss the elephant in the room. The only ‘active’ thing I’ll be doing is slightly tilting the balance in favor of showing up and helping out. From there, we’re all just people.

Complication is, there is a martial arts seminar the same day as the main event. Given the particular circumstances, there is likely to be a great deal of inconvenience if I’m not there. Thus, the great conflict. I’d probably enjoy teaching technology a lot more, but I can also see the harm done if I can’t help out at the seminar.

Of course the short notice aggravates planning. The best I’ve been able to make of it is to show up for the installation Friday night, and perhaps see about next time – the outreach group already has a big enough waiting list for another workshop.

Update: I forgot the fourth reason: because it’s harder.

It is the engine that drives itself
But it chooses the uphill climb

Rush, Cut to the Chase

Relations with Time, Creation and Iteration

The essay project seems to be somewhat of a failure. This one has been over a year in the making: 2008-02-22, 2008-10-26, 2009-03-10.

Creating your own clock changes your relationship with time a little bit. The process of creating it changes things in yet more ways.

Once upon a time, I declared the The timeless world. That held for a while, in a sort of partially effective way that didn’t change too much since the first report. Then I invented my own clock. Suddenly it wasn’t dead numbers or confusing interpolation. Reading time was almost fun.

Of course part of being different enough to be fun is being, well, different. I very often don’t know what ‘time’ it is. I know it’s a little past dawn, almost lunch, or a couple hours to bed time. The things I actually use time for, without having to translate it to numbers in between. Occasionally I need to work with the outside world, at which point I do have to go through all that bothersome conversion; usually I find the position on the clock and switch back to visual mode from there on. One of these day’s I’d like to get some kind of event integration so I don’t have to do the conversion myself ;^)

A few months ago, I switched every clock I can to 24-hour time. A comment playing off the ambiguity of a time I had mentioned caught me in a problem solving mood, and I didn’t see any point in having such pointless ambiguity. It probably won’t be quite natural for some time, but at least I’ve started getting more accustomed.

The process of working with representations of time has finally explained something of the traditional system, and given me a little better understanding of what it all means. I suspect the standard 12 hour clock harkens back to the sundials. The top of the clock corresponds nicely to noon, and allowing a little fudge that changes throughout the year, 6-to-6 will cover the track of the sun, and most of the useful day, pretty well. On the other end of the day, 12 midnight is an anti-peak, operating in sort of a nighttime parallel image.

Another interesting feature of Disk Clock’s daylight view is that it has a sort of nice physical correspondence to the earth. One can imagine the clock as the earth, viewed down on the south pole, an image helped, by chance, by the green and blue color schemes in the default view. If you then imagine yourself in an non-copernican world where the sun moves around you, it can make for a somewhat nice intuition for the relation between times and places. I’ve thought about making some provision to mark out other time zones of interest, which would allow for a very nice way of seeing about what time of day it is somewhere else – assuming that somewhere else was at about the same latitude. ;^) There is also the very non trivial problem that timezones, while loosely based on nature, are political fabrications, and can change quite arbitrarily – dealing with only one zone has allowed me to outsource this problem to Apple and other Javascript systems.

The Act Of Creation

There’s something about diving into a problem and forging into new (to you) territory. I often emerge with my own private language, superbly intuitive to me and utterly obtuse to everyone else. As a case in point, Disk Clock’s default 24/4/60/15 arrangement can’t hold a candle to the dominant 12/60/60.

Another interesting case was the dragon form in martial arts. As our school worked through the creation of our own forms, the yet to be created dragon form got remade as a sequencing of certain (large) set of multi-step techniques. During a break, I got stung with an idea for how to do this and put together the last 3/4 or so of the form on my own. During the course of the project. I had to fine tune and re-examine all the involved techniques in order to put them together smoothly. I actually came to the conclusion that the process – in part the act of creation – was as much or more valuable than the resulting form.

My instructor thought that form creation was something for very advanced martial artists, however. Funny thing is, as time went on and we worked with the process of transmitting this large, complicated form to the students, it was decided that it wasn’t working out very well. The replacement? Students design their own unrelated form from scratch, rather than in the semi-structured format I worked with.


When I began Disk Clock, I started working on it every chance I got. After a little while, this settled into a pattern of working on the weekends, packing up the two days work and making a release at the end of the weekend. I tried to get all the ‘other stuff’ done during the week. This actually worked out quite well for several months, despite occasional short iterations due to a martial arts seminar or other event.

But I’m actually writing this from a much later time. The martial arts test eventually blotted everything out – it didn’t matter what the schedule was, because I wasn’t working on anything. By the time it settled down again, I was post-1.0 and didn’t have an obvious successor project; certainly nothing amenable to short complete iterations. The result was somewhat wandering attention.

I tried to keep up the weekend schedule for the most part, but a string interruptions often caused me to try and ‘trade time’, programming on into the week. Of course, this cut into the amount of other stuff I got done during the week, and often ended up impacting the next weekend, causing the cycle to start over again.

One nice thing about this pattern is that little programming in the morning was a nice kickstart to the day. It was also nice to do something joyful before going to bed, rather than depressing things until I got so down I went to bed, depressed. So, I’ve swapped. I’m currently experimenting with a little coding every day, and dealing with other stuff during the day.

Ups and downs, of course. I miss being able to really pound on a problem. But I don’t miss getting stuck on a problem for long periods. I’m never stuck for a single long time, and often times the break gives me a new idea, or allows me to get comfortable with the concept of some drastic re-factoring instead of reluctantly staring at the code searching for a better way. Meanwhile, I need to try and maintain focus on other stuff for long periods of time, which isn’t always easy.

Three Things (and a Boot to the Head)

A somewhat meandering essay on the limits of parallel pursuits, namely about three. Containing examples of how this applies, how it doesn’t apply why three may be quite wrong. Woven in with a long overdue account of recent events, which have some small bearing on the topic at hand, and why I’ve been preoccupied and silent for a rather long time

Idea put down 2008-02-22 and slightly expanded 2008-07-06; most writing from 2008-09-20 and 21.

I have a theory of sorts, that a person can really only do three things at a time with any degree of quality. (You might have seen an indirect reference earlier.) This was based on simple empirical observation. In college, programming got replaced with game playing. Afterwards, working and martial arts pushed out game playing and then game making. The harp didn’t long outlast getting more involved in the Condo association.

In spite of this, I was trying to do four again; five if you count general reading and education.

During the winter I had a pretty good run at CGD. However, despite the fact that I enjoy the programming, it seemed like I was always running a little behind on everything else. Now, the CGD project was a deliberate attempt to do more programming and less of everything else, so I can’t complain too much, but it does point to the limits of multiple pursuits.

Furthermore, that backlog made things almost, well, stressful. I’ve begun to theorize maybe it really is four things, but the fourth is leisure, which everybody needs a little bit of to stay sane.

The CGD project actually got put on hold for a while. Up until late August I was in the shadow of martial arts testing again. Since then I’ve been alternately recovering, catching up, or simply out of the habit of writing and several other things. I did attempt to learn from the last testing eclipse two years ago, by starting to work on a bit of new curriculum, the Kwon Bup – a set of 57 specific defense techniques derived from Kenpo. I successfully wrapped my head around it in a couple of months, using a few minutes each day, which did have benefits, in terms of being able to teach the material. When it was decided to make our 5th form a combination of the Kwon Bup (making for a huge form) my preparation also laid the foundation for putting the pieces together in a fit of inspiration into the optimal processes – a combination of cards to record the results and computer programming to calculate the future.

That brings us up to November 2007. This was about the time I started getting serious about programming. With the immediate task of the Kwon Bup out of the way, I mostly didn’t think about the martial arts stuff too much. Finally, earlier this year (you might notice that a lot of these essays were conceived around February, and are still getting written) I started looking at the latest version of test curriculum and realized that one of the changes was huge – 34 Kenpo techniques – and probably wouldn’t be covered in class. I did start working, on my own time, early. There was a bit of a lull at work at the time, and I did wrangle the particular beast that concerned me. However, the test was still ‘six months away’, so I continued with my original plan of making a great tour of all the material I knew.

Then my paid employment got busy, amidst the rest of the summer onslaught. By the time the next lull came along, the test was immanent and I hadn’t yet gotten to the specific material I was due to be tested on. One of my lessons from this experience is to do the essential stuff first. In any case the other ‘things’ started getting pushed out, and by the last month I was pretty solidly in 2-thing mode.

The test itself went fairly well, with only a few small slip ups; many of my weakest areas never showed up. The preparation was the real killer. I don’t plan on testing again for some time after this; it just takes too much time. The funny thing is I do kind of like to focus in on things, but there is no balance to take up the slack – there are classes almost every week now, and some weekends.

Despite enjoying focus, I must have some tendency towards being a jack-of-all-trades, because I picked up the harp again after the test was over. Music is something kind of foreign to me; I think one of the main attractions may be that I don’t like having a hole in my understanding. However, it puts me up to six things, without counting leisure.

I’m not a very good jack though – I usually find myself caught up short in conversation because the few topics on which I’m fluent in aren’t of general interest. I’ve considered that perhaps I ought to find a like minded social network, but of course that would make seven. It also runs against my homebody tendency; South Elgin doesn’t exactly evidence being a hotspot for programmer types, and something has always bothered me about traveling for companionship.

Am I contravening my own law-of-three? We’ll I’m cheating a little bit. Leisure is still a bit up in the air. I’ve gone to a 4-day work work, and I’m contemplating 3. Some things, like the condo association, come in short bursts, and others, like reading, are highly elastic; things like programming and harping are elastic in a pinch.

It’s interesting to draw a distinction between the things that are (or feel) hard, and those that are elastic. The hard ones I barely dare touch involve other people – employment and martial arts. Employment also touches on another sort of virtual thing, which, like leisure, is so pervasive that it hardly counts. Survival. Eating, sleeping, showering, finding shelter and food.

The elastic, or soft, ones only ‘matter’ to me. If I stop, I don’t die (unless we give an awful lot of weight to stress or depression) and the only reproach I fear is my own. Still, they matter, to me, and since I’m the one one making my decisions, I’m attempting to arrange my affairs so that I can pursue them.

There is a deep conflict here, or at least I feel one, between the things society values – the products of my labor which I’m paid for, and teaching at the martial arts school, which taught me and forms, unfortunately, my only real community, on one hand, and things only I value on the other hand.

Nothing’s that simple of course – the general reading has indirect feedback effects on my job for instance, but in it’s broadest sweep, you have the things I do of my own volition, and the things I do for money or peer pressure. This is a pretty deep topic, and I think it deserves it’s own essay – I suppose writing is another ‘thing’, which I’ll have to fit in somewhere.

Too Much

I let myself get distracted a bit, given immediate deadlines.

Saturday I submitted Disk Clock to,
MacUpdate, which posted it immediately, Version Tracker, which posted it after a few confirmation steps, and Dashboard Widgets, where it hasn’t shown up yet. I have heard from one person who says it isn’t working under OS X 10.5; he was able to pull a line number from th logs; best I can guess Apple did something peculiar with the scope resolution in their latest Javascript engine, but I haven’t had a chance to find out if the internet knows anything about it yet. Probably explains why I haven’t heard anything from Apple yet (would have been nice if they told me.)

After submitting those, I started working on generating a set of cards to walk though the martial arts form I pieced together. I got something fairly functional (in part due to a few sleepless hours in the middle of the night) Of course, as the saying goes, “the first 90% takes the first 90% of the time, and the last 10% takes the other 90% of the time.” There is still a need for a icon key and some tweaking.

I was trying to get that ready for a training day. After I got home I had to switch over to getting ready for the condo association meeting. We still didn’t have an appropriately cut down list of concrete work, so I went out checking over the proposed work and rating things. In the end, we decided to look at it again as a group, so it was kind of a waste.

I Am Loved

If any cause and effect is to be found in the impossibly complexitly of the world, my recent expiriments in cutting back have gone fantastically well. (Near total lack of harp practice notwithstanding.)

In my employement, I’m plugging away at our decrepit ERP facilities (with reference to the last entry, can you imagine a manufacturing company not keeping an eye whether shipping dates are being met?) and getting some thanks for it. I’ve also started an software department education program (perhaps more later), and despite some skeptisim, am starting hear some positive comments.

Meanwhile refocusing myself on technical matters is working back into my natural interests. The fact that I’ve been writting again might offer some evidence of this.

The condo association board was quite interested to know that I would be running again.

In martial arts, there are various indications of approval. For a while now, I’ve been given primariy direction over an advanced student to whom, well, the discipline and coordination of martial arts are not his primary gifts. The other day he gave me a thank you card, for no special occasion at all.

In short, while I’ve taken certain conditions as demands and stress, most of them also coming from people needing me. To some extect that is what love is – being needed.

I don’t want this to go to my head. Still, the combination of events, internal and external, has left me feeling like I am entering into the fullness of my adult power.

Trial and Triumph (and utter madness)

God help me, I’m an Associate Master.

The strangest things happen when you’re a pushover…

A few months ago, things were marching along at the martial arts school. Lots of big changes in the curriculum afoot, which were taking up a big part of everyone’s attention Myself I was doing fine, though having doubts about the coming test cycle. Black belt testing is only done once a year. Among many other things, one of the conditions for testing is a certain amount of time since the last test. On that condition alone, I was technically eligible for two ranks (one in Hapkido and one in Taekwondo) The normal course of things is to deal with tests one at a time, and which one to deal with this year had been a point of some debate and ambiguity throughout the year.

Here comes the pitch: other people were testing for both of the same ranks (one of which sufficiently high to make this a rare event) Obviously it would be so much easier with the other peole taking up some of the testing board’s attention. I swear, I’ve got to get a will some time.

Shear and utter madness.

I did realize my mistake eventually. Comforting to know, instead of just feeling uneasy, but discomforting to be sure it was a mistake. There is another theory of easy and hard – it’s easy when you are prepared and hard when you aren’t. (Guess where I was, with little more than a month to go.)

I paid dearly for my error. For that last month or so, virtually every other concern fell away as I was either in class, or at home organizing my notes and grappling with advanced material. It pretty much ate my life, and debts remain; some of the people who assisted me had expressed an interest in private lessons, and I now have outstanding vouchers.

The beginning of the post has given away the end of the story; I passed, and did quite well to hear people talk; of course people tend to say nice things at events like this. A certain degree of shortfall is written into the beginning of such an overambitious enterprise. Parts of me actually wanted to brush it off and make a lackluster performance as a kind of silent protest. In the end, however, that would have been rather rude, and other parts of me require a certain level of quality.

Of course, that isn’t the entirety of the insanity.

At our school, black belt rank in multiple arts can be added together, up to a point, to create higher level titles (I’d already been a benefactor of this rule, as ‘Sr. Instructor’) By those rules, I am now titled Assoc. Master. I may have also benefited from some changes in the title system; a much higher ranked student, formally titled Assoc. Master, was upgraded to Professor, even though she didn’t test this year.

Doesn’t make having master in the title any less scary, though.


For the martial arts test there were three demonstrations required. In Taekwondo, this is pretty straightforward. The demonstrations are weapon demonstrations, which consist of learning and performing a form. Demonstrations are included in the colored belt curriculum, such that by the time one is testing for black belt, at most one new demonstration is needed. The Hapkido curriculum has no such requirement. Come black belt one suddenly needs to come up with three demonstrations. The concept of demonstrations encompasses a lot more than weapon forms, but this only adds vagueness to the mix.

I picked up most of the sword form at various times, so that was one down. When I went to ask my instructor about the rest, I was told, before I really made suggestions, that I was doing don bong (short stick) and cane. Just what I was supposed to do WITH the don bong and cane was unspecified, and I didn’t push past the hand waving. (Intellectual integrity is something I’m still working on.) The end result was that I reviewed some possible angles and locks in a very general kind of preparation, but really didn’t have demonstrations.

The critical question I need to ask at some point is if demonstrations are purposefully vague in order to make the student take responsibility for them (in which case I simply failed) or if improvements can be made in the support system. The precedents also aren’t good – for my first black belt test the demonstrations were totally hand-waved and I didn’t have to do anything. With the requirements not really required, it is little wonder that it didn’t seem very important this time around.


I’ve been ignoring this thing for a while. I haven’t been in a writing mood in general.

The martial arts test was a few weeks ago. I’m officially 2nd dan black belt now. Beyond that, my instructor has wanted to get people certified as instructors, so now i’ve got an instructor’s license and a stamp with my name in Korean. (The stamps got mixed up at the banquet; fortunately the english names were written on the bottom of the box, so I noticed the problem. I investigated the stamp itself to verify though, and the Hangul script is actually pretty nifty.) In addition to that, I got a merit promotion in Taekwondo because I’ve been helping manage the little kids in those classes. All this involves two more certificates, one of them large (~10×13). In my house there is a little section of wall where several years ago I found a place to put the martial arts certificates. Since then it has been slowly added to and rearranged, until today it makes for a slightly frightening display.


Another martial arts test, another essay…


Herein I shall present a definition of teaching in my own words. I shall then examine the necessary implications of this definition. An examination shall be made of the necessary conditions for the establishment of the teacher-student relationship, and the process of teaching that results.

A definition of teaching

While a person may learn from an accidental or passive event, one who sets out to engage in a field of endeavor, such as martial arts, may be considered an active participant in the learning process. Likewise, while learning may occur from passive sources, such as books, the term teach implies to me an active participant, the teacher. We thus have (at least) two active participants, engaged in a process which I shall describe as the transmittal of knowledge or skills. The full definitions is thus:

Transmittal of knowledge or skills from teacher to student.

There exists a number of implications of this definition. One is that the teacher has something the student does not. Furthermore, the student must have some motivation to seek this education, and the teacher must have some motivation to give it. Finally, a process must occur by which the desired skills or knowledge is transmitted. We shall examine each of these points in detail.

The teacher has something the student does not

Implicit in the student-teacher relationship is that the student has something to gain from the relationship, which can be obtained from the teacher. If the student were superior, their roles would be reversed. Indeed, if their experience and interpretations of it were precisely equal, not only would there be no student-teacher relationship, the two people would likely have nothing to talk about. In the more likely case of equal, but unique experience, two people may have a lively discussion, but the roles of teacher and student would change so often that they would not be meaningful labels.

The teacher as student

Even in the typical case where the teacher is very knowledgeable in the domain of interest and the student is not, the teacher (or, at least, a good teacher) will be open to related experience of the student that may help him integrate the new material. The student may also be skilled in another domain that synergizes with the material at hand. In many cases the nominal teacher will learn something new about his own area of expertise, or the least a new way of presenting it that may assist other students.

In fact, every lesson is another experiment in the process of teaching itself. By trying various methods and observing their effects, the teacher is continually a student of being a better teacher.

Meanwhile, the very fact that the teacher possesses some skill or knowledge now sought by the student carries with it the implication that the teacher once had to learn the material himself. Most typically this will be from being a student himself, in which case he may have also learned some lessons in teaching from observation. Unless the teacher plans on a finite relationship with the student, he must be continually learning himself, in order to maintain his position as having greater experience than the student.

Secondary lessons

The role of teacher usually carries with it a position of authority. It is very often the case that young children are being instructed by older adults. This offers an opportunity to provide implicit or explicit lessons in areas of habits or morality – and carries with it the great responsibility to do so wisely and ethically. Some lessons are of direct relevance to the task at hand, such as paying attention, thinking critically, and applying oneself to the task at hand. Others are simply virtues that the teacher wishes to see in all his fellow human beings – honesty, integrity, perseverance, and so on.

The student has some motivation to receive it

The student has some reason for taking on that role. This is almost so implicit that it could easily escape statement. Yet understanding these motivations can help us be better teachers.

It is easily observed that some students take more interest in their studies than others. For these enthusiastic students, it may be advisable to be cautious with change – the appear to love what we are doing. Observation of what these students respond to can still be useful in determining techniques that do work.

The less enthusiastic students are often on our minds, however. Here it can be vitally important to pay attention to where their interest waxes and wanes. It is also useful to look out for secondary motivations that might be brought into play.

Student Motivations

An experienced teacher might be able to list many motivations, in ever more precise categories. Here I will survey only a few of the more obvious ones. They range from noble goals such as self-improvement and curiosity, to others such as fear or duty.

Perhaps one of the most common reasons for engaging in the martial arts is self improvement. Frequently cited benefits include exercise (an industry in itself), safety, coordination, and self confidence. Students motivated by self improvement may be dedicated but not excited – they know that the material is good for them, but may not be totally interested in the material for it’s own sake.

Students motivated by curiosity, or subject interest, may come in with high energy in the beginning. Some of them may become Dis-enchanted after seeing how reality compares to the movies, or how much work is involved. Others are beginning a life-long career in martial arts.

Some students may be motivated by fear of or duty to parents or peers. In this case finding a more positive motivation will be critical to the students success and enjoyment. Failing that, the best thing for the student may be improving his confidence enough to stand up for himself.

The teacher has some motivation to give it.

Another basic but easily overlooked fact is that the teacher must have some motivation to take on that role. As with the teacher knowing the student’s motivation, the student may find it useful to understand the teacher’s motivation for teaching. Perhaps more importantly, a teacher should understand his own motivations to make the best of the experience.

Teacher motivations

The motivations for teachers cover a similar breadth and set of subjects as those for students. These once gain range from noble ambitions such as self improvement and charity to less well regarded reasons such as compulsion and profit.

The teacher may be teaching to learn. By covering basic material again, he is reviewing the foundational principals of his discipline, which form the basis of everything else. Finding where students have trouble also encourages the teacher to look for clearer or more powerful ways of explaining the material. A possible peril is that such a teacher will see each student as a puzzle to solve, but not have genuine empathy for his struggle with the material.

Many people say they teach simply because they love to teach. These people may enjoy the student teacher interaction itself. Or they may believe that the future lies with the next generation, who must be properly prepared to take the wheel when their time comes. These are the teachers that are most likely to put the student first and genuinely work for his success.

Much as with students, various forms of compulsion may bring one into teaching. Teaching hours are a requirement for advanced degrees. A martial arts instructor may order or ask advanced students to help the school. These teachers are most likely to put forth minimal effort.

A related motivation may be money, either for survival, as with a public school teacher, or with an eye to profit, as with a martial arts school. Thankfully charitable motivations are often present in the survival case, and profit minded teachers at least have an interest in the student’s satisfaction.

A process must occur by which the desired skills or knowledge are transmitted

Finally, the actual teaching must occur. The knowledge or skills sought by the student are transferred by some process from the teacher. Here, we attempt to come to a cursory understanding of this process. I propose to break it down into a basic teaching method (or combination of methods) augmented with any number teaching or learning technologies (habits, lesson plans, student profiles, and so on.)

Teaching methods

By teaching method I mean the most basic and broad scale format of the instruction. Different teaching methods may or may not be more or less effective in general; this is beyond the scope of this essay. What is quite likely that is that different methods are more or less suited to individual students and teachers. I shall examine two classes of methods, those lead by the teacher, and those led by the student.

Teacher led

These methods have the instructor as the primary active participant. The students may be anywhere from totally passive to only becoming active when requested by the instructor. Relative to the student led methods, these are better suited to high student to teacher ratios.

Lecture is one of the most time honored methods of academic instruction. Also one of the most infamous, with a reputation for causing drowsiness. Indeed, very little of lecture is lost by reading a book – the student is very nearly passive, with the exception of possible question opportunities. Thankfully, in the martial arts very little of our material lends itself to this format. Still, it is a valuable tool for certain concepts that cannot be easily demonstrated.

The method of question and answer was popularized as dialectic by the Greek philosophers. In this method the teacher questions the student and elicits a response, thereby coming to know where the student’s strengths and weaknesses are. With continued questions and proposals, the teacher leads the student to the desired goal in the student’s own time, and by the student’s own understanding. Thus, the student will hopefully understand not only the final conclusion, but the method to reach it, as well as the critical thinking used to solve similar problems. In the martial arts, this method may be more useful in the advanced ranks for concept building, rather than in the basic classes where we primarily build skills.

Example and imitation is an immensely relevant method to a skill based discipline such as the martial arts. The instructor provides an example, and the student, through observation and practice, attempts to come closer to the instructor’s perfect (or at least better) example. Mixed well with attempt and critique (described below) it can create an effective feedback loop.

Student led

These methods have the student as the primary driver behind the teaching process. Rather than the teacher’s pushing the knowledge to the students, the students pull his particular areas of interest from the teachers. These methods work best with only one student at a time, and in complex disciplines may even support multiple specialized teachers, such as with our weapons curriculum.

In attempt and critique, the student creates a performance of the material. The instructor then provides a critique of where the student’s strengths and weaknesses with the material lie. This methods combines well other methods such as teacher led question and answer, where the teacher requests and attempt, example and imitation, where the critique takes the form of correct example, and student led question and answer, where the student requests a critique.

In student led question and answer, the student takes primary responsibility for his own education, and the teacher places himself at the student’s disposal as a primary tool for the student to reach his goal. Of course, the teacher will often suggest interesting tangents and further directions even when the student doesn’t specifically request them.

Teaching technologies

Teaching technologies is a catch all term for a dizzying array different educational aids. Given the vast breadth of the subject I shall only touch upon it. Included under this term are habits, lesson plans, and student profiles, as well as learning technologies employed by the students. By technologies I mean various techniques, or in short, teachers knowing how to teach, and students knowing how to learn.

Under techniques that are true teaching, or teacher’s, technologies, are such ideas as multiple intelligences and cyclical lesson plans. In many cases the jury is still out as to whether different technologies are effective. It is the task of the teacher to consider the options and discover which combination of technologies work well with his style, students, and material.

Students who know how to learn may utilize some of the techniques as teachers – such as knowing ones own multiple intelligence profile to focus on the most effective learning methods. Others fall under the subject of study habits, building up personal discipline to effectively learn the material. As with teacher’s technologies, each student must discover for himself which ones are most effective.


I have presented a definition of teaching in my own words: the transmittal of knowledge of skills from teacher to student. I have then examined the apparent consequences of this statement. There exist a teacher and a student, each of which have some motivation to enter their respective roles. The teacher has something which the student does not. Finally, a process must occur by which the desired material is transferred to the student.