SSDL — Karate


For four years, my son and I took a martial arts class together. Usually highly self-directed and independent, in this instance I have been a highly dependent learner–and the experience has given me some lessons in good Stage 1 teaching:

  • A person who is out of shape may not have the internal ability to choose good exercise. A period of submission to an expert teacher may be necessary before one can learn to design certain learning experiences for oneself–as in learning a musical instrument.
  • In our class, beginners always practice where they can see more advanced students doing the same thing. This modeling is highly effective. Perhaps schools should find ways of providing such modeling, instead of grouping children of the same age together.
  • In this school, students are encouraged to take a test (for a higher rank) only when the teacher feels confident that they are ready to pass it. They “test to pass.” Some students take longer than others, but failure is almost unheard-of.
  • In good T1 style, advancement is tracked through a series of ranks (belts), so that students always know where they stand and what the next goal is. Also, feedback in class is frequent, objective, and task-specific.
  • As students advance, they begin to teach others. And while the practices are highly regimented, the higher forms encourage a good deal of individual freedom and initiative. Somehow, students gradually become more self-directing as they progress through this highly directed system.
  • Like some other martial arts, this class actually sets out to teach self-discipline, self-confidence, persistence, a non-defeatist attitude, personal qualities like kindness, and perceptual skills like awareness of one’s surroundings and attunement to one’s internal senses. These are important components of self-direction. I have been struck by how these attitides are physical as well as psychological. Paradoxically, as students learn to kill with their bare hands, they learn that they don’t want to. And as students learn more ways to be dangerously powerful, they become gentler human beings.
  • I would like to see some university require all students to master a martial art–not only for self-defense but for the personal qualities it develops.

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