Friday, December 17, 2010

Let’s Start at the Beginning

Imagine stepping on the dojo training floor feeling excited and a little nervous. You may be wearing a gi for the first time and it feels awkward or unusual. How do you tie the belt? Is there a right way and a wrong way? There are other students in the class wearing belts of various colors. The black belts are standing together in a group. Class is about to start and the instructor asks the students to line up according to rank. You are in the back of the room and at the end of the line.

Do you remember your first impression? Were you overwhelmed by the vast amount of information presented in the class? I wondered if I would ever get the hang of things. My arms and legs did not cooperate with what my brain asked them to do. My legs ached from the nai hanchi stance. I was so grateful when an instructor pulled me aside to work individually on basics and the first kata. Class ended and we lined up again and bowed to the instructor.

As an instructor, I find it valuable to remember my first class when there are new white belt students in the dojo. During the first few weeks teaching a new white belt, I am careful not to overwhelm the students. There is a delicate balance between too much information and not enough. A new white belt student in class provides an excellent opportunity for the dojo community. The instructors must start teaching from the beginning. The kyu rank students help and encourage their new classmate. The black belt students assist in class and develop a deeper understanding of their own material.

Do you remember your first karate class?


Unknown said...

At my first class, my daughter tied my belt for me, showed me where to stand and taught me to bow in.

Now, I tell newbies not to get discouraged because white belt is the hardest. (I don't care what anyone else says about this.) Think about it, with most of your belts, you have to learn 1 new kata and the bunkai. With the white belt, you have to learn all the basics, how to tie your belt, dojo etiquette AND your first kata (and bunkai) to get your first colored belt.

Noah said...

My first class had the same material as everyone else's first class in Shuri-Ryu at my dojo back in Illinois--horse stance, uppercut, palm block, front snap kick, and etiquette/bowing. I have to say that I was definitely nervous and excited to finally be starting martial arts after thinking about it for several years

Felicia said...

I wore sweats to my first class. Like Stacy, my child - all of 10 at the time - showed me where to stand and how to bow in. The warmup was kind of familiar jumping jacks, stretching) and I'd seen the first few katas and a couple stances before (watched for a year before I stepped on the mat), but seeing them and doing them were totally different things, I found...

I think you're right about the delicate balance between too much and not enough info, Michele. It's a hard line to walk as an instructor, for certain.

Chase said...

As far as i could remember i was dead nervous,after 30 minutes, i had my first real fun in my social life, the people are really great to hang out with.

Sue C said...

I started with my husband and sons. The first couple of lessons we were taken to the back of the room by a black belt and shown how to do all the basic blocks, punches and kicks. I've alway appreciated that introduction and now that's my job when we have new white belts in the kids class. I always want to give them as good a start as I had.

Journeyman said...

It was a long time ago, and it wasn't Karate, but I do remember a few things. The Sensei (my current Sensei) made new students feel welcome.

What struck me was that everyone was given individual attention. I was paired up with a higher belt, not much higher, and I was taught my first techniques. What was interesting was that we all started off working on the same things, it was only later that higher belts branched off to work on more advanced versions of the same technique. The Sensei managed to get to every pair and never seemed rushed.

This style of instruction prevented anyone from feeling they were holding the class up. And sometimes I'd work on the same techniques as the black belts (my first lesson in advanced techniques being the basics done better, I just didn't know it at the time)

I was lucky with the teacher and the other students. Walking into a new dojo can be stressful, but you'll be able to judge if it's for you pretty quickly by observing the teacher, and just as importantly, the students.

Michele said...

Thank you for your comment!

Stacy: White belt was the hardest time for me. I think the first class is one of the most important. We are introduced to the basics, the dojo community and the instructor.

Noah: Your first class sounds a lot like my introduction to Okinawa Kenpo! :)

Felicia: We have our students wear sweats until they decide to sign up. You make a great point about seeing vs doing. Many of our adult students initially sat on the sidelines watching their children take class. Some of the parents even outlasted the children!

Chase: I agree....I met some of my closest friends on the dojo floor.

SueC: We have started students in regular class or with private introductory lessons. When we have new students, we try to have extra black belts in class.

Journeyman: So true..."advanced techniques are basics done better". I use the information I learned in my very first class in every class. :)