Monday, April 23, 2012

My greatest influence as a teacher and coach

I have rarely mentioned it, never publicly for sure, who my greatest influence as a teacher was. It's hard because I owe so much to Patte Brodeur to help put everything together, but this is not what I want to talk about right. My model, the one who would be responsible for the core of my pedagogical system would be without a doubt Alain Guebenne, my old kung fu master. This got it right on about at least two basic principles how to teach movements.
  • Let the body teaches itself. Most of his teaching was through the execution of certain manoeuvres and techniques. He would never insist on one exact move, but would rather teach several similar moves over the weeks. Of course, every exercise was explained, but he would never overload the brain with useless extra information it cannot handle. Once in a while, he would say something that would only make sense 2 years later, which is awesome if you think about it! He also teaches routines (called forms) and everything in the routine is there to support the teaching. Alain would also never hesitate to start showing the students a 2nd or 3rd martial arts style just to make the body move differently and help it develop different motor skills. The results were spectacular. His students would often accomplish more in 2 or 3 years than others in 8 or 10 years.
  • A logical and meaningful level system. Alain organised his material in 5 levels (the number of levels is not that important for us). One stick to his level as long as he doesn't reach the not so arbitrary requirements set by Alain. The most basic level fits perfectly into the 2nd and so on. The students understand quickly that skipping any step is not an option. The 2 first levels needs to be solid or they won't be able to fight efficiently.
    1. It represents the core of his kung fu system. One can have very good results and be able to face most combat or sparring situations with a level 1 in the the pocket. It contains all the essential skills and doesn't need any further knowledge to work.
    2. This is the fundamental level and the most important. It feel like getting into the very heart of kung fu. It's not necessarily about the number of techniques learned, but rather about how you move and do them. When one has finished this level, he doesn't have to worry to much about facing most opponent.
    3. This is the final level of the basic techniques.
    4. Advanced techniques such as weapons.
    5. You have learned all the techniques the style has to offer. This is where the true understanding begins.
Even after that many years and many experiments, following those 2 principles delivered the best results with my swing dancing students. It can only work if you can teach people for a decent amount of time though. Fortunately for me, having my own school gave me all the liberty I needed to stick to the right principles my old Sifu taught me. Thanks Alain for that heritage.

Fred Barbe