Friday, September 7, 2012

Teaching philosophy

Short, fat, bald, and ugly.  That's the way my philosophy professor described Socrates.  The man was larger than life though.  At social events, he would party the hardest and drink everyone under the table.  While everyone else was either passed out or puking in the corner, Socrates would manage to walk himself home.  He was hardly a physically intimidating man but was brave enough to jump into a river to save a drowning boy once when nobody else would.

   Socrates was hideous, so enjoy this picture of three naked Greek women that I took at the Louvre.

Socrates disagreed with many other philosophers and thinkers of his time and with the prevalent ideas that many institutions were teaching.  Chiefly that, “might makes right”, and that if you had the power to take something from somebody then you should do it regardless of morality.  Socrates taught his students different ideas, which was one of the reasons he was sentenced to death (he was charged with corrupting the youth).  In Plato's The Republic  Socrates explained his ideas of justice and outlined how to run society.

The dude was an epic troll as well.  When having debates with other philosophers he would continually ask them questions to try and get a rise out of them, but he  would never actually answer any questions himself.  When the guy he was debating had enough, he would turn to Socrates and say, “Okay then, what is the answer smart guy.  What do you think”?    To this Socrates would reply with something like, “Oh, you are the master, and I am but the student.  You know best.  I know nothing”.

True to his convictions (and not a coward), Socrates drank poison when he had the chance to escape prison.  Even when his students and friends begged him  not to take it.  He was the ultimate teacher; willing to die for what he believed in.  I wasn't a philosophy major.  In fact, a lot of the material gave me a raging headache (I was about ready to tear my hair out after reading The Republic).  Fortunately, I had an instructor that inspired me and was able to teach the material impeccably.      

Last Saturday when I went in to class, my instructor aksed me to teach. I've only taught a handful of times, but it's something that I enjoy immensely. I especially like the process of breaking down moves and all the small things that go into making a certain technique work or not work.

It's also a challenge to try and convey information in an effective manner that sudents of varying levels can understand, while at the same time making sure the techniques that you are showing that particluar class fit toghether as a cohesive whole. Personally, I am not going to show a trianlge choke, followed by X-guard, and then a leg lock. I'd rather the techniques I show to flow together and be directly related to each other.

Being a teacher is a very challenging, yet rewarding profession.  To be successful, you have to be an instructor,  mentor, authority figure, positive role model, actor, and stand-up comedian all rolled into one.  It's like walking a tight rope.

Your students feed off the energy you give them (positive or negative), and emulate the values you instill in them and the examples you set.  Patience is a virtue you must cultivate.  Kindness and understanding is a necessity, however you must dole out punishment when needed as well.  It is filled with incredible highs (sometimes you leave work feeling like you are on top of the world), and the lowest of lows (sometimes you feel like jumping out a window).

My long term goal is to attend graduate school soon and earn a Master's degree in history and education (and maybe even a Ph.D. later).  One day, I hope to open my own BJJ school, and I would like to start some sort of after school BJJ program for young children and teenagers.  Being a teacher has definitely influenced my views on how I like to teach BJJ, and how I want to run a school or a program in the future.  I think many of the same approaches to teaching academics can be applied to instructing students in BJJ.

Here are a few general things that I really want to focus on:

1.  Showing only a few techniques per class-I think it's important to keep things simple. When I say simple, I don't just mean showing simple techniques.  What I am saying, is that I don't want to overload my students' minds with too much information at once.

2.  Positional sparring based on a certain guard, sweep, sub, or escape -One thing that really improved my BJJ (even more than drilling) was positional sparring.  After class I would partner up with a buddy and practice half guard, DLR, open guard, spider guard, sweeps, different positions, escapes, and submissions going at about 70% resistance (eventually turning it up to 100%).

After showing a few techniques, I really like to set up a rotation and have everyone practice the positions and techniques we learned that class going at about 70%.  I feel this is the best way to learn BJJ rather than showing techniques and then just sparring after the technique portion of class is over.  It's a fantastic way to reinforce what was taught in class, and a way to develop muscle memory.  I also feel that repetition is the best and most efficient way to improve in BJJ (and academics).

3.  Positive reinforcement-A small comment on a job well done, or an acknowledgment of some kind of improvement can go a long way.  Whenever I receive a complement from my instructors (BJJ and university professors), it feels like I'm walking on air.  Positive reinforcement encourages learning and builds confidence.  I'm not saying to blow wind up people's asses, but offering a kind word every now and then is something that I think is overlooked at many gyms and even in academics.

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