Learning From Teaching

Sugino Sensei demonstrating iai-jutsu

One of the most startling experiences I had at Sugino Dojo was being asked to perform the uke (senior) side of a kata for a new student, showing them the kirikomi side in the process. I had only just learned the uke side, and I assumed someone had made a terrible mistake. But I was assured, and then commanded, and so I did my best.

I don’t really remember how it went, but I remember the struggle to recall what kirikomi was supposed to do, while my body was doing the uke motions. It was as though the kirikomi, which I’d learned before the uke, had just completely flown out of my brain. I would just stand there, knowing I should tell the new student what to do, but utterly devoid of any notion what that should be.

Of course we were surrounded with senior students and instructors, so there was no danger of me leading the poor novice astray, and I am quite sure I learned a good deal more than he did in that practice.

I’m sure I learn best when information is brought to me through a variety of channels: explanations, demonstrations, notes, challenges, and so on. Each new “channel” seems to provide yet another facet of the kata to my understanding. And of course it seems true that everyone has their own ways of learning. I know lots of Katori people who take detailed notes on the kata; I never have. I know people who ask lots of questions, and really investigate and come up with theories about how the kata work. I rarely ask questions, but mostly because despite what you’ll probably think if you meet me, I’m actually quite shy.

But showing things to others, watching them struggle to learn, and finding new ways to explain it: this has been a rich source of learning for me. It feels like a whole new part of my brain is being engaged, and I almost have to learn everything all over again. Like turning over a coin to discover a whole set of images and meanings on the reverse. Same coin, new meanings.

One of our more junior people at Toronto Kenjutsu was recently asked to lead a novice through a new kata, and watching him struggle to remember one side while trying to perform the other reminded me of those days in Kawasaki, and made me grateful for all the different ways of learning Katori provides.

Photo by Parent Géry. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported License.

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