May 26, 2009

Private Lessons Pt.II - A Teachers Perspective

I assume you have read the post just below (if not skip this post and read Private Lessons part 1 below). So now I will offer my perspective on private lessons from a teachers standpoint.

At the Three Harmonies Martial Arts Center I offer group classes that are geared towards self defense / combatives training. These group classes are not stylistically based, but rather draw from my past 18 years of martial arts knowledge in stand up situations (striking, kicking, locking, throwing).

For those students who are interested in learning a certain style such as Mantis, Xing Yi, Taiji, Bagua, weapons, or qi gong training then private instruction is the only place I offer such lessons. My reasoning for this is multifaceted.

First of all I find the attention to detail in private instruction is second to none. ALL the attention is on you (or you and a training partner if it is a small group private lesson)! The teacher can watch every subtle nuance of your movement and technique. These aspects can be lost in a group setting, especially if you are learning a form (kata) or specific movement.

People from different backgrounds have different ways of learning. Not necessarily a learning disability, but perhaps just a hard time understanding a movement kinesthetically. In these situations a patient, understanding instructor is needed, and in group situations the class and/or the student can get neglected and lost in the shuffle.

Forms and styles are easiest to teach and learn in private format. Again the one on one factor is huge, but also take it from a marketing perspective; I do not have the space / money / time to offer a class on combatives, Taiji, Xing Yi, Mantis, weapons, qi gong, etc. etc. etc. One day when I own my own building and have free range over a schedule I will re-evaluate this situation, but until then this is the best way for me to teach as many different demographics while not affecting the quality of my instruction which is always my most important goal, quality over quantity.

I always found it a bit silly to walk into a group setting, warm up as a group, and then have the teacher break us up individually to work on solo forms for X amount of time! We come together as a group to work on our solo routines!?!?!?! What a waste! Form work is your homework for when you do not have a training partner. When I am amongst a group I want to work applications, partner drills, and some uncooperative sparring of some sorts. Things I cannot replicate when practicing by myself.

In this format my students can refine their technique / form in private instruction, and then step onto the mat (classroom vs. lab) and test out what they learn in group combatives class if they so choose to train in both!

I have noticed with students who train consistently in group class, and take regular or even occasional private instruction improve drastically! My student Terry is a classic example of this. He has been a very devote student of mine for over 2 years now studying combatives in my group class, as well as training Sun Taiji with me privately. Every aspect of his training has improved. His form work is getting better by the day. He is a better partner, student and demo dummy since training in my group class. He comes to private instruction on time and prepared with notes and questions. His hard work and effort has paid dividends!

Here are a few pointers for teachers to live by in regards to private instruction:

1- The student (regardless of whether this is their first lesson, or 100th) is paying you for your time and knowledge; impart it upon them! I cannot stand teachers who milk their students of money! If I go into your mechanic shop for brake service I expect all 4 brakes to be worked on and fixed, not 2 1/2! So if a student comes to you for X you should do everything in your ability to provide X. Obviously their are many factors in this situation, but overall the student is paying you their hard earned money and time to learn something from you, be honest and forth right in your passing of that knowledge.

2- Try to get an idea of what the student NEEDS from you. Notice I did not say wants from you! They may have an idea of what they WANT, but a coach is there for what the student NEEDS. Sometimes this is a bitter pill to swallow, but hey, that is the nature of a coach. They are not paying you to be a friend.

3- Be professional! Do not come to a lesson late. Be prepared with material (again try to get an idea of what the student wants to cover prior to the lesson so you can prepare notes and what not). And if you need to cancel or adjust a lesson try and give at least 24 hours notice so the student can adjust their life accordingly.

4- Be honest! Across the board of life I find this to be a rare virtue anymore. Sometimes we save certain words/thoughts in an effort not to hurt someones' feelings. That is tact more than anything. I try to offer three things they are doing well, and one or two than need improvement. You do not want to overwhelm your student with negative aspects of their game, but at the same time you want to be honest and tell them where they need to improve. This may be hard, but your students will appreciate it in the long run!

I encourage you to seek out private instruction with your teacher, visiting professors, or with another local teacher. Even in negative situations you will learn something valuable!

Train hard,

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