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Friday, June 5, 2009

Teacher Diary: Just Focus!!!

Another karate lesson, another thought about teaching.

So, to begin with, I love my karate school and its instructors. It has brought a sense of purpose to my out of school life as well as a wonderful shared experience with my 8 year old son. I appreciate the measured progress I have made in learning Kempo Karate. But I remain an absolutely terrible sparring student.

Unfortunately, this is what we do on Wednesday class.

Last Wednesday, I came into class determined to not flinch away when a punch came towards my face. I spent the pm. in positive reinforcement mode. I practiced in my mind what combo punches I would need to make to prevent punches coming at me. On my lunch break I stepped out of school to practice a few of the moves associated with my purple belt. I considered how they would strengthen my sparring stance.

In sum, I spent considerable time, energy and thought on improving my sparring performance.

Class always begins with some physical exercises for fitness. I get tired, but actually compared to others in the class, I do pretty well.

Then we spar. This evening we did some sparring drills. In one drill, I had to spar my way past a guy and touch the box bag, unless he managed to hit me on the head. I did this drill 8 times and managed to get by the guy one of the times. This felt like a modicum of success.

Then we partnered up to spar. This time around my partner was a guy I have great respect for because he spends much of the time coaching me on specific steps, strategies and combos that improve my performance. I had the feeling that I was going to learn how to improve rather than simply get through the class on survival mode.

After some time, we switch partners and I was up against a far superior guy. I was hit a couple times in the head and began to flinch again when punches came my way. I told myself through gritted teeth not to flinch, but to little avail. The karate professor walked by and in a friendly, but insistent tone, told me that I needed to FOCUS. My dilemma is that I have no more strategies for increasing my focus. I wanted to say that to my professor, but the punches kept coming towards me and it felt inappropriate for me to stop and discuss this issue of focus. And in any event, it does not seem that I lack focus as much as I have been conditioned for so many years to avoid punches to my face that at 46 years old, I seemingly have little control of this.

Again, I love my karate school and its instructors. I am convinced they are working their utmost to make me the best karate student I can possibly be at this point in my life. But I have to take issue with the suggestion that I "just need to focus". It is not helping me.

So the take away lesson for me as a teacher is to be careful when prescribing "focus" as the way to resolve student learning dilemmas. Even students with proven difficulties with focus likely get little recognition for their attempts, like mine, to improve their work every week. The trick is recognizing genuine efforts to improve.

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