training Phoenix – beginners

on saturday I was delighted to welcome a new student, aged 8, named Phoenix. unfortunately i had no dan grades available at the time to run my class, or to give Phoenix some proper initial attention, so I started with my usual spiel I try to give to all beginners:

  • you may feel a bit silly and that everyone is looking at you.  they’re not – they are too busy training hard to care about how you look
  • everyone else was a beginner once
  • just try and copy everyone and do the best the can, and i will help you when i get a moment
  • if you got everything right straight away, i wouldn’t need to teach you anything!
  • shout a lot.  lots and lots and lots

i then did my beginner’s warm up session – this is like a normal warm up, but with the crucial addition of racing up and down the hall, with everyone shouting as much as they can.  this can really help normalise shouting and making a noise, and helps to get shy students of any age over the hurdle of hearing their own voice. it generally makes people laugh too, because inevitably someone will scream or otherwise yodel entertainingly. in the rare absence of comedy noise, i will make some myself. for special occasions, i will insist on cheese-themed kiyups.

still in beginner mode, we move on to absolute basics, complete with a recap of how to assume the various positions.  this is a great opportunity that i missed – on this occasion – to involve senior students.  i remind the not-beginners that it never hurts to recap this stuff, then i stand near Phoenix, or at least where he can see my clearly, and describe what i am doing, as i am doing it.  don’t over-egg the description though, once or twice should be enough.

we progress through basics, and i will take the opportunity to wander the class making small adjustments to any student that requires some.  i don’t dwell on the young fella too much, he’s not going to get it perfect – its enough that he’s there for now.

i notice that Phoenix is struggling with the long stance, and foot placement in general, and knees, the whole thing really.  i ask a blue belt, the most senior grade i currently have, to continue the drilling for the rest of the class.  i take Phoenix aside for some one to one tuition, and though he is very attentive and eager to be correct, he struggles with bending of leading knee, straight back leg, foot angles, hip position.  its then that I notice the parallel lines of the tennis court markings, and they come to my rescue, once again.  this is the main point of this article.

we play follow the leader.  first of all i lead my way up a single line, baby steps, once foot in front of the other on the same line.  then longer steps, giant steps, all on the one line.  i use the baby and giant words.  then Phoenix leads and I follow.  now we swap to using both of the parallel lines, again with the baby and giant, but this time paying attention to each foot being on its own line.

by swapping between baby and giant, and tightrope and train-tracks, Phoenix makes enormous progress in all of his long stance work, and they are considerably better than at first.  the use of lines, language and swapping gives us an opportunity to establish some common terms – fun terms – for leg spacing, both vertically and horizontally, length of stride, being balanced versus unbalanced, as well as a chance to feel the difference between them all.  we now have a shared vocabulary based on something tangible, on the floor, rather than difficult abstract ideas for eight year olds.  at this point, i was then able to start introducing front kicks and front punches, again using the parallel lines with the added geometry of the front punch making a triangle shape.

as an added extra, it gave two out of three blue belts an opportunity to lead the class, a new article to write, and a proven approach for beginners stance work.  i will revisit this approach this saturday, and perhaps get the whole class to do the same, as there are still some with poor hip and shoulder positioning.

i was delighted with the learning outcomes by the end of the class, both for me and Phoenix.  i was very lucky that my friend and teacher,  Master Niall Grange, turned up to help for the rest of the lesson.

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