Tips for Teaching Kids, Part II: “A Million Times”
Rohai Dojo in Berkeley sometimes posts on the bulletin board a story borrowed from Louise Rafkin’s book, The Tiger’s Eye, The Bird’s Fist: A Beginner’s Guide to the Martial Arts. –This book, by the way, is a nice collection of stories, legends, biographies and history, giving kids an introduction to martial arts in general, their culture and philosophy. It’s out of print, but sometimes available at Powell’s Books or Amazon. In fact I was in Powell’s recently and saw a copy there.
The story is titled “A Million Times.” Here’s an excerpt:
A legendary teacher once taught one of his prize students to punch. The student put his fingers together in a fist and hit the target a few times.
“Can you teach me something else?” the student asked.
The teacher frowned. “First practice the punch a million times,” he told the student sternly. “Then I will teach you something new.” The student was discouraged, and went in search of a new teacher.
The new teacher taught the student a kick. “Practice a million times,” he said.
“What? Not a million times!” The student once again went to find a new teacher.
[ . . . ]
I’m going to leave you hanging, readers, but if you teach martial arts to children, you know this story; you experience it every day. Which brings us to the topic of this blog post:
How do you get kids to put in enough work on the basics, while keeping their interest up and teaching them the value and necessity of repetitive practice? Another way to phrase the question: How do you disguise repetition, while at the same time teaching the importance of it?
Different teachers take different views, and may have equal success with opposite approaches. I want to start the discussion off by revealing my personal bias, and feel free to disagree.
While some seek to keep kids interested by making everything in class into a game, I’m not a big fan of this. I like using games for a few minutes as warm-ups at the beginning of class, or as a release at the end of class, but the heart of class for me is practice, and most of that is going to be basics. So I have to find different ways to break it up—and there are plenty: change gears frequently; change tone of voice, speed, or counting; intersperse bursts of calisthenics; switch between forward and backward, front foot and rear, alone and with partner, in the air and on the target; have the instructor do sneak attacks with a foam “bopper” during basic repetitions. I think Kathy Varady meant something similar when she mentioned “theme classes” in her comment on our previous post about teaching.
There are a million ways to get it done “a million times.” What are some of yours?