a MMB! Kendo Blog: Teaching is Rewarding

MMB! Kendo Blog

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Teaching is Rewarding

I was feeling slightly better but still wasn't in the position to engage in vigorous training. My dry throat would prevent me from doing any loud kiai, and kendo without kiai is just... strange.

Instead of training in the advanced class tonight in Willoughby, I volunteered to take the beginners. To be honest, I really enjoy teaching. There is nothing more rewarding than watching the beginners improve, and seeing them taking a greater understanding on the basic elements in Kendo.

For basic elements, I mean footwork and how to swing a shinai. They are very basic and fundamental things, but that doesn't mean they are simple and easy to do. For me, it was only in the last few months that I started using my left foot correctly and understand more deeply as to what constitute a good kamae.

For any beginners, naturally they would pay more attention to the arms and upper body actions instead of footwork. That's because the arms hold the sword, swings the sword, twirls the sword, and makes various other sword movements, whereas the legs are "merely" there to support the body. Well, that's my guess on what the beginners would tend to think anyway, but I guess my guess couldn't go too wrong.

Footworks and Hand-Foot Coordinations
The beginner class (7 people) I took tonight had a good grasp of how to swing a shinai. The upper body movements were generally good. However, I identified that footwork and hand-foot coordination still needed some improvements.

The most common footwork problems were:
  • Left heel was flat on the floor, instead of slightly elevated;
  • Foot stance was too narrow;
  • Sliding footwork was commonly neglected;
  • Weight distribution was too biased to the right front foot; which results in
  • Not enough pushing power from the left rear foot.

So we did a lot of footwork up and down the width of the dojo in groups, as well as practicing kihon-men on me (I was in full bogu) one-by-one. I gave more general comments on the more common mistakes when practicing in groups, whereas more specific one-on-one feedbacks were given during the one-on-one rotations.

Oh, one thing I like to mention... I was planning for how I should take the beginner class during the day and I thought the beginners would probably be excited to hit a real dummy in full bogu, rather than a shinai. So I tried out this idea this evening. Oh wow, what an encouraging response from the young kid when I announced that each of them would be able to practice 20 men cuts on me. The kid exclaimed 'Oh COOL!' and all the beginners took turn to execute 20 men cuts on me enthusiastically. Glad that they weren't too carried away with their excitement or else my head would suffer. All credits to them. They did very nice kihon-men cuts.

For improving the hand-foot coordination, we did a few sets of kihon-men executed in full lunges across the width of the dojo. This exercise clearly showed everyone that the right foot and arms should start moving at the same time, instead of foot first and hand next, or hand first and foot next, as commonly seen amongst beginners.

After a few rounds of these full lunges kihon-men exercises, I could see a vast improvement in their hand-foot coordination when they executed kihon-men on me in the one-on-one rotations.

We only did kihon-men, kihon-kote and kihon-kote-men, but there were already enough things for them to focus on, so there was no need to introduce kihon-do and distract them from practicing straight cuts.

In the last 15 minutes, I splitted the beginner class up further. The 6 beginners who have done kirikaeshi in other training sessions before made pairs to practice kirikaeshi and other things they wish to practice on. And for me, I put my attention to the one beginner who joined our club last Saturday and introduced him to kirikaeshi for the first time. I like teaching beginners kirikaeshi because, personally, I think kirikaeshi looks cool, and it should make beginner practice a bit more challenging.

This new beginner's name was Timothy Stephens. I know it was a bit too early to say, but I reckon he got tremendous potentials to become a kendo champion. He has got superb hand-foot coordination, very quick on learning new things. A common problem with beginners is that they tend to rush the exercise, thinking that fast means good. But not with this youngster. He got the right mindset of focusing on doing each exercise correctly instead of quickly. A real potential to watch out for. Hopefully, he will stay in kendo for the long-term. Oh, btw, he has been playing Western fencing at national and international levels and was two times Australian Champion in his age group. So my prediction of him becoming a future Kendo champion was not without base.

After the training session, some beginners came around to rei and say thank you for the training session, which was so nice. For me, the best thing was to hear that they have learnt about the shortcomings of their footwork and, instead of avoiding the problems, they acknowledged and came to seek advice on how to improve on the footwork. It was so encouraging to see the beginners were so motivated to improve their own kendo.

Let's bring up our future hopefuls!


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