Evelyn suggested I write about my perspective as the main instructor/teacher in our self-defense classes. At first I was like “YEAH!” but now I’m like “Hmmmm…”
Instructing others in pretty much anything is a strange beast. We know something they don’t, they want to learn, and we show them how to do it. This often involves forcing a student into some kind of an emotional corner we’re asking them to fight their way out of to learn. Whatever the instructor wants to see happen usually requires willingness to be obedient to the instructor’s process, to trust us with their souls, and make sure they walk away from experience with new information and know-how. We want to them to have book smarts, and street smarts. Instructors want to get them to that tipping point of sudden revelation where the subject becomes a part of the student.
But instructors can only show the process; the student has to do the process to reach success and new understanding. We encourage, we challenge, we give what wisdom we have gained in our own experiences of learning, but the student has to do the work of learning. Sometimes it can be a long, frustrating experience as instructors watch their students take a really long time, or flounder again and again.
I think the worst thing an instructor can say is “I can’t teach you this” after many tries. This reminds me of the scene in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” when the gym teacher asks how one of his wrestling stars is doing in band class, and Mr. Holland replies that he hasn’t found a way to teach the student an instrument, that he tried and he can’t. They gym teacher says he’s a “lousy teacher.” If the student is willing, it’s not their fault if they don’t get there.
I’m a true believer in there’s a solution to every problem, and it’s my job to find it. Case in point: helping my sister, Richelle, believe that she can learn to fall properly from a standing position sideways, backwards, and forwards. Richelle found getting up and down from the floor both excruciating and scary. She feared she couldn’t get up, and the pain of using the muscles needed. But here she was before me, asking me to teach her. I’ve known my sister all my life. I know what she’s like and had my doubts. I had to set them aside and figure out a way to convince her she could do what I was showing her.
Helping someone overcome fear so they can perform the task before them is huge. It takes small, incremental steps of desensitization to help someone over that hump sometimes. Sometimes it requires pushing them in the deep end of the pool and let them figure it out. In the case of my sister, she needed the slower method and a lot of convincing. We started out with just figuring out how to get up and down off the floor. Then we moved to sitting on her knees and backside repeating the falling motion over and over. She needed to overcome that fear next. This went part went on for some months.
I had to be patient and wait till she was ready for the next step: getting onto her feet into a crouched position to fall in any of the directions. It took awhile for her to find her balance and convince herself to let go. I encouraged, I helped her down slowly by letting her hold onto my hands, I did whatever it took till she was ready for more. She’s not quite to standing for all, but she’s getting there.
Each momentous step of progress is like a banner of success for me. It tells me my teaching method is working. The day she moved from falling from sitting to falling from standing was a very exciting day for me. I felt so proud of her, I kept clapping my hands in glee and telling her how awesome she was for overcoming her fears. This is where all of the blood, sweat and tears as an instructor comes to it’s fullness. The overwhelming joy I feel when I see someone progress from “I can’t” to “I can” is enough — more than enough — gas to keep my instructing engine running and revving for joy.
I am blessed to watch Evelyn and Richelle grow in belief in themselves, and in skill. I’ve watched both of them grow from semi-scared women, too afraid to try punching or grappling or anything else I’ve thrown their way to super women who feel capable, confident, and ready. The satisfaction I have is wonderful and encouraging as their instructor. I am ready for more, and so are they.