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Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture
A question on teaching different types of people

In the time i've been teaching (amazingly, 10 years I realized recently, pretty cool for having started teaching completely on a lark!), I have noticed that there is a continuum of how different Karateka learn.

One side of the spectrum are what i'd call "go" people, meaning they can easily access their "go" buttons, people who have previous experience in contact sports often fit the bill here. Intent is not a problem for them, but they often have problem slowing down to learn the finer points of things. On the other side of spectrum are what i'd call "technical" people, they grasp technical points quite quickly, but often need to be pushed to develop their own "go" buttons.

A problem i've often run into is this scenario:

Let's say we are working on a bunkai drill with a live element, such as what (I think) Iain would call a "continuation practice". basically tori performs a technique, uke counters or repsonds somehow, and you go from there, exchanges usually just last a few seconds.

Ideally at the level I want this drill to happen, there is some minimal resistance, but it is not sparring, in that there is really no attempt to "win", it is simply a technical drill about responding to new situations, regardless of whether the results are that as Tori you come out on top,  or that you don't, and need to figure out what went wrong.

If you have a mainly 'technical' types student, and a mainly 'go' type student working together, quite often there is a lack of understanding on the part of the "go" student that there are degrees of resistance, that trying to "win" in such a situation kind of destroys the drill. When I run into this situation, my response is usually to kind of give up and simply allow a limited type of sparring, since the drill falls apart. Not a bad thing of and within itself, but we don't get to work the drill.

This dynamic has also been apparent to me in watching some Karateka try to learn throws when they have little previous experience with them, ukes will actually tense up and try to prevent Tori from throwing - fine for randori, uchi komi etc.. but really terrible for simply learning how to throw correctly.

Basically the issue is, I am fairly confident in my teaching skills in getting "technical" people to access their Go buttons, but the opposite is quite hard - geting "Go" people to slow down and actually facilitate their partner learn something instead of always being "go" mode and trying to win.

I'm wondering if the folks here with some teaching experience would have drills, concepts, or anything else they'd reccomend for this sort of situation.


This is not about people's attitudes at all, no one is acting innapropriate, no problem there, not a dojo etiquette or behavior issue. Just a blind spot with my teaching ability.

JWT's picture

This is very normal training behaviour and I experience it regularly, especially with younger students. I find it less common with the students in their 40s, 50s and 60s! I usually deal with it by talking through the aims and objectives of what we are doing with the pair concerned. I don't normally have to repeat it for that exercise, but with some students I may have to do it each time they are working a new drill or combination of drills. The way I explain it to my students is as follows:

Every thing you do needs to be put under pressure to ensure that you have grasped it, but if you apply that pressure too soon the other person hasn't had a chance to learn it so they can employ it, and so it fails. If it fails it isn't a big problem because it presents a new position and we have drills for that, but it means they never get good at this position and this skill. If you give your partner the correct feed and level of pressure to enable them to develop this skill that this drill is working then they get better. That not only means they are more likely to enjoy the training and stick around to give you someone to work with, but it also makes them safer because they have a higher skill level. But the most important thing for you is that if you help your training partner get better, then they become a more challenging person for you to work with, and that means you get better.   

Hope that helps,  

John Titchen  

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Thanks JWT, that's very helpful.

So bascially, it sounds like I should learn a few different ways of explaining it, and do it as many times a neccessary.