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Kim
Kim's picture
Transition Plan from Traditional to Practical

I run a club that is part of a traditional Shotokan organization, and our students are tested currently only on kihon, solo kata, and kumite.  I've taught for 10+ years now, and I'm comfortable with the progression of what I need to teach to get students ready in that system.  However, over the past few years, we've been trying to incorporate more practical karate skills into the curriculum (bunkai, awareness, escape & evasion, deescalation, ground fighting, locking, throwing, legal, HAOV, impact, combative fitness, etc.).  I am primarily struggling with a few things:

1) How to fit everything into class.  With limited dojo time, how do we cover everything and fit it in?  I always felt crunched enough for time doing just kihon, solo kata, and kumite - and now I feel like I don't have time to fit everything.

2) I have a good idea of progression and what's expected in the traditional syllabus, but I don't have a great idea of a progression and what is expected of students with the new skills.

3) I struggle with how to evaluate students and give them good feedback with the new skills.  I think so much of it should be evaluated based on effects, so it seems like a shift in the teacher-student relationship where instead of telling them what to do and what they did wrong, to helping them feel it.  I feel like I'm ok with that shift, but students seem to struggle without getting the same kind of feedback.

4) There are some things that I have to do in training now purely because students get tested on it (one good example is 3 step sparring).  I try to make it clear to my students what context we're training for and why it's important to work on the things we do in class.  But when we're working on certain things, if I want to be honest with my students, I feel like I need to tell them that "this isn't helping you technically or practically, but you will be tested on it."  But at this point, I don't feel like I'm ready to leave the organization, and I want students to succeed on their exams, so I feel like we need to cover these things.  I just hate wasting that training time.

So, it's been a struggle trying to make the transition.  I love Shotokan karate, and I think that the skills we need are there if we look at it the right way.  I'd love to hear any ideas or advice from anyone who is either going through or who has successfully made this transition.

dhogsette
dhogsette's picture

This is a great question. I'm fortunate to be in a traditional Matsubayashi organization that has a slimmed down minimum set of requirements for rank promotion, and each dojo owner/instructor has a great deal of freedom to construct a curriculum that fits his/her own training and teaching interests, including practical karate orientations.

I've been experimenting with teaching basics, kihon, and kata through an application-based instructional model. When introducing students to a new basic technique, I first teach them application. For example, when teaching "low block" I start with applying the motion to a wrist release application, hammer fist, and pre-emptive strike (grabbing the attacker's lead hand and pulling it down). I also explain the windup motion as a counter-ambush technique. They will practice these movements with partners. Then, I'll have them practice the movements in front of the mirror and make corrections. Then ease them into kihon training on the deck. I find that the techniques make more sense to the students, and they get more out of the kihon practice.

This may slow you down a bit, but it could be one of many possible strategies for teaching the classic kihon techniques while also teaching application.

I do the same with kata instruction. I will teach them bunkai application of a certain sequence first. Have them drill it with partners. Then, they perform that section of kata solo. I find it takes longer to teach kata this way, but the students tend to have a deeper understanding of the kata as they learn it. And, they enjoy learning kata this way. Note, by teaching kata this way, you are also getting in solid self-defense instruction. From my own reading and research, it seems this method of teaching is more in line with what was done in centuries past.

For self-protection principles, I give a brief 10 minute presentation before class once a week, detailing key principles from a core text, and I encourage them to read the book as well. Right now, I'm teaching through Rory Miller's Facing Violence.

I hope this helps you a bit. Best of success!

David

Andi Kidd
Andi Kidd's picture

Kim wrote:

1) How to fit everything into class.  With limited dojo time, how do we cover everything and fit it in?  I always felt crunched enough for time doing just kihon, solo kata, and kumite - and now I feel like I don't have time to fit everything.

I am afraid that this may not change. I feel like this and I have been teaching practical martial arts for years. I seem to go in cycles depending on what is next on the radar, I have lessons that are mainly kihon and kata performance or maybe kumite of various ranges/types or mainly bunkai or padwork orientated.  It sometimes feels like you are just trying to keep up. As grading approaches I just seem to try and cover everything in a lesson or what individual students need.

Drills are developed to save time, Iain has some good ones on his you tube channel and we do ‘practical’ drills as warm ups.

There are crossovers (see below) that do save some time, but I won’t lie, it isn’t easy!

Quote:
2) I have a good idea of progression and what's expected in the traditional syllabus, but I don't have a great idea of a progression and what is expected of students with the new skills.

Look at it logically, take groundwork for example

  1. Groundwork positions
  2. Positions and transitions
  3. Positions and transitions with varying resistance
  4. Escapes from positions, including holding down, getting up and exiting
  5. Locks/strangles etc from positions
  6. Introduce striking/cheating etc

All the way through you will have to test and work these at varying degrees, you will also find that your bunkai fits in here as well and that there is crossover in what you do. Then you see you can do padwork, sparring and drills on the floor as well. This is when you get the crossovers and see how some time can be saved.

Ask questions, think about it and look at how you progress what you do now and apply the same principles to how you would progress other things!

Quote:
3) I struggle with how to evaluate students and give them good feedback with the new skills.  I think so much of it should be evaluated based on effects, so it seems like a shift in the teacher-student relationship where instead of telling them what to do and what they did wrong, to helping them feel it.  I feel like I'm ok with that shift, but students seem to struggle without getting the same kind of feedback.

Shouldn’t this be the same for all training? For solo kihon you can give feedback but you should be moving to apply kihon whether it be on pads or opponents. Kata performance is different as you are alone, bunkai can be evaluated using ‘rules’, see Iain’s in ‘Bunkai jutsu’ or Bill Burgras in ‘Five years on kata’, there are loads of versions out there.

Higher grades should start to think for themselves and should (when they get to the right level) be looking at bending and breaking rules. Shu Ha Ri progression.

Quote:
4) There are some things that I have to do in training now purely because students get tested on it (one good example is 3 step sparring).  I try to make it clear to my students what context we're training for and why it's important to work on the things we do in class.  But when we're working on certain things, if I want to be honest with my students, I feel like I need to tell them that "this isn't helping you technically or practically, but you will be tested on it."  But at this point, I don't feel like I'm ready to leave the organization, and I want students to succeed on their exams, so I feel like we need to cover these things.  I just hate wasting that training time.

I believe that this is going to be your biggest problem, I faced the same many years back. One of my students failed a Dan grading because of this. With us training for different types of kumite, the competition form didn’t really suit him so he was marked down on that. He wasn’t tested on bunkai, groundwork or padwork, knowledge of self-protection or lots of what we did.  I realised I had done him a disservice in that I was not training him for the exam he would take but for what I thought he needed.

To say to someone that you are teaching them something that is essentially useless but there will be a test on it may make them question the whole training method.

Quote:
So, it's been a struggle trying to make the transition.  I love Shotokan karate, and I think that the skills we need are there if we look at it the right way.  I'd love to hear any ideas or advice from anyone who is either going through or who has successfully made this transition.

Shotokan can work (am I allowed to shamelessly plug my book here?). As I said above, the biggest problem that I can see is the affiliation and testing with an organisation that has different goals to your own. This splits training time and focus and is confusing for students. Going it alone isn’t as hard as it may seem there are some god parent bodies out there and plenty of people who will give you advice.

Leaving an organisation can be a bit like divorce, I am not joking, but if you don’t want the same things and have less and less in common, it can be the best thing for both of you.

I can bore you with more details if you want to contact me directly……..

Sean Padgett
Sean Padgett's picture

Andi Kidd hits the nail right on the head.  I would divide my sylabus into Standup, Clinch, and Ground (and the transitions between them), but his list is very similar to that.

I went through a very similar journey that you seem to be embarking on. I did so because I found myself a martial arts orphan, with no one near me who did what I did.  I was teaching Tang Soo Do and studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo locally.

I affiliated with the Straight Blast Gym (who are an amazing organization, by the way) as an Affiliated Training Group and my class became a martial arts laboratory.  I very much agreed with their idea of "aliveness" (that in order for a technique to be assured of effectiveness it has to eventually be drilled with randomized timing, non pre-prescribed motion, and progressive resistance.  For further information, google Matt Thornton and Aliveness.  I don't agree with everything, but I do see quite a lot of value in his ideas.)

When it comes to your question #3, the best thing I ever learned was the "I" method of drilling.

  1. Introduce
  2. Isolate
  3. Integrate

You start by teaching the basic movement in a non resisting manner.  Then you give the students a limited scope drill that incorporates a limited vocabulary of movements and responses (i.e. I throw only straight punches, you move and block for a given length of time ; you take top position while grappling, my job is to get out or pull guard, the drill resets when I am successful etc.).  Last, you take what you have trained and add it in to a free-er sparring environment (maybe standup sparring, maybe grappling, maybe a mix).  The best part about this is that students often can give each other feedback initally, and you can step in to help when people are really off track or stumped.  You are correct that it changes your relationships with the people you train, and I still prefer to be called a "coach" rather than an instructor.

I defnitely made mistakes on the way.  I stopped doing Kata, and did not actively train as many "traditional" kicks and blocks, focussing more on Muay Thai style sparring.  In retrospect, I feel I threw out the baby with the bath water.  

I am 100% with you on the "things you train because they are requirements" bit.  I struggle with that now that I am back with a more "traditional" organization. If you can lobby for change, absolutely do so, but I have the feeling you aren't alone in your feelings and maybe there are like minded individuals to allign with.  Good luck and please let me know if I can be of any help!

Kim
Kim's picture

Thank you so much for the thoughtful replies.  I am very appreciative of the time and effort that you've taken to help as we start out on this (I'm sure long) journey.  You've given me some really great insights and lots of great ideas of where to get started.

Since I was at one of Iain's seminars a few weeks back, we have totally changed the warm-ups that we do for class, and I'm really loving that.  I think that was an easy place to "trade out" something useful for what we were doing.  So we now do a quick drill at sparring distance, then a limb control/grabbing/trapping drill, then a ground fighting drill.  But it takes the same amount of time as our old warm-ups, still gets the blood flowing, but gets them learning some skills and mentally engaged in training right away.  So that's already been a wonderful addition to training.

dhogsette wrote:

For self-protection principles, I give a brief 10 minute presentation before class once a week, detailing key principles from a core text, and I encourage them to read the book as well. Right now, I'm teaching through Rory Miller's Facing Violence.

David - thanks - I absolutely love this idea.  We've been wanting to include more of the non-physical self-protection skills in class, and I think this is a great way to include it.  Rory's books are great.  We've done small bits here and there (have tried his "Articulation Wars" once or twice in class), but I love the idea of making it a regular part of training, and this is a great way to do that. 

Andi - thanks for so many great ideas.  I like the logical progression of looking at skills (your groundwork example is great).  I'll just need to work through (a) what are the skills that are needed, (b) what is that progression, and (c) what drills can I do to develop each of those skills at each level.  The idea of crossover is also great - I can see where there would definitely be overlap with bunkai and with padwork. 

And I think you're right that the biggest problem will be that students aren't tested on lots of the things I think are important (bunkai, impact, limb control, knowledge, etc.).  I'm thinking that I may need to have a discussion with students in our club to let them know our motivations for making these changes, and be up front with them that it will take longer for them to prepare for the exams.  Because with an exam every 4 months (as we have now), it's hard enough to get people ready on just the testing syllabus.  But I think that we might be able to keep that (for now) and introduce these new skills, but it will just take them longer to test.  I'm thinking of it like "Shotokan Plus"... so they'll get what they need to pass their "normal" Shotokan exam, PLUS a whole lot of other stuff. 

Andi Kidd wrote:

Shotokan can work (am I allowed to shamelessly plug my book here?). As I said above, the biggest problem that I can see is the affiliation and testing with an organisation that has different goals to your own. This splits training time and focus and is confusing for students. Going it alone isn’t as hard as it may seem there are some god parent bodies out there and plenty of people who will give you advice.

Leaving an organisation can be a bit like divorce, I am not joking, but if you don’t want the same things and have less and less in common, it can be the best thing for both of you.

No need to shamelessly plug your book - I actually had ordered it before this conversation (happy to say it arrived in the mail today - I'm very much looking forward to reading it!).  :-) 

But it's great to hear that Shotokan can work - it's inspiring to see things from people like you and Iain and others who make the traditional karate work in a practical setting.  Because I don't want to abandon everything that I, or my students, have done over years of training. 

I'm thinking it might be worth having an open talk with our club about these kinds of things.  Becuase I think you're right that affiliating with an organization with different goals is only going to make this more difficult moving forward, and will keep pulling us in different directions.  But with students who are also invested in the training, I feel like I should also get some of their input so they wouldn't get blindsided by the "divorce." 

My biggest struggle there is that I've formed a lot of great relationships with individuals in the organization.  We've slowly been trying to bring them along to this way of thinking, but it's incredibly difficult.  But I'd hate to cut those ties, since they have given me so much.  Might be worth having a similar discussion with them - I think if we discuss our goals and they're different, then that might be an easier break.  If our goals are the same, then we can work from there (with many of them, I think they really want their karate to be practical, but they just don't see how free sparring and self-defense aren't the same thing, for example).

Sean Padgett wrote:

When it comes to your question #3, the best thing I ever learned was the "I" method of drilling.

  1. Introduce
  2. Isolate
  3. Integrate

Sean - I like this approach, and I think this will be quite helpful going forward.  3 easy steps, and I can see how that can work really well.  And I like the approach of coach rather than instructor.  I feel like on lots of this stuff, I'm only one step ahead of my students, and in many respects they come up with things and are teaching me at the same time.  And I'm finding that they're able to feel things themselves and help each other out, like you're talking about.  I just have to resist the urge to jump in and say things just to say things and feel like I'm "teaching".... hard habit to break! 

Again - thanks so much for the great responses!

Kim
Kim's picture

Andi Kidd - I just finished reading your book, From Shotokan to the Street. It was a great read, and gave me a lot to think about. I found it to be a great reference that was pulling together a lot of the other material I have read (Rory Miller, Iain, etc.) and tying it back in to Shotokan training. So thank you for that.

I'm sure that I will need to make some changes to our syllabus and testing requirements. If anyone is willing to share their syllabus, it would be much appreciated. I think having a reference from others who have been through this before would be immensely helpful. Thanks!

Andi Kidd
Andi Kidd's picture

Kim

You are welcome and I am glad you enjoyed the book.

As for syllabus, I am tidying mine up again at the moment (I can hear my students graoning as I type), but email me and I can talk you through mine a bit more if it is of any use

All the best Andi

Kim
Kim's picture

Thanks, Andi.  I certainly appreciate the help and support! 

If there are any others out there who are going through/have gone through this transition in their syllabus, I'd love to hear any other thoughts on how to make that transition smoothly.  Any examples of testing requirements or progressions of drills would be immensely helpful.  If we were going to make a transition away from our current organization/testing structure, I'd like to have something in place to move to (rather than just moving away from what we're currently doing). 

I'd also be curious of any thoughts of how to handle students during the transition.  For example, if I have a progression for ground fighting skills that we would work from beginner through black belt, my current brown belts don't have those skills yet that I would "expect" of brown belts in the new system.  How have others handled this?  Do you have different expectations of ranks as you're going through the phases of making the change?

Thanks!