Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Joy of Newbies

It's a new year, and we have new students starting in our Modern Arnis program.

In our school, we have instituted what we call "The Zero Belt" level.  This is where you learn a few basics before we slap a white belt on you and start whinging sticks at your head.
We've found that people get a little turned off when we ask them to perform even basic single sinawali - all of a sudden sticks are coming at them and they're scared and feel awkward holding a stick and moving arms and legs.

Imagine being asked to do this day one:

It is a little scary, especially if you haven't done martial arts before (which is not uncommon in our new students).  I,  myself, was initially introduced into the art when I was taught how to do single sinawali by my first instructor.

So, the "Zero" level is to indoctrinate them into the school and teach them the basics, such as how to hold a stick, stances, moving around, and the 14-count double-stick strikes, 12-count single stick strikes, and a basic 6-count blocking drill (not getting hit yet, just... where to step and position the stick for blocking).

Depending on the student, it can take two-four classes for a student to complete "Zero" level and "earn" a white belt.  By the time they wear a white belt, we know that they understand the basic language of our art, how to hold sticks, and the basics - very basics - on how to move.

More often than not, I work with the newbies.  I do enjoy it as I like to make sure I'm reinforcing my basics - nothing makes you really think about what you do as well as having to explain it to somebody else and circumstances right now mean I'm doing it again.

Take stances.  With a new student, not only do you have to demonstrate, you must explain the nuances.

Let's describe the back stance.

74.672% of your weight in on your back foot.  Precisely.
You have to describe a back stance - where to position the toes, where your center of gravity should be, how much of your weight should be distributed across your feet.  Then you have to explain how to move around and reset into that stance.

I've been doing back stances for years.  I assure you they are far better now because of this process of helping brand new students learn how to do it.

It's that way with everything you do with newbies - having to think it out, and explain, teach, and correct the technique as they learn - is a process that not only informs the student, it informs you as well.

I'm of the opinion that if you get the basics - the very basics - down as well as humanly possible, and keep it as good as it can be via the process of teaching newbies, that always makes you a better martial artist.  I might be able to do tapi-tapi for an hour and not miss a beat, but if I don't also spend time making sure my strikes go when I wish them to go at the force I intend to deliver every time, that I block well and that I know how and when to use which stance to adjust distance while moving... I'm not that good. am I?  All those things are reinforced in the basics.

You may be familiar with the statement that you should practice something 10,000 hours in order to become an expert?  What better way to get there than by teaching newbies?

To be fair, I've known some folks that aren't as into teaching the newbies as I am.  They didn't have the patience (I think they forgot what it's like to be new) or they think that their time is too valuable to be spent doing such things. Or, honestly, they aren't very good teachers - not everyone is a good teacher and can work well with the new students.

What's your favorite part of working with new students?  Is it something you love or loathe?  I'd love to know!