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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

The Mayor of Newbietown

I've written before about how I just love working with new students.

Our school starts out with what we call "Zero Level". The idea is that it should take about a week or two - say, two to four lessons at most - to get a new student up to speed enough to participate in class with the other students.

It's not just a fundamentals thing, it's a safety thing - for newbie students, and for the rest of us (as nobody will hit you with a stick more often than a newbie will).

When I pass them on to White Belt, they haven't necessarily mastered the material on zero level (our basic strikes, basic stances, basic blocking pattern, basic feeding pattern), but they understand it well enough to be relatively safe for the rest of the class to work with, both for the newbie and for the others in class.

Given that our art has "contact" pretty early in training, I'm glad that we have this zero level to ease new students in.

Sometimes, coaching brand new students is left to lower level classmates, where "high rank" people and instructors don't bother and focus on the "higher level" stuff.  I think that's a serious mistake, because not only does the new student lose out on connecting with a higher-ranked person or instructor in the school (a must, I believe, for new students), but also because of what the teacher loses as a result.

I really like working in the zero level - I often volunteered for it in my teacher's school - because of all I get out of it, as well as the pleasure of introducing somebody new to my art.   I love what I do, and getting new people acclimated to it is a very rewarding experience.

Each student is unique and a gift to their instructors, because when you teach, you learn, and you learn something different with just about every new student you work with.

Something is always there to be discovered - new ways to communicate, learning how to connect with different style learners, and always, new reactions to what you are doing that you wouldn't have expected (especially if the new student has very little to no martial arts training).

I think the education in the unexpected is especially valuable as we tend to tell ourselves narratives about how untrained people will react to what we do, and that narrative is blown up every time you work with a new student.

Things that become obvious to us after we've trained for a while are not very obvious at all to new students, and we just plain forget this fact, until we are trying to get them to perform the simplest technique or stance.

For example, the admonition to not give my back or the back of my head to my opponent if I can possibly avoid it is an ingrained habit now, but a new student will step so that his or her back is easily given without even realizing it. They don't know to be aware of that as a problem, so it's something I need to look for as an advantage in a real conflict.

We have learned to expect a person to move or block or do something when we throw a punch at them, but it's not uncommon for the new student to just stand there and do nothing.  They might not even register that something is happening, even when you aren't doing anything to hide it.

We'll ask a new student to punch the air, and the mechanic and target is completely unlike anything you've seen before, and it's something to think about as a thing.

Now that I'm back teaching my own classes much of the time, I'll be working with newbies a lot. As my own students move up the ladder, I'll make it a point of showing them the value of working with newbies, too. Because it's the best.

Just call me the Mayor of Newbietown.

Do you like working with new students? Or would you prefer spending your time with peers or seniors? Why? Let us know in the comments!

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