The very first thing that is required of anyone teaching brand new students is to understand their motivation for being in kendo. This helps you in responding to the individuals needs as well as giving you clues into the group think.
Firstly, with the little kids – do they want to learn kendo or do their parents want them to learn kendo? If it is the parents you need to create a situation that makes for two critical items:
- It is fun
- They are bonded to other “friends” in the class.
If it is by the child’s choice then you can go to point 3 which also applies to adults.
- Make it challenging.
Teaching teens means do not embarrass them and build a relationship with each one. This relationship will get you through the critical first couple of months. Show interest in them as an individual and build loyalty and trust by showing you are interested in their learning, you are vested in them as a person. Teaching adults is different in that they make a conscious choice to learn kendo. Adults have busy lives and want a bang for the buck! As an instructor you need to swamp them and push forward. They need to feel progress even sometimes when there is none. Keep pushing forward and then circle back and revisit weak points as much as necessary. Send them home mentally and physically challenged. Lastly for all students especially adults treat them with respect.
POINTS IN GENERAL
Take the class list and memorize each individual and get a picture in your mind of each student. This helps them to know they are important to you as the instructor. Learn everyone’s name on or before the first day.
Maintain a sense of humor and let them know failure is an option and will probably happen frequently in the starting months of kendo. Making mistakes is OK and expected.
Never teach to the lowest common denominator, if someone cannot keep up leave them behind, sink or swim.
Constantly correct the small details, they are building muscle memory and habit, letting something incorrect persist insures that will become their habit and the longer it persists the harder to fix. Once in bogu fixing things is doubly magnified in the difficulty of modifying behavior. Once they are doing keiko correcting and implementing change is very hard and do you have time to concentrate on an individual if you have a large class that needs your attention. Attention to detail, be repetitive, be consistent! The first few weeks keep to a limited number of items to correct. Remember they need to hear it 40 times (hands up, feet straight, heel off the ground, correct grip, smaller steps). Do not be reluctant to nag them into submission.
When correcting explain the correction in at least two versions, try to understand how the individual learns. If it is a large class this is even more critical and if possible get help but make sure the helpers are a help. The overall message needs to be uniform and consistent. It is and undesirable situation when the instructors contradict each other, it makes your whole operation suspect.
Provide the students with a lesson plan and goals. Try to state the goal of each class at the beginning of the class. This helps to focus you and the students toward the same objective. Having a lesson plan also lets the student know what is next and what they will miss if they are not at class.
Publish the reigi and enforce it, especially build this in juniors so when they become sempai they provide the structure and leadership for the club. Remember this is America not Japan and we are doing cultural blending. Some of the reigi is inherent for Japanese it is not for non-Japanese. They did not grow up with some of the items as cultural norms. Extra definition to create the why maybe necessary and will help cement the concept in their minds. State class policy at day one such as cell phone usage, water breaks, sitting, cleaning the dojo. Everyone breaks together and do not leave class without telling you ahead of time.
Do not be afraid to challenge the students as to why they are taking kendo. Worse case is juniors whose parents want them to do kendo and the child does not. They are a waste of resources in time, money and effort.
Do not be timid about enforcing correct behavior, a couple of students can tear down the dojo discipline and learning environment. If incorrect behavior is allowed it is teaching by example to the others especially the juniors. Set high standards, be sincere in your teaching and show the students you care about them. Teaching beginners is an excellent way to improve your own basics and knowledge. When you have to show and explain how it works you gain a greater understanding. Remember you are a mirror, every bad habit you have the beginner will copy, they are generally less quick to copy what you do correct.
Kendo is primarily visual learning, the student watches and copies your example. The student needs to understand that silence on your part is acceptance, too many compliments create false impressions of progress. On the opposite side do not be afraid to recognize correct and serious effort. Even adults respond to positive recognition in the class context. Handing out silly gifts from the Dollar Store designated as FABULOUS prizes can produce a greater level of effort on the students part.
Those who practice kendo learn that most input to the student is in the form of correction. It does not hurt to inform the beginning student of the “traditional” kendo methodology.