Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Good Teachers Learns from their Students - A Fresh Perspective

A good teacher learns from his/her students.

When I received my teaching certificate in 1988, I was a font of knowledge but, I was undeveloped as a disseminator of knowledge. Over time and several generations of students, I have evolved into a pretty good teacher. I’ve developed the ability to teach not just martial arts, but more importantly, people. The martial art is just the vehicle, but an instructor’s first goal must be to help people learn how to learn – not just the gifted athlete but the average person – in other words, everyone.

Every student provides the teacher with the opportunity to reinforce his/her mastery of the curriculum. Even more valuable, each individual provides a unique opportunity for the teacher to hone his true art – the art of teaching people – the art of reaching the individual. For the teacher, the goal is making his curriculum not just accessible, but personally important to each individual student. In return, each student provides a valuable opportunity to discover a new and unique approach to teaching.

Recently, this truth was renewed for me, refreshingly, by an insightful thirteen year old. I was working with a few young students to improve their stance. We talked about the length and width of each of their stances. We adjusted foot angles, weight distribution and body angle. When we got around to squaring the Centerline, one young lady said, “When I do that, it feels like my knees want to collapse into the center.”  I said “That’s it, exactly! That’s what sinks your center of gravity and it closes down the lower perimeter!” (!Light bulb moment!) I had never approached teaching this aspect of the stance from that standpoint. She (and I) now understood centerline and lowered center of gravity on a more personal level.

Adult class followed directly and I immediately began to integrate this additional approach into my presentation. As I presented it several times in the next few days, I came to additional realizations guaranteed to produce more effective students. What a gift!

Thank you. (You know who you are.) 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Next Generation

The Next Generation

Once in a while you’re in the right place at the right time – the stars align and you get to witness the birth of a martial artist. I have a young student (Joe – 12 years old) who has been training for 2 years. He is an exemplary student; quiet, focused and disciplined – the kind who doesn’t require your constant attention. That can be a disadvantage because there are many others that require concerted attention. This post comes by way of letting him know that he is acknowledged and appreciated. Recently he came to me and, spurred by an illustration in a book about martial arts, asked a question about the technique presented. Uncertain of the exact intent of the picture he presented, and based on my experience, I gave him my best guess. It seems that my answer was sufficient and satisfying. The next time I saw the young man, he had a few questions. Together we considered the subjects and came to an understanding. Soon, the questions were more closely related to Wing Chun Do. Suddenly, I was teaching WCD to a kid. Now, it seems that every time I meet with Joe, he’s eager to learn and I’m all too happy to help. It’s good to be a teacher!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ah, life.

Once in a while you experience a moment that resets the clock. That is to say, I think we all have a life clock, made up of those stark, clear memories which truly define our character; our identity and our very being. There's no telling when these moments are going to happen. They just do. We are the sum of those memories. Last night I experienced one of those moments…

In an attempt to burn all of the wood harvested from the dead branches of our oak tree, I’ve been enjoying a series of relaxing evening fires in the backyard. At last night’s fire, joined by my lovely wife, and conversing about the day and the future, I experienced that now familiar, very intimate feeling that, this moment will supplant its predecessor as one of the top ten moments of my life. Life just keeps getting sweeter!

Wish you all the same.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Teacher's Unique Insight - It's Gold

"When did Sijo DeMile say that? "When did Sijo show you that?" "I've never seen that!
These expressions of incredulity were understandable and easily answered.

Creative people never stop creating. They are always thinking - whether in research groups, one on one with a mentor or student, while shopping during dinner at a restaurant or at a friend's apartment, waiting for phone call from Hong Kong.

Sijo tells many stories about conversing with Bruce, late at night, about the concepts, philosophy and application of martial technique. Such conversations - experienced one on one generated insights unique to those special moments. Here is one such incident that gave me a unique insight.

During my 1997 visit to the Shoreline school in Seattle, there happened a truly priceless occurrence. It was day four of the week long camp. The evening's training session had ended and along with my friend Mark, I was reviewing the day's lesson on a closing the gap technique called gai bo. Sijo was sitting in a chair near the wall and our practice caught his attention. At that moment, he had what I now believe to be a spontaneous realization concerning a subtle modification of the technique. He rose from the chair and came over to where we were working. He said, "Try not stepping so far out." He then demonstrated a narrow angular step and shot a bui jee straight at my head, totally disrupting my base. I tried it a few times and suspected that it would become my personal expression of gai bo. When I returned home, I performed it while training with my fellow Instructors-in-Training, they were confused and a little incredulous, saying that they had never seen Sijo teach the technique in that way.

The point is, triggered by my difficulty performing a technique, Sijo was spontaneously inspired to create a modification tailored personally for me. How lucky to be in that place, at that time, to receive a nugget of true gold. Even better, many of my students have also benefited by my experience. Thank you Sijo!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sijo appearing on Seattle morning show about his seminar in July 2015.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Thanks to Sijo James DeMile - Celebrating the Day

Having trained in Wing Chun Do for two years with Jim Clark, I wore a Blue sash. I was equal to a good orange sash today. I was a motivated student and eager to get to brown sash which was all I could expect, as Sifu Clark had explained that he was not authorized to certify Black Sash. Only Sijo could certify a black sash.

Then, one day Sifu announced that Sijo James W. DeMile was coming to visit. This was the first time that I was given to realize that I could have direct contact with “the man” and further, that I could correspond with him and own his books. Sijo was coming to review the troops and teach a seminar. From the first day of his visit I realized that, under Sifu Clark’s tutelage, it was as if I had been exposed to the wonders of our solar system, whereas, under Sijo DeMile, an entire universe was opened up to me. I knew that if I was to fulfill my ambition to learn the system and become a teacher, there was only one way to do it. I had to study with Sijo DeMile.

The next year, having achieved a brown sash under Sifu Clark, along with ten other upper rank students, I joined the very first formal Wing Chun Do Instructor Training Program and, in a little over three years, nine of us were certified. I immediately began teaching and over the last 27 years, under the tutelage of Sijo DeMile, have honed that craft to a razor’s edge.

Through Sijo I was exposed to and learned from martial art celebrities from around the world. My understanding of his stature was cemented early on when I observed that they treated him as the celebrity. What’s more, because I was part of his organization, I was accorded commensurate respect.

Year after year, whether in the early days at Jim Clark’s club, traveling the country in support of Sijo, during my many visits to his homes in Seattle, Hawaii, and Oregon, or during his many visits to Ambrose Academy I can honestly say that every time I interact with Sijo DeMile I absorb something new, be it a nuance of his physical application, a deeper understanding of a key concept or an innovative way of presenting a technique.

As the years have passed, many of my contemporaries have moved on from the martial arts, or to other disciplines, looking for answers to life’s important questions – each seeking to fulfill his destiny. I’ve found those answers and my destiny in Wing Chun Do.

Sijo DeMile has been called the most intelligent martial art master of our time and I am proud to have earned his trust, respect and friendship.  

Thank you Sijo James W. DeMile and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

Celebrating the day! Rocco

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wing Chun Do and You - Making Your Art Your Own

Wing Chun Do and You

Recently, I tested a student (let’s call him Fred) into his brown sash. During the test, he repeatedly voiced uncertainty about his ability to perform, at a master level, every drill on his requirement list. I chose this time to discuss his Tool Pouch submission.  

It is important, at this point, to talk about the history of Wing Chun Do. Ever since I’ve known Sijo DeMile, he has been conflicted regarding the nature of the system – that being a Martial Art vs. a Self-defense system. On the one hand, there is the science, logic and orderly method of the Wing Chun Do martial art. It contains a large body of drills and exercises designed to inspire and develop self-mastery. Many are intended not for practical application but as attribute builders. On the other hand is the indisputable effectiveness of the core self-defense techniques which, by themselves, provide the individual with solid personal protection.

Back to the test – Fred’s tool pouch sheet was sparse. It seemed to me to be lacking many of the techniques and concepts that I knew were integral to making Fred the great fighter I know him to be. I queried, “What about biu jee?” “What about sole kick?” What about the dark side?” etc. He replied, “I’m already good at those things. They’re part of me. I didn’t think I had to put them down on the list. I thought I’d put down the things I’m working toward perfecting.”

Here we must revisit the intended purpose of the tool pouch. The tool pouch is designed to produce maximum results from your valuable training time. The concept is to establish a minimal number of techniques which, when mastered, will be sufficient to handle 99% of the possible self-defense situations in which you may find yourself. Success does not rely merely on the number of techniques in your arsenal. After all, mastering a large number could take a lifetime.  Rather, it is the number of techniques mastered which will save your life on the street. Plus, the more techniques to choose from, the more decisions to be made. On the street this is dangerous. If you have to choose between technique A or B by the time you get to the word or you’re too late.

Back to Fred – with this reminder, together, we reformulated his tool pouch form until we were both satisfied.  I explained that there was a difference between Wing Chun Do and the student. I pointed to the green sash requirement list and said, “This is Wing Chun Do. This is a list of drills, exercises and attribute builders, many of which are not necessarily designed for practical application. Rather, they are designed to enhance one’s ability to defend oneself.” I then pointed to his tool pouch and said, “This is Fred. This is Fred’s personal expression of self-defense. It reflects Fred’s natural abilities.” I explained further that Wing Chun Do doesn’t win the fight. Being proficient at the drills and exercises on the page doesn’t win the fight, though they are definitely instrumental in refining and fine tuning the practitioner. What will win the fight, however, is the ability of the individual to perform, with mastery, the elements contained in his/her tool pouch. Holding up the curriculum I said, “This is Wing Chun Do. This is desirable. Fred is pretty good at this. Then, holding up his Tool Pouch, I said, “This is Fred. This is essential. Fred is excellent at this.”

Fred went on to test admirably and performed masterfully on the applied self-defense portion of his test. He said that our interaction that day significantly changed his paradigm. I believe that it relieved the pressure that many students feel to be perfect at everything. So to all students I say, “Don’t let perfection stand in the way of excellence!”


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