Cookie Cutters Should Stay In The Kitchen

If you look back about fifty years, society had certain expectations from a person. Hell, even just thirty or twenty years back will let you see it. In general, a person was expected to study, work hard, get a job, meet that special someone, buy a house, get married and have kids. Raise those kids to do the same, wash, rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

During my mother’s generation, schooling didn’t need to be completed in order to have a successful life, with many dropping out in early high school in favour of getting a job and starting their lives early. Such a thing isn’t COMPLETELY unheard of now, but it’s discouraged and even frowned upon in most instances, with even the simplest and lowest paying jobs requiring a high school diploma at minimum in order to be hired.

Why is this important and why am I bringing it up? Well, it relates to a phenomenon that’s caused a shift in societal view in recent decades. Although the expectation in the past couple of decades is that a person will not only attend school but see it through to graduation, there was a rising wave of belief that post-secondary education was the most valuable route to a successful life. That wave has crested and fallen in recent years, with many people acknowledging that a college diploma or university degree isn’t the “be all, end all” of a successful life.

Along with this changed perspective comes the enlightened view that not all persons learn in the same way. Some are visual learners, some need to practice and exercise the material themselves while others simply need to hear something once to absorb it. I think we can all admit to being a little jealous of the latter. The point is, that learning institutions are slowly coming around to the fact that one can’t expect to deliver a single curriculum to three dozens individuals and expect that they’ll absorb it the same way. Many schools have started to incorporate some of this forward thinking into adaptive learning for the students who may struggle or show difficulty in certain environments.

This also applies to the martial arts. Over the decades, I’ve come to understand that not all practitioners are created equal and not all students will learn the entire curriculum the same way. If we apply this principal to class in general, we come to realize that one-on-one learning with some personalization becomes necessary in order for the practitioner not only to learn the material but to apply it properly. Depending on the size and style of a given dojo, this presents SOME difficulty, although there are always alternatives.

When I was coming up in the ranks, it was common that most students wanted a piece of Sensei’s time. After all, he was the patriarch of the dojo, had “been there, done that” decades before any of us had, and was the image of the kind of martial artist we all aspired to be. But getting some time with him was usually difficult when held up against actually starting the class, teaching and coaching all the students and the awkward ask of having him stay on after hours for some additional coaching. All things considered, Sensei often did this for me and a number of other students.

Considering I never paid more than $25 for a karate class in my life, it was pretty generous of him when you consider that he was basically teaching us for free and our monthly tuition barely covered the month’s rent on the dojo. But there was one concept he maintained that was sound: I would never be allowed to move on to the next step until I had mastered the current one, which is likely why reaching senior belt levels took well over a decade as opposed to just a few years like some other dojos.

School teachers face an interesting challenge because students are generally MADE to go to school, whereas the majority of students in karate are there by choice. This makes teaching them somewhat easier, despite frustrations faced when dealing with aspects of training a particular students dislikes. If I take myself as an example, I was always more of a forms guy than a sparring guy. I never really enjoyed the fighting aspect, preferring the careful, meditative nature of a well-performed kata. So, Sensei trained me as such.

It’s important to tailor one’s curriculum to how the student will learn, and to help ensure that they absorb it, as opposed to force a cookie cutter curriculum to an entire group, expecting that everyone will learn it. Work on one thing at a time. yes, it’ll be slow as hell, but it ensures the roper progression of a student. It’s better for a practitioner to learn and absorb one technique properly and completely, than to learn very little of the entire art. Food for thought… ☯️

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I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

3 thoughts on “Cookie Cutters Should Stay In The Kitchen”

  1. That goes against the entire McDojo and “I want it now” philosophies though. 😉

    Let’s face it; two of the three biggest problems in martial arts are students feeling they’re entitled to a belt without the work, AND instructors having to cater to them to keep the doors open.

    Cynical commentary aside, that’s one of the reasons I like Kenpo (when you can find an instructor that actually knows what they’re doing). Despite the fact that Grandmaster Parker was a BIG dude, he understood the importance of tailoring techniques to work for smaller people as well.


    1. That’s one of the main reasons I closed down the school I opened, back in ’07. The first time a couple of my kids got their first yellow stripes, a handful of the other parents lost their minds DEMANDING an explanation and threatening to bring their child elsewhere if I didn’t award their child a stripe as well. I invited them to do so and my student attendance dwindled to the point that it was costing me money to run my dojo. I closed the doors…

      Liked by 1 person

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