“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not” – Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure
The next step, which should be happening concurrently with the first, is that of our awareness of the student. I see this many times and done very effectively in physical and technical means(gait, compensation mechanisms, strength, mobility etc.) but the emotional and mental tendencies of the student are equally important. This includes their strengths and their weaknesses. Since we all have different bodies, different goals and different lives, any points used should just be a reference point first since comparing ourselves to others mostly seems to serve our ego or self loathing rather than help.
We must also objectively seek for their strengths and their struggles. By taking only a student’s struggles and not addressing their strengths or the way they may best receive advice we are not only doing them a disservice when it comes to helping but also spending our energy in a way that is unlikely to result in the desired outcome.
By building this awareness of our students, we can find the most effective points that will address their needs and reach their movement or life goals. The solution may not come quickly but it is about taking steps together in the right direction. Through paying better attention first in ourselves and then in our students, we help them walk on the path towards their goals.
To simplify this we can keep the following in mind…
- Class Awareness is limited by self awareness.
- You can’t find it if you don’t know what to look for.
- Through building your own physical, technical, and mental/emotional awareness you can apply this with your students.
- Stay focused in your class.
- A general wide focus can allow you to see the bigger picture of what is happening with your student(s) when it comes to line management, techniques, body language and alignment, how well they are understanding and engaged.
- A Sharp focus on one student or a part of their kinetic chain can be useful for addressing trouble areas or giving that extra bit of attention when needed.
- This time is for them, so make sure your energy is in the class 100%. My martial arts teachers would tell us to leave our troubles, unrelated thoughts etc. off the mat before we started our class and I think this mindset needs to apply to both the student and teachers to get the best session.
- Ask Questions!
- No matter how aware we may be, just what we can see is only one piece of the picture, so be sure to ask non leading questions to your students periodically during your sessions.
- Use cues as a barrage of feedback can overwhelm. Asking questions can build a deeper sense of awareness in the student as well as give you more information on their mental/emotional state or engagement while in the activity. It’s not always possible for all activities to have regular engagement during the activity so it can be a great addition instead to have intro talks and feedback sessions at the end of a lesson, or even during a “time out” if it applies.
- We have only so many tools to perceive the world so it behooves us to use as many as possible when training ourselves and others. Questions build awareness and create a rapport, both of which are integral to continued progress when working together.
In a more concrete sense utilizing our awareness, our ability to be present in class we can ask ourselves “Is this behavior/action helping them or hindering them in their goals?” If the answer is yes, then you’re already doing well; if no then you will try to figure out the best action to take based on your relationship with them and your knowledge of their strengths/weaknesses and how best they receive help. If the answer is unsure then this is an opportunity for you to research yourself and find the answer. The research can be an exploration of different pain/fear free options for a student, based off of your prior knowledge, or an adaptation that gives them the desired outcome (EX. Getting over a wall for the first time).
The last thing that we can help with is to help them build their own self awareness. Rather than giving direct cues, asking actionable questions. (how does this movement feel? How can your arms help you with this movement?, etc.) Through increasing student self awareness you not only will ease the load of your instruction but it opens up a feedback loop in another direction where their awareness allows two instructors to be assisting them rather than just one. If you’re lucky their awareness can even aid in your own self awareness so you will be able to finish the circle and apply it to yourself and other potential students as well. Unless you are trying to create a fitness zombie that has no self agency I think this is the aim for what we do, for our students to grow as much as they desire in the ways they can, rather than just the ways we perceive or the ways we wish.
Self———-—> Student————> Student’s Self
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[Feature Photo by Mary Taylor via Pexels.]