Saturday, August 25, 2012

How to teach judo (and statistics)

I'm getting ready to fly up to Seattle to do a workshop on propensity score matching, and I realized one of the more useful lessons I learned from judo had to do with teaching.

Think about what you want to accomplish. I am the first to admit that I do not do the most impressive techniques in clinics. I do juji gatame - a straight arm bar. I do it several different ways. I teach a few ways to knock people down and go into an arm bar. I am not flashy. I'm a brawler.

All those things people say about me are true.

I watched Mike Swain do a clinic once - he was the world judo champion in 1987 - first American man to win the title. He said beforehand he was embarrassed I showed up because he was going to just teach basic techniques like o soto gari (outside leg sweep) and tai otoshi (body drop throw). On the contrary, I was impressed.

What Mike did, and what I try to do, in teaching both judo and statistics is to focus on what the students need to know, not on what makes me look good.

Too often, as black belts we are trying to impress the other black belts, as elite competitors, trying to impress the other elite athletes.

I don't teach to the top and tell everyone else to reach. That's stupid. How can I expect people to "figure out" in a two hour clinic or class what it took me months or years to figure out on my own? I teach to the middle, maybe a little below. In statistics classes, I tell people to feel free to check their text messages if I am going too slow for them.

In judo (and statistics sometimes), I tell them to help their partner or feel free to go off to the side and work on something else if you already have this down. Or, better yet, do the same technique but try to do it faster. A theme I have been harping on for years is that people know matwork but not well enough to do it fast enough to pull off in a competition.

When I teach, I start at the level most students are and work up slowly. Yes, it does mean I go over the same things a lot. That's another part of the Lego theory.

If you ever built anything with Legos you would know that the trick to having a stable structure that doesn't fall over isn't building as high as you can as fast as you can. It's in building a broad base.

So ... my point is, when I leave a class, I don't want everyone to be saying,

"Gee, that Dr. De Mars is brilliantly awesome."

I want them to be saying about one or two little things,

"Yes, I see how to do that now. I completely understand that."


Al B Here said...

Can't we leave saying both? ;)

Anonymous said...

This post resonates for me. I was fortunate to come to judo late in life, especially as being a novice in a sport in your 40s humbles you (always good) and teaches the importance of good teaching (despite teaching at the college level for 20 years, there is always room to grow) - which, it is becoming more apparent to me, is about drilling the fundamentals in and then "playing" with those fundamentals. So, the teaching style you use seems to be quite appropriate, especially as you seem to focusing on your "students" "playing" with each other to address problems (an approach I'll be incorporating more in my research design class - which I'm experimenting with "flipping"). And, as both a student and a teacher (well, the latter implies the former - as one of my mentors commented when I got my Ph.D. I had a "license to learn") - I've benefitted from some truly good judo instructors who have opened my eyes to better ways of teaching (sometimes by choking me out or planting me!) in my chosen field - it is truly about fundamentals, and then play! I look forward to a follow-up blog post on how the seminar went.

plam said...

Good point. I've never seriously taught judo, but I do teach in my day job from time to time. Dazzling the audience doesn't help in the vast majority of situations. I've been reading Jean-luc Duomont's writings on communication, and his main point is that it's important to think of what the goal of a paper or presentation is.

Judo's a bit different from teaching classes, in that one can pick and choose which techniques to use in judo, while one really has to learn the thing on the syllabus in the class.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Yes, but the professor writes the syllabus. When I taught my first Ed Psych class, I was at a loss because I had taken 5 years to get a Ph.D. in this topic and now I was supposed to teach it in a one semester class. I asked a (very famous) professor I knew who taught the same course. He said, "Just do what I do. Teach the parts you like the best."

John Gowan said...

Dear Ann Maria:

Do you remember that argument that we had with some officious tournament directors over the hijab? Well, here is an update. As you probably remember, Ronda Ashraf was prevented from participating in an NM Judo tournament because her religion required her to wear a hijab, when on the mat. After much argument, we got her into a demo match with the eventual winner of the women’s division. The young lady she fought was a champion from Mexico. Ronda won the match with an ippon in about 30 seconds. Her hijab was not wrinkled. The coach of the Mexican team asked us if Ronda would consider a rematch. Ronda was quick to say yes. She won the second match in about 40 seconds. Well, Ronda returned to Egypt with the knowledge that Americans (and Mexicans) had an open mind about religion—and fairness. I think that was a good lesson to take back to a country with Egypt’s problems. Ronda went on to win some important tournaments in Egypt and got onto the Egyptian National Team. Now, I see that the Olympic Judo Committee agrees with us, that banning the hijab is ridiculous. So, we may see her in 4 years.

Thank you for your support and your tough words to the opponents of women’s rights.

I also liked your comments on teaching Judo. I am a brawler too. Well, as much a person who is approaching 70 can still do that. I see that your Ronda is also a brawler. Congratulate her for me on that last fight. Also, I would like to invite you to stop by and see us at the Judokai, if you get to Albuquerque. I would like to pass on some arm bars that I have been developing over the last 50 years of teaching. It would be interesting to see what you think of them. Maybe some would be useful to Ronda in her new career. Anyway, I would be happy to see them put to professional use, intelligently dismembering arms.

John Gowan, Yodan, USJA