Saturday, May 14, 2011

Who's the Greatest of them all - how NOT to do a clinic

A few years ago, I went to a clinic taught by 1987 World Judo Champion, Mike Swain. It was a really good clinic, attended mostly by kids, and some green belt and brown belt adults. I brought my youngest daughter, who was probably seven or eight years old. When Mike saw me, he laughed and said something like that he was afraid to think what I would think when I saw his clinic.

Mike skipped (yes, actually skipped) around the mat as part of a warm-up. He taught tai-otoshi and o soto gari, two pretty basic techniques. He talked about doing o soto gari like you are running past the person.

It was all very basic. One of the players was from Steve Seck's club. Steve had been on the 1980 Olympic team and in 1984, he lost to Mike in the Olympic trials. I heard one of the brown belts walking out the door mutter,

"I can't believe that guy ever beat Sensei Steve."

What did I think? I thought he did a great job. I was very impressed. It's difficult when doing a clinic - to resist the urge to show off and try to impress people with your greatness - especially if there are other black belts there, doubly especially if they are people who have been international competitors.

I've attended a few clinics where the point was for the clinician to show how great he was. Twenty different really difficult techniques were demonstrated that no one could do, leaving everyone with the impression that this judo stuff is really hard, too hard for me, but yeah, that guy is great.

Or, they taught really impressive throws where you picked the person up with ura nage and slammed him, or did an uchi mata where you landed on the other person and the building shook. The impression you left everyone with is that this judo stuff really hurts, but yeah, that guy is really great. Oh, and unless you are in your twenties and can dead lift your own weight, you're never going to be able to do that technique.

Hal Sharp calls this looking at it with black belt eyes. As a black belt, you think that stuff is really great.

Since, at the time, I had an eight-year-old kid, I tried to see what Mike did through eight-year-old eyes. The skipping was funny so the kids liked it, plus they were warming up and thinking about timing. O soto gari and tai otoshi were just basic techniques they could do. They didn't do them amazingly well - most of the people there were below brown belt - but they practiced and they got a little better. When they went home, they had had some fun and been successful and they were happy.

As an instructor, I did NOT think it was a waste of time. Quite the opposite, I got some good ideas for teaching basic techniques to beginning and intermediate players, who comprise over 90% of who comes in the door. What Mike did that was very smart is taught to the great majority of people who were there, not to the one or two black belts. As one of the few black belts there, I didn't stand around and sneer that I knew o soto gari, I took the opportunity to steal some ideas on teaching it better.

I knew Mike when he was young, by the way, and he was as much of a show-off as anyone, but I'm guessing being a parent is what changed his perspective. If you're a decent parent, you go from it being all about how great you are to actually caring about these younger people in your care.

 Oh, and that young brown belt? The two of us had a talk at the next practice. I did not sneer about how I knew more advanced judo than Mike or he wasn't really that good of a player.  For one reason, neither of those things are true, but even if they were, what is the point in running down another instructor? So I can look better by comparison? I see people do that all of the time but I don't think it really works. Not with me, anyway. I just think the person complaining is an ass, because almost always the real complaint is, "That person doesn't teach exactly like me".

Instead, I pointed out that what Mike had done was exactly right for the level of the people in the room, with one or two exceptions. Instead of patting themselves on their backs for their greatness, what those few exceptions should have done is tried to see how he taught and picked up some pointers for teaching. Those young brown and black belts were very new to teaching and the ones that weren't too busy telling each other how they were too great to practice o soto gari learned something about teaching judo.

Of course, maybe I was just impressed because when I teach a clinic, I try to do it the same way, so that people leave having learned something they can do, rather than having learned how much judo I know but not able to do any of it.

The point of a clinic isn't to show how great you are or even how great judo is. It's to help whoever is there get a little better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree! Not only that, but I've been to so many clinics where they teach you too many techniques, and you go home not even remembering one. As an instructor, I love learning from other instructors how to teach beginners. Great post, thank you!