I have been doing quite a lot of kendo reading lately and I really enjoy learning more about the cultural and historical aspects of kendo. I do however find it quite difficult to translate written descriptions of technique into physical movement. Even when reading instruction on techniques that I know well. Words on a page seem to have little relation to the required action. This may be because the writer has not made it quite clear or maybe it is a language translation issue. More likely, it is about the way I respond to written instruction.
With that in mind I tried a cheap and cheerful VAK (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic) learning test, to find that I score highest on my preference for physical experience, followed by visual demonstration with explanation coming a poor third, so I suppose that the traditional kendo teaching model of “see it, do it” is an approach that suits me. On the other hand many other western kendoka take a far more analytical approach to learning and need detailed explanation of the mechanics of a technique.
Whilst I find the text book description of movement difficult to follow, it is essential to understand the “riai” or purpose of each technique, but in my case, the ideal learning experience is to be shown the technique, be allowed to do it and then corrected when its wrong. Then, when I have mastered the basic movement, that’s when I start to look for a detailed explanation of riai, so that I can then apply the waza to the correct opportunity and timing.
Very often this explanation may have come from a teacher or senior; although not necessarily when I needed it. I have had eureka moments when theory that was taught to me many years ago and which meant nothing then, finally became clear because I had at last understood the physical action that it related to. At other times, curiosity has prompted me to turn to books or the web to find the answer. This is when I instantly absorb information; when I want it badly enough to search for it.
In terms of my own teaching style, I try to incorporate explanation with demonstration and then give lots of opportunity to practice the technique. Whether or not I get the mix right is questionable. Some students show immediate improvement, whilst others take much more time to learn what is being taught.
Like many people who teach kendo, I am an amateur. I have had no formal teaching training. However, as a far more skilled educator put it, “the objective is not to teach, it is to help people learn”.