The Teacher As Facilitator
We all know the scene, Daniel-san is on his hands
and knees sanding the floor, then he is waxing car
after car and then painting a fence of enormous length.
Finally he gets fed up and confronts his sensei (teacher)
and says he hasn't learned anything, he's quitting.
The rest is cinematic and Martial Art history, his
teacher throws punches and kicks at him and Daniel
deftly blocks each with "wax on, wax off, and
paint the fence". Drivel? Cinematic and Martial
Actually the idea of teaching this way is very old
and respected. It is based on the idea of "second
order change" promoted by Dr. Paul Torrance in
his 1999 book "Making the Creative Leap Beyond."
It refers to any change that doesn't directly attack
the problem or logically effect the subject taught.
In other words you teach the technique by doing something
different with the same skill required to do the technique.
But despite this it is not often done in the teaching
of Martial Arts in the US. I have taken Judo, Aikido,
Karate, Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do and Kickboxing,
and only one teacher used the technique of second
order change. Why? I believe because we have a mind
set in this country of a teacher being a "sage
on the stage," and it is a very hard mindset
To bring about second order change a couple things
need to occur. The most profound is that the teacher
must relinquish the idea of "knowing it all,"
of being the fount of knowledge and wisdom. They must
literally stop being a teacher and start being a facilitator
or what has been called "a guide on the side."
If the teacher can remember that he too is a student
then the instructor will become open enough to accept
second order change. But how does one do this, accept
the role of teacher/pupil or what has been called
facilitator? How does one become open-minded in anything?
Is it possible to change yourself if you don't think
this way now?
These questions go to the heart of the problem and
to them I emphatically say YES! We can change ourselves
into facilitators of any art or subject that we now
are teachers of and the experts are behind me! But
what exactly is second order change? As told by Torrance,
second order change is any change that doesn't directly
attack the problem or logically affect the subject
taught (Torrance 1999, p.6).
In the example of Daniel-san he is "taught"
the proper moves in Karate by waxing cars, sanding
floors, and painting a fence. He learns it by doing
something else. What is traditionally done in the
dojo (literally "place of enlightenment"
it refers to the practice hall of Japanese Martial
Artists) is drill drill drill. It is analogous to
teaching English skills by having students do drill
dittos over and over. In my experience this is one
of the worst ways to teach English, so why would the
Martial Arts be any different?
Sensei Roy Suenaka observes
a student performing a technique.
Attitude is everything! The great Martial Artists
were the most humble of people and they were great
facilitators of the art because of it. When Musashi
(Japan's most famous swordsman) was asked by a student
to teach him the art of fencing he agreed. But to
the student's surprise Musashi had him chop wood and
carry water. Musashi had the student do manual labor
for 3 years, then he had him walk around the perimeter
of the workout mat every day, hour after hour for
one year. Lastly Musashi took him to a ravine that
was spanned by a narrow tree trunk. The man eventually
realized what he had been taught and crossed over.
He was given the strength, footwork and mind-set of
a Martial Artist and he never realized it until his
training was over (Deshimaru 1982, p. 30).
Perhaps it is lost upon the reader what a great gift
was given to this young Martial Artist. Musashi was
possibly the greatest swordsman who ever lived and
this was how he passed on his knowledge. He could
have charged the student money and the student would
have paid him. He could have drilled the man in technique,
he could have done and asked ANYTHING and the man
would have agreed. Musashi knew this and chose second
order change as his method of teaching.
But we can't just have students walking around our
mats and chopping our firewood for us. First of all,
we live in a different society than Musashi. But more
importantly we need an appropriate environment and
mindset to enact second order change. I have consulted
the masters of Martial Arts and creativity to help
me pool together a list of necessaries to make such
facilitation possible. This a list of what the experts
say are a must for facilitation:
- Expect "miracles" (Torrance 1990, p.3)
- Don't criticize student performance (Torrance
1999, p. 19)
- Accept limitations as challenges (Torrance 1990,
- Search for honesty and realism (Torrance 1990,
- Encourage visualization (Torrance 1990, p.11)
- Explore mystery and solve it (Torrance 1990, p.11)
- Juxtapose seemingly irrelevant elements (Torrance
- Make the familiar strange and the strange familiar
(Torrance 1990, p.20)
- Give opportunity for experimentation without evaluation,
grading or marking (Torrance 1990, p.15)
- Go beyond what you think you are physically capable
of (Torrance 1999, p.49)
- Use warm ups (Torrance 1999, p.19)
- Dig deeper into the learning as the class progresses
(Torrance 1990, p.23)
- Be positive and supportive (Torrance 1999, p.59)
- Encourage emotional involvement and beware of
rigidity in thinking (De Bono 1967, p. 68)
- Have progress be your goal, not "useful knowledge"
(De Bono 1967, p. 23)
I can hear the groans from here! "This sounds
like an academic class that is being taught not MARTIAL
ARTS!" To this I say learning is learning and
facilitation is facilitation. If we look at what Musashi
did in the instance related above we find that many
of these "academic" principles were utilized
in his approach, especially the juxtaposition of seemingly
unrelated elements. He didn't realize how cutting
edge he was in the 1600s! It might be useful to see
what other Masters and Martial artists have to say
about what is important in learning Martial Arts:
"Then, how can you straighten your warped
mind, purify your heart, and be harmonized with
the activity of all things in Nature - make God's
heart your heart - there is no discord in love,
no enemy in love'. A mind of discord thinking of
an enemy is not consistent with the will of God"
-- Morihei Uyeshiba. (Payne 1981,p. 47)
"Understand the harm and benefit in everything,
be aware of what is not obvious"
-- Musashi 1993, p. 16
"Bruce Lee believed in an emphasis on change
and discovery of self -- he was completely against
rigidity in the mind or body."
-- Payne 1981,p. 23
"Don't cling to any particular style or technique,
you should be open-minded and fluid."
-- Payne 1981,p. 23
Example after example can be found of this type of
thinking. The Masters have told us to be fluid, to
keep our minds open, to love and not hate, to view
no one as an enemy, to see how anything and everything
is useful. The similarities between this and what
men like Torrance say is obvious; as a matter of fact,
it is the same thing said differently.
So how does one apply this knowledge to the Martial
Arts arena? Very carefully! Here is a basic approach
to the facilitation of Martial Arts using the information
gathered from all of the above Masters:
The body needs warm-ups as does the mind - never
begin training without physically and mentally warming
up. The physical warm ups should include stretching
and not simply strength building exercises, so the
body is prepared for what lies ahead. Mental warm-ups
are less often done in dojos. They can include a variety
of breathing exercises and focusing exercises. Imaging
can be used to aid in focusing. The goal is to create
awareness in everyone of "the moment" and
to calm the mind.
Even though one purpose of learning Martial Arts
is to attain knowledge in the area of self-defense,
this does not mean that the teacher should ever be
abusive or patronizing to his/her students. Yes, it
is a serious endeavor, but one that should be approached
with kindness and always with the benefit of the student
foremost in mind. This leaves no room for self-aggrandizement
or greed. The students should be loved and respected
by their teacher. The student, if truly interested
in the art, should in turn respect the teacher. If
the student does not he/she should be asked to leave
Juxtapose seemingly unrelated elements:
This is artfully displayed in the examples above,
but how does one do that sort of facilitation in one's
own dojo? One way is to analyze basic movements and
discover their essence. Then find an activity that
seems unrelated that does the same movement and do
it repeatedly. For Aikidoka (those who study Aikido)
sword cuts with a wooden sword or even a stick closely
resembles a basic move used in the art. 1000 sword
cuts (or stick cuts) or even chopping wood with the
same motion will drill it into the head of the student.
It may seem to the student that you are merely building
up strength or even wasting their time, but quietly
assure them that the practice is necessary for them
and then do techniques afterwards that use the movement,
the results can be astounding!
Go beyond what you think you are physically able
By no means should this be done every class! But
perhaps once a month, or even once a year, push the
whole class to the limit and then beyond. This can
be done with sit-ups or push-ups or even the sword
cuts mentioned above - the idea is to reach what you
think is your maximum effort and then go beyond it.
Don't forget to join in! It makes everyone question
who they are and what they are not capable of.
View limitations as challenges:
This is a must for anyone who teaches Martial Arts.
Time and again students say I can't do this because
I'm too fat, too slow, too weak, too skinny or too
old. Gently talk to those students and instill in
them the idea that we are all unique physically and
mentally, and we must work from were we are onward.
The word "can't" is a barrier to any improvement,
don't let them get away with saying it!
Don't criticize students:
This speaks for itself. If a student wants to learn
from you it is not your privilege to pick out their
faults. This doesn't mean stop helping them improve
their technique, that is your role. But don't bad
mouth them or criticize them. Help them, that's your
job. If a student doesn't wish to be helped they should
not be in your class, and you should ask them to leave.
Emphasize flexibility in thinking:
No Martial Art is the be all and end all. Don't lie
to your students and claim that it is. Encourage them
to improve and go in the direction that best suits
them. If that is another dojo, then it's another dojo.
There is no room in the dojo for your ego either.
Love what you do:
If you don't love the Martial Art that you practice
it is probably time to move on to another. If you
don't love Martial Arts in general then you shouldn't
be in it - it is not for everyone. If you did love
it at one time and don't any longer, find out why
and either leave the dojo because it no longer has
anything to teach you or find a way to reenergize
your interest in it. You will not be able to have
a loving, supportive environment if you do not love
your art! Torrance found in his studies of creativity
that the very best teachers and facilitators loved
their field, they had a passion for it (Torrance 1990,
p.1). Be a great facilitator!
Strive for miracles in your students and yourself:
Don't content yourself with an adequate performance
from yourself or your students. Don't be contented
with the accolades of others, that is illusion! Always
push yourself and your students towards improvement
in the art.
Don't be satisfied with techniques as you've learned
them, dig into them! Find out what makes them work.
Discover the reality behind them: do they always work,
what happens when they don't, or when they do? What
about their effect on people of different sizes, speed,
abilities or weights? Find what you think is the essence
of the technique and test your theories.
Is the technique similar to another unrelated movement
such as pouring a glass of water, swimming, or blocking
the sun with your hand? Encourage the students to
find visual guides to help them better understand
the movements. Visualization can also be done with
breathing exercises, and you can envision breathing
in white air (good air) and breathing out black (bad
These are just a handful of ways to approach the
facilitation of Martial Arts. If you add even one
of these ideas to your teaching it will facilitate
greater learning for all of the dojo. Second order
change works in the dojo, but it can only happen if
you, the teacher, are open-minded and caring. The
greatest teachers are the most humble - it is time
to bring great teachers to the Martial Arts being
taught in America.
De Bono E. (1967). The use of lateral thinking.
Middlesex: England. Penguin Books Ltd.
Desimaru T. (1982). The zen way to martial arts.
Middlesex: England. Penguin Books.
Herrigel E. (1953). Zen in the art of archery. New
York, NY. Vintage Books.
Musashi M. (1993). The book of five rings. Boston,
Massachusetts. Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Payne P. (1981). Martial arts the spiritual dimension.
London, England. Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Torrance E.P., and Safter H.T. (1990). The incubation
model of teaching: Getting beyond the aha! Buffalo,
NY: Bearly Limited.
Torrance E.P., and Safter H.T. (1999). Making the
creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Foundation
Us Know Your Comments & Opinions On This Article
About the Author:
Pat Christi, MA, is a Buffalo, NY, teacher, writer
and educator. He is an Assistant Instructor to Sensei
Mike Hawley in Wadokai Aikido (Roy Suenaka Sensei's
aikido organization) at the Kintora dojo in Buffalo.
He has also studied Karate, Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Tae
Kwon Do and Kickboxing.
us | magazine