Praise You

In most traditional martial arts schools, praise is rarely given. You will hear a lot of constructive criticism, but not a lot of compliments. That is generally how it works in our dojo, but it varies depending on the Sensei. Some of them are less old school and are more likely to offer positive comments, while others almost never do.

When I am teaching, I have a bad habit of constantly praising my students. I will say things like “That was really good, but why don’t you try doing it this way.” It’s my way of softening the blow when I have to correct them. I don’t want to tell them they’re doing anything wrong, because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I’m all soft like that. It’s funny that I have no qualms about trying to beat the living crap out of people, as long as their feelings don’t get hurt. In competition, I always praise my opponents afterward. I feel bad for the people who lose, even if I am the one who beat them. I just don’t want anyone to be discouraged. So, if I’ve ever told you how great you are, it probably doesn’t mean anything, because I tell everyone that.

Everyone gets a trophyOnce when I was a scared new white belt in karate, I had to do a drill with a cocky young green belt. After I messed up the counter, I said to him “Oh, I always do that wrong.” He replied “Yeah, and almost everything else, too.” He wasn’t joking. I hate to say it, but that was the first time I cried at the dojo. I got my sweet revenge when I earned my black belt though, because he never got one. If I ever see him again, I think I will punch him in the kidney.

There has to be a middle ground between those two extremes. As a teacher, I need to learn how to correct my students without feeling bad about it, or making them feel bad. I’m so afraid of hurting their feelings, that sometimes I think I am hurting their training instead.

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3 comments on “Praise You

  1. Gina, this is for you, so don't post the comment unless you think others can benefit.The balance between praise and correction is a difficult one in teaching. Generally psychologists say that we should praise at least twice as frequently as we correct because otherwise people get discouraged. When I'm teaching, what I praise–especially for very new students–is effort. With every brand new adult student I teach, I see myself all over again. The extreme awkwardness; the awareness that the body is not moving correctly; the feeling of never being able to get it right. If students are to continue in anything, they need to get over that initial stage of feeling completely out of their element. And that's where the praising of the effort comes in. That doesn't mean you don't correct the technique, but when they improve incrementally, praise that as well. It took me SO LONG to get anywhere in karate, and the senseis probably all wondered why I kept coming back.If, on the other hand, I have the students who are goofing around, not paying attention, thinking they're all that, those are the ones I come down on very hard. I call out their bad behavior and point out flaws in technique in those who think they are great. Ego has no place in the dojo and the day you start thinking you already know the technique perfectly is the day you stop learning.I have a feeling that the kids think I'm pretty tough. I'm probably the scary sensei. But they learn when they pay attention to me and they know it. The adults who are serious and try also learn. So praise or no praise: I say praise. But also correct. And it's going to be different for every student you teach because we are teaching individuals, not tin soldiers. Give each student what he or she needs. Sometimes the difficult part can be figuring out those needs.

  2. Thank you, Karin. I think others can definitely benefit from this advice, so I wanted to share it.I think one of the reasons that Joe has become so good at teaching kids is that he is able to do as you said, praise the ones who need it and come down hard on those who need that instead.It's good to know that I should praise my students, but probably not as often as I do. I'm working on developing a balance, I think a part of it also has to do with lack of confidence as a teacher. I still care too much about whether my students "like" me or not. In that regard, I think I need to take a page from Bad Brad-Sensei's book. Maybe not to that extreme, but at least when he gives you a compliment you know he really means it. Positive comments from him are like pure gold…rare and very valuable. He could care less whether you think he's mean, or a hard-ass.Anyway, great advice, thank you. I am really going to try to take it to heart.

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