Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Time to Teach, Part II

Gurus, L. to R: Cliff, Jonny, Ari, Maha Guru Plinck, Bud, Louis, Narin, Bob

So, the recent post on the philosophy of teaching stirred up some strong opinions, and I've had some further ideas about that, and our art in particular, so I'll just toss these thoughts out and see how they fly ...

Supposing, hypothetically, that Maha Guru Plinck gets up tomorrow morning and decides, for whatever reason, he is done teaching silat.

Who among his students could step up and continue teaching Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck?

Sure, a few of us know enough to maybe muddle our way through. None of us have his experience, nor expertise. Maybe that's the nature of an art -- the head of it, if he or she keeps learning as s/he teaches, is always going to be leading. And the best teachers always seem to say stuff like, "Yeah, I'm okay, but my teacher? Oh, man ..."

Guru Plinck has wallpapered some folks as Sera gurus, but of those, only three are people who came up through our version, and the rest are from similar, but not the same, branches. Some of them are learning it now. Some of them, the designation is honorary. In no way do I intend to demean any of these men, that's just how it is.

In terms of folks who put in the time from the git-go with Guru Plinck as their primary teacher all the way up, there are three: Guru Narin is the seniormost; Gurus Jonny and Ari are younger. (Not to say he didn't teach the others anything, mind you.)

Anybody in our group think any of them could replace Guru Plinck?

Guru Narin, as adept as he is, has blended Sera into his other stuff, and what he teaches includes a lot of material we don't play with. Gurus Jonny and Ari, from the cold European nordic lands are young, fit, enthusiastic, and getting better, but both of them have less time training than half the class in Cotten's garage.

Gurus Cliff, Louis, Bud, and Bob have their own systems, and from my experience at the seminar in Las Vegas, where I took the picture above, what they teach, and how, isn't what I'm learning from Guru Plinck. Related, surely, but not the same.

No reason it should be, of course. Every teacher is unique, and that drift is to be expected, but the further away you start? Staying close has to be harder.

So, for this hypothetical discussion and the sake of continuity, which makes more sense in terms of teaching? That Guru Plinck should spend most of his time bringing a new batch of beginners along? Or that that he advances his seniors to a place where they could step up and keep the system going?

You already know how I feel about that.

I don't really have a dog in this fight, because I'm older than Guru -- whatever I learn is mostly for me -- I won't be starting a school of my own.

I'm not against new students. They are what keeps a system alive and growing. And you can hardly ever go wrong covering the basics, because those are what you are apt to fall back upon if you ever need to use the art for real. But it will be adept teachers who will keep the art viable in the long run. And to that end, time spent bringing them along serves the art better than not.

There was a time when we had two classes, one for beginners and another for the intermediates. That has its pluses and minuses. For students at my level, teaching helps with learning. If I have to show it, then I have to know it, so having beginners in a class is a good thing. Better to be able to do three things well than ten things badly.

Then again, when everybody has certain basic knowledge, you can go on without having to recover it, and that's not a bad thing, either. If you have to start your calculus class out by going over addition and subtraction? Yeah, you need to know it, but you already should.

On balance, the single class is probably better for more students, the learning and the teaching, but I think that works because the numbers are small and there are more seniors than newbies.

In a small system, with few students, and fewer qualified instructors, the chances of continuation would seem less than in a large system with many teachers. Maybe you don't care for TKD or karate, but neither of those is apt to die off soon.

I don't think Guru is going to stop teaching any time soon, either, though I don't know. His teaching window seems pretty wide open. And for me, it's moot. My window is a lot narrower, and I don't have enough time left to get really good at it, much less to bring somebody new to a point where they are really good at it. But there are students half my age who could be raised to a level where they would be adept teachers. I'd be happy to see that.

I think that would be a fine legacy.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the twin questions are not:

Who teaches who?
Who teaches what?

Perhaps they are:

Why do I teach?
Why do I learn?

Steve Perry said...

Indeed those are relevant.

In the case of someone who is learning a discipline that is available in more than one place -- physics, for instance -- one can get a Ph.D in many venues.

If one is looking for the most prestigious of those, then the list of universities is shorter, but still there are options.

And one can narrow that further to a short list of particular teachers who specialize, and still have choices.

If, however, one wants to study a particular advanced line that has been mastered by only one person?

Conversely, if you are the teacher at the apex of that pyramid and if you get hit by a bus on the morrow, mightn't you wish to think seriously about your choice of legacy?

No question in my mind but that I'd want to have a couple of finished students to carry on, as opposed to a hundred students who knew only a small portion of the art. As a teacher, I'd feel responsible for trying to see the art continued.

It's simple: If I'm the only guy in the world who knows how to do a thing and I want others to know? I have to teach it to somebody else.

If I don't care if it dies with me? It doesn't matter.

Different strokes, to be sure, but I've offered my thoughts and reasons. Nobody has to agree with me, that's what makes a horse race, but I haven't heard anything that changes my mind.

Anonymous said...

"It's simple: If I'm the only guy in the world who knows how to do a thing and I want others to know? I have to teach it to somebody else."


But, there are more variables to it really. - First you have to have good students. Then you have to teach them so that they actually do get it. That alone is a monumental task but not enough in the long run.

Getting the knowledge and skill passed on is only 50% on the long run. The other 50% is that these students are themselves both capable AND willing to pass along what they have got once the time is right for them to pass it along. The capable are not always willing. This is sad but true.

Also it is worth noticing that the best doers are not always the best teachers. - If the gap is too big the line will end up there despite the best of intentions.

In the end the survival of a system is about percentages really - there more there are adepts, the better the chances are for the Art to survive.

Or not.

Vicente said...

Awesome post sir.
Thank for all you share.

jks9199 said...

Thinking about this series of exchanges... My comments could be seen as arguing that high masters should be out there teaching basics.

That's not what I'm trying to say. I don't think that it's appropriate to say that a high master cannot teach beginners -- but it is quite appropriate to say that a high master shouldn't have to raw beginners. This is not necessarily the best use of their time; ideally their time will be spent teaching what only they can teach to anyone who can get the lesson. One of my most frustrating training experiences has been to go to annual training events, focused on advanced elements of my style, and never move beyond the surface of those elements because there are always too many people who are at a beginning level in those elements... so each year becomes a repeat of the same stuff. If you're lucky, the high master has time to steal a few minutes to work on something new with those who have been there before, and worked on the material. (Yeah, some of the people aren't ready to move on each year because they rarely practice it -- or practiced it so poorly that they had to start from scratch.)

In an ideal situation, when you have a high master (or really, anyone who fits the description here!) who is the primary, best, and/or only person who can teach something -- they can spend their time teaching that material, and you can get the basics and other stuff from someone else below that master.

But this is a far cry from saying that a high master can't teach beginners. The challenge is to teach at a beginner level -- and this is often easier for someone closer to the beginner's skill level. There are some people who really can't go that far below their own level -- and they aren't all high masters! They're great for teaching advanced students, whether the subject is aardvark sociology, particle physics, martial arts, or zebra stalking... but you don't let them near a beginner or they'll be lost. (My first year of college, there was a math professor there who's nickname was "Cloudy." He was well-respected in the mathematics field; I think he'd even published some fairly big papers. The 4th year math majors could follow when he taught... but the 1st year engineers were lost after about the 3rd class. And he kept teaching entry calc...)

I'm also not suggesting that it's not much easier for someone who isn't at a far remove from the skill level they're trying to teach to demonstrate and provide a model. I have to be careful not to show some things to newer students, and to "hide" them when I demonstrate, because they'll latch onto something before they've got the underlying structure that makes it work.

(And, just for a laugh... the verification word I get is "reconan"! Steve... you been approached to write a new Conan the Barbarian book?)

Irene said...

Just for the record, I'd like to say that I personally do not agree with all of Steve's opinions, and I do not believe that he speaks for all of Guru Plinck's current students.

Steve Perry said...

Irene --

I'd be astounded if anybody agreed with all of my opinions.

I don't speak for Guru, nor *any* of his students, save myself. If I sometimes say "we," it doesn't mean that I am the Speaker for Sera, nor would I wish to cast myself in that role. Anybody who wants to offer their view of the subject is welcome to do so, here, there, or anywhere.

If I have come to a position on a subject and it is anything of substance to me, it usually doesn't appear willy nilly from the aether. If I have considered it at any length and reached some kind of conclusion, I probably won't toss the notion just because somebody disagrees. If a position is worth holding then it's worth defending, and I assume that to be so for others.

For me to say, "Well, Guru said this, and this is what I make of it." isn't any more than my interpretation. If anybody can show me where I offered otherwise, I'll be happy to explain, and if necessary, retract it.

You've seen me in class for some years now, Irene; any indication that I am less inclined to help newbies than any of Guru's other students? Ever see me go out of my way to avoid pairing up with a new student?

Ever see me step up to be the first to work with a newbie?

My post merely expresses my feelings and opinions, just like the rest of my posts. It seems apparent from some of the responses that this is a hot button for some folks, and honestly, I'm not sure exactly why. Certainly you and any of the others who disagree with me are free to do so. I didn't set out to pee in anybody's cornflakes, merely offered my reflections on a subject of some importance to me.

That somebody doesn't agree with my view doesn't necessarily make them wrong.

Doesn't make me wrong, either ...