Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I took another blues guitar lesson recently, and once again, was impressed with how patient and encouraging the teacher was. There were three students in the class, and both the other guys were better players than I, so I was working to keep up. Good and bad, that, but I've always been a slow kinetic learner, and said so.

Maybe not slow, the teacher said. Maybe you are just thorough. You want to get it precise.

Hey. I liked that. "Thorough" sounds better than being a "slow learner ..."

Contrast that to a martial art I studied briefly a couple decades ago. Early in the first session, the brown belt teacher was showing the class the art's salute. It was a variation on one a lot of arts use, a fist pressed knuckles into the other hand at heart level, right palm down, left facing the right, coupled with a short bow.

 (Unbeknownst to me, there were three of these salutes, all similar, but each with a different meaning. One was a signal of respect and readiness; one, a signal of leave-taking, signifying that the session was at an end;  and one, a challenge to combat. But he only showed us the first one.)

About to start a sequence of something or the other, I made what I thought was the respect-salute to the instructor. He bristled. "Are you challenging me? Are you challenging me?"

Well, no, I didn't think I was, and what the fuck was he talking about?

Only then did he show us the other two salutes.

Salute b) was the same as a) but the fingers open and pointing up. The third position looked like a), except that the cupping hand was shifted slightly behind the fist, nearest the chest on the thumb side.

Now the teacher could have simply showed us the three positions and explained what they were to begin with. What I suspected then, and now, was that he didn't, because he knew somebody would get it wrong, and he'd get all up in their face to prove some point. Probably because the offender would remember it after the dramatic bullshit. 

These days, with my bullshit-tolerance less than it use to be, I suspect my response to the "Are you challenging me?!" query would be, "Well, okay, sure, why not?" 

If the point was to prove he was a bad teacher and an asshole, I could see that one ...

People will make enough mistakes if you are careful in your instruction. If you deliberately set out to screw them up, that might be great for zen, but maybe not so great for encouraging confidence ...


Ian Sadler said...

Hi Steve,

Your 'salutation' comments reminded me of a mate of mine.

When ever I would use him during class as a teaching partner / dummy instead of saying ooossss, he would say wwoooossss.

He always found it very funny and could deliver it with a straight face.

steve-vh said...

Well sure, you set them up to make "mistakes" through omision. but they're mistakes like white lies, no harm to them. Save a much more ingrained learning upon having the difficult epiphany. As we say, I'm not as concerned with seeing what you can do as much as with what you can't do well.