This is essentially a description of a pedagogical approach to teaching which is also widespread in the Western world, particularly in schools. In fact, pedagogical teaching methods have their origins in medieval Europe when young boys were received into the monasteries and taught by monks using methods that required the student to be submissive and obey the teacher’s instructions without question, in order that the children learned to be obedient, faithful and efficient servants of the church.
However, since the 1960’s, research into educational teaching methods with adults, much of it led by M.W Knowles, has resulted in the learning theory of andragogy. This theory is based on several assumptions about the way in which adults best learn:
1. Adults need to know why they need to learn something before undertaking it.
2. Adults like to take responsibility for their own decisions and to be treated as capable of self-direction
3. Adult learners draw on past life experiences when making judgements about new learning experiences.
4. Adults are ready to learn those things they need to know in order to cope effectively with life situations i.e they prefer problem solving approaches to content learning methods.
5. Adults are motivated to learn when they perceive that learning to be useful to them in real life situations (and not so keen to learn things for which they perceive no value)
Essentially the theory of andragogy states that adults learn better when they are more actively engaged in the learning process and are able to take some degree of charge of it (self-directed learning)
However, martial arts continue to be taught in most systems in a pedagogical way i.e very didactic and teacher led. It is not surprising therefore that occasionally the androgogical requirements of adult learners will clash with the pedagogical approach of most instructors. This may result in much tongue biting, inappropriate questions or even challenges to the instructor’s authority.
This brings us to the main point of this post. What constitutes an inappropriate question or a challenge to the instructor? In most Western dojos these days I would imagine most instructors don’t mind answering students' questions, particularly of the nature, ‘Can you show me that again?’ or ‘I don’t quite understand why we are doing it like this, can you please explain?’
I have been trying to think at what point a question crosses the boundary from being appropriate and welcomed by the instructor to being inappropriate and unacceptable in a dojo. I think the boundary may be crossed when the question being asked is a result of ego on behalf of the student. By this I mean a question the student is only asking because it is an opportunity to display their own knowledge/prowess. For example, ‘Why do we still do this technique like this? When I went on a course/read a book/saw a YouTube video they said it was better to do it this way.’ I think this is inappropriate because it undermines the instructor and the student is trying to display his (perception) of superior knowledge – ego motivates a question of this sort.
One of the ultimate goals of learning a traditional martial art is to free oneself from ego. It therefore represents a challenge for adults to learn martial arts in a pedagogical environment. To learn to ask only appropriate questions, the ones that actually aid your ability to lean martial arts and to refrain from those that are designed to undermine or challenge the instructor.
It’s not always easy though is it? I know that I have been guilty of asking slightly ‘challenging’ questions at times – questions I now regret asking. My instructor has always responded with good grace whilst at the same time putting me quietly in my place. On reflection, these questions have usually revealed my ignorance rather than my superior knowledge!
I think in a situation where ‘modern adults’ meet ‘traditional training methods’ there will always be some degree of tension between instructor and student. However, pedagogical training methods have stood the test of time in traditional martial arts and whether by accident or design offer a test to the student – a test of mental and spiritual strength in which the student must learn to control impulses, know when to stay silent, develop trust in their instructor, overturn previously learned bias/prejudice and rid themselves of ego.
On the other hand, the instructor must also recognise the tension or resentment that may result in the adult learner who is not allowed to express their desires or self-direct their learning according to preferences.
How easy is it to strike this balance between how the instructor wants to teach and how the adult student prefers to learn? What do you think are appropriate or inappropriate questions to be asking an instructor?
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