The highs and lows of seminar training

Trust is important in so many aspects of life. Over the years, I have found that trust is especially important when training martial arts. There is an implicit trust with your partner – they won’t endanger you or hurt you, they will train safely, and they will look after your body while they are using it to practise. This trust is important – after all, why else would you allow someone to practise high impact, high velocity, or just downright dangerous techniques on you?

This agreement also extends to instructors. When I am called up to be a demonstration partner (an uke) by an instructor, I will do my absolute best to do as I am told insofar as I will attack as I am asked, and I will take the breakfall or technique as required. Once again, there is a trust issue. I trust that my instructor will be careful with me, and will not damage me while demonstrating the technique. Thankfully, none of my instructors have ever been anything but careful in this respect, and the same can be said for my partners.

As someone who travels to quite a few seminars during the year, I see an awful lot of instructors of many different levels (mostly high dan grades). And unfortunately, what I also see a lot of is these high dan grade instructors injuring their ukes. Frankly, it disgusts me.

As ukes, we are lending you our bodies to demonstrate your skill and prowess at the particular martial art that you practice. We are polite, we are compliant, and we do our best to make sure that you can demonstrate the technique effectively, so that everyone can learn. As a dan grade, you don’t automatically have the right to abuse us simply because of your higher rank. As a brown belt, I can perform techniques on our beginners, lowering them gently to the floor, and moving slowly, so that they are not hurt, even if they have not developed the breakfalling skill yet. I fail to understand why high dan grades do not also possess this skill.

When a senior instructor hurts someone on the mats, the whole teaching and training dynamic changes. No longer am I worrying about learning the technique or paying attention to the intricacies of the throw – instead I am worried about the person who has been hurt, and furious at the instructor who has hurt them. I instantly lose so much respect for the instructor that I am no longer interested in learning what they have to teach, because I don’t want to learn from someone who abuses students. For the duration of the set, I won’t be focused on performing the technique well – I’ll simply be hoping that the set will soon be over, that the uke will be ok, and that the instructor won’t want to demonstrate on me. As soon as an instructor hurts a student, the trust between student and instructor is demolished, and if I don’t trust an instructor, I find it almost impossible to learn from them.

If your skill level matches the belt that you wear, you should have no trouble performing any of your techniques at a variety of speeds, and you should have no trouble choosing the appropriate speed for the students you are teaching. While accidents can happen when students are learning new techniques, if your skill level truly matches the belt you wear, then you shouldn’t be making these mistakes while demonstrating on students at a seminar.

In particular, when students have travelled to a seminar, there is a financial commitment made – travel costs, accommodations costs, seminar fees, etc. To take one of these students, and hurt them, you are robbing them of the chance to train properly during the seminar that they have paid to attend. The student may be impaired for the rest of the day, or may not even be able to train at all. I have seen students, more than once, travel across the country or from another country, only to be hurt in the first set of the day, and be unable to train for the rest of the seminar. As students, we deserve better than that.

Many times, instructors will make a big show of thanking the attendees. They will say that the students are the life blood of the federation, and that the federation couldn’t continue without students. And this is true, although I don’t believe that the instructors really believe it when they say it. Put simply – if the students stop attending, the instructors will no longer be required.

In short – as a senior instructor, you have a captive audience in the students who have come to learn from you. We are eager for knowledge. We want to learn, to progress. We don’t want to be damaged or hurt. Please remember to respect the bodies of those who you demonstrate on, or you may find that your audience dwindles with each passing seminar.

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