Those Who Can’t Teach Can Learn How

Karate Kid Daniel San Mr Miyagi

From The Karate Kid (1984), Columbia Pictures

A few weeks ago, I was called upon in tang soo do class to lead a group of five students in forms training.

It wasn’t as cohesive a session as I would have liked.

After class, it nagged at me because I knew I could have been a much better, more effective leader.

So, what happened?

The form we were to practice was the red belt form, Bassai. It’s 54 moves, by far the longest gup form. Those in my group understood Bassai at varying degrees; they either knew all of it or bits of it.

I know Bassai. At least, I thought I did before that night.

I’ve worked with fellow students on forms and other curriculum before, but usually one-on-one, or at most, in a group of three. Those scenarios always seemed to work out well. I felt like I could slow the tempo and break everything down so that students could get it. I’d usually get a little something from it, too.

Working with a larger group of students with differing degrees of knowledge of the form was another story. Simply put, I wasn’t fully prepared to assume the responsibility. Why?

I wasn’t confident in myself.

I’ve been training like mad on Ship Soo, which is the form for my current rank, cho dan bo (black belt candidate, aka blue belt). Bassai was two ranks ago, and while I’ve performed it many times and know the moves, I got so caught up with how I thought it would look that it psyched me out. Technically speaking, I know my Bassai still needs work. I didn’t want everyone to pick up on habits that I, myself, may need to change.

But where did that get me? For starters, I still made mistakes. I kept mixing up the very beginning of Bassai with the start to Ship Soo (which, to be fair, are very similar moves). During one run, I forgot a move entirely, which a fellow student was kind enough to point out. (And I say that sincerely — it means he knows it.)

After the training exercise was done, I just wanted to rewind those 15 – 20 minutes and do it all over again. (Or at least apologize to my group for letting them down.) Alas, life doesn’t work that way. Instead, I have to settle for applying what I learned in this mishap for the next time I’m ever called to lead a group, or to teach anyone anything at any time.

The four lessons I learned from this:

Kick Doubt Away Lisa Vertudaches

1. Be Confident

Without confidence, I didn’t have a chance. This is so key!

I’m sure I was put in charge for a reason. My instructor believed I could do it, but I don’t think I shared his level of confidence in me, which is sad. Even if I wasn’t totally confident in my ability to guide everyone through the form, I could have at least faked it at first. Or the entire time. Anything to make the experience beneficial for everyone.


cat military strategy

2. Take a Moment to Assess Things + Plan a Strategy

While driving home, I thought of the different ways I could have led the group better than I had. One idea was to have the students who knew the form branch off and perform it together while I worked with those who needed some extra help. Another option was to break it down for everyone’s benefit, calling out the moves as I did them. I did try the latter at one point, but it was still too discombobulated.

What threw me was hearing things like, “What are we doing?” and “I’m so confused.” upon being thrust into our groups. That put me into a panic. I’m one of those people who likes to provide a solution right away; I hate to keep anyone waiting. I’m still learning the hard lesson that I can’t do that for everyone, all the time.

I could have taken a moment to ask everyone how confident they felt in doing the form, and planned out my strategy from there. Instead, I just said said, “Fuggit,” and did the form, assuming everyone was on the same page. They weren’t. I wasn’t. And so it goes.

Patience really is a virtue, and planning is key, even if it’s for a couple of minutes.


flying v mighty ducks

3. Be a Leader (Even if I’m Not an “Official” One)

I’m on the Leadership Team. I’m a black belt candidate. Still, I found it awkward to teach these students because I’ve never led a class. I’m not an “official” instructor. I’m a gup, like everyone else in the group. I didn’t want to overstep boundaries or seem pushy. And I know I didn’t have to be a hardass . I just had to be firm…and confident. Number one. 


Allen Iverson Practice

4. Practice, Practice, PRACTICE

Yeah, I have to get Ship Soo down pat as a cho dan bo. However, I can’t neglect the curriculum from my previous ranks. I need to get so good at Bassai that I can teach it to either one person or a thousand people. I should know the form well enough to be able to explain it to as many people as needed.

I realized that I didn’t know Bassai as well as I thought I did; if I did, I could have broken it down and effectively gone through it for anyone who needed help. Or, simply put, I could have taught it. I didn’t do that, and made stupid mistakes in the process. Now I know that I need to work on my Bassai. (And again, I realize this could all lead back to the first point. All roads lead to confidence.)


There is a chance that I am viewing this situation through a much harsher lens than anyone else in the dojang. (Ahem.) This all stems from wanting to be the best martial artist I can be (especially so close to black belt testing in JUNE), and confidently sharing what I know with others. Plus, it’s a goal of mine to someday lead classes as an instructor. I should be preparing for that moment right now.

Yes, this wasn’t one of my finest moments, but I won’t let it keep me down. It’s a part of the journey, after all. Peaks and valleys, my friends. Peaks and valleys.

I hope I have another chance to lead a group, to prove that I am capable of taking charge and showing others the way of our art. As long as I heed the lessons that were a result of this less-than-ideal situation, I think I’ll be okay.

Now. To practice.

Tang soo.

The Monday Question

What’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from a mistake? Share your stories in the comments.

Til next Monday!

2 thoughts on “Those Who Can’t Teach Can Learn How

  1. Confidence really is everything. Trust me when I say that you do not need to know the material you are teaching to teach it. While I haven’t taught any Tang Soo Do classes (though, like you I have been used to teach a group a hyung or self defence) I do teach the children’s classes which at our dojang are American Kenpo. I learn the forms with them. I may not have the form perfectly, I do know what each stance and technique is supposed to look like. Of course for me everything is first movement and stance, second practical application.

    Thinking back to when I learned Bassai Dai, I’m fairly certain we were in the last week of the second month of the cycle before we even started putting the pieces together in order. It works that way for us with a lot of the longer forms really. Teaching the pieces can be more important than showing where the pieces go. Even with the older kenpo kids I’ll focus more on the bunkai than on the form itself.

    So yeah, don’t be afraid to break it apart and work on 3 or 4 moves strung together. Focus on the techniques rather than the steps of the dance.

    Going back to confidence for a moment… it took a long time for me to get over the feeling that I was doing something wrong while teaching. Throwing a senior instructor on the floor while I’m teaching can still throw me off my game and I’ve been teaching for over a year and a half now. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just fake it until you feel it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: My Exciting Plans for Leap Year 2016! | The Monday Diaries

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