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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!