Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Assisting Instructor's First Workout

When I taught kung fu full time, it was always understood in the Temple that new instructors were ever being trained and groomed to lead in student development and workouts. One of the first "rites of passage" for a young assisting instructor (AI) in the Temple was to lead the workout in Skill Class. The structure of Skill Class was that the 50 minute group session was divided in half. Roughly 25 minutes was spent on a rigorous workout full of repetitions of moves, stances and strikes that all participating had learned in private sessions. Then a 5 minute stretching period would ensue to help the students relax their breathing and prepare their bodies for pairing up to spend the remaining 20 minutes practicing the technique for the night. The chief instructor, or senior instructor (SI) present that evening (this could, at times be one of the masters visiting, or even Grand Master Simon) would show the class an advanced technique that all present could then practice with their partner. The senior instructor (SI) could lead the workout portion if they chose to, but that was often left to the assisting instructor (AI) to lead.

The first half of Skill Class was often left to the AI for a few reasons:

1. They needed the practice being in front of people. Every AI simply needs time in front. Those butterflies must be subdued. In fact, while the workouts can be intense and physically demanding, they're not as mentally demanding. The AI can teach in short spurts of what we called "filler talk" (i.e. "louder!," or "lower in the stance," or "check your foot position") between repetitions. Such basic techniques are the norm for the workout portion of Skill Class, that the AI need not access a vast repository of knowledge in order to deliver a good sweat. Certainly there is the occasion of the mind inexplicably going blank, wherein the AI is at a loss as to what basic motions to lead the class in. One humorous example was from another teacher that shared about his first Skill Class as an AI. He seemingly forgot all other motions and lead the class in 25 minutes of Front Thrust Kicks. Those poor people were barely able to walk back to the changing room. I myself remember leading in such a basic selection of moves that SI later bailed me out by standing in the back and giving me hints on something else to do beside yet again another High Rising Block/Thrust Punch combination. For the AI, this is his practice time to become comfortable leading the people of the Temple.

2. The students need to acclimate to a new face teaching them. Private instruction can be a more personal venue than a group session (i.e. Skill Class, Kung Fu Club or Sparring Club), thus it's necessary for an AI to develop some of their credibility alongside teaching new students, and at times prior to teaching more advanced students. The AI is being taught directly from the SI throughout the workday and even at times apart from work hours altogether. Thus their skills are often likely beyond that of the more advanced students simply because of the constant exposure they had to higher knowledge. However, the advanced students still, as a courtesy, because of their faithfulness, deserve the AI "prove" themselves before deigning to instruct those that have often been in the Temple longer, though have not sought instructor rank. There simply is legitimacy to letting the student body get used to the new guy. In this symbiotic relationship wherein training occurs, the SI does well to think of the people of the Temple as another means of molding AI's into good teachers.

3. The "technique portion" of Skill Class is made more significant. There's little doubt that when you change instructors midstream in Skill Class, different weight is given to what the latter teacher brings. The AI played the role of the "Tasmanian Devil," bouncing off the walls and leading the workout with such rabid intensity and frenzied energy, that his is clearly not the persona of the poised and circumspect teacher emerging from the office to impart wisdom. His role was simply to hone the body and mind to adapt to the chaotic rigors of hellacious combat. Concluding his portion with a climaxing "sound focus," the AI lead the class into stretching that calmed their breathing and quieted the mind so that the SI delivers higher techniques and pearls of wisdom to those truly prepared to receive it. Speaking with a softer tone, with measured words and a calm demeanor, the SI demonstrates the technique (or series of them), to the class attendants paired up with their partners. His teaching is given considerably greater respect, and the technique is considered "homework" for the students who want to lace their skill sets with this new "hidden treasure."

As a practice, the system of delegating the "workout portion" of Skill Class to the AI is effective and has stood the test of time across many different martial arts traditions, settings and styles. What many might not realize, without this background, is how evident this system is in the Church as well. Unlike Skill Class, the liturgical Holy Communion service is divided into three groups: the ante-communion, the communion and the post-communion. However, in practice they truly do separate into two major groups, for the communion and post-communion are both executed by the "SI" in the service, be it the resident Rector or Bishop present for a special occasion. At the end of the ante-communion portion, the sermon can possibly be delegated to an "AI" specifically authorized to do so as a Deacon, but all that follows concerning consecrating elements for communion cannot be delegated. Only the Priest ("SI") can perform these tasks because of the unique qualifications placed upon them in the Church to do so.

This morning, as the "AI" for Saint Matthias Anglican Church (Deacons are assigned by the Bishop to assist in whatever capacity the Church requires within the scope of their qualifications), I was metaphysically transported back to my first Skill Class as a young AI for Temple Kung Fu Studios. All the of the same admonitions from my SI at the time were repeated today ("Speak up," or "enunciate," or "project your voice so that people can follow along well"). I was tasked with leading the ante-communion portion, climaxing in leading the congregation in reciting the Nicene Creed. We then changed "instructors" with the Rector preaching the sermon and leading the remainder of the service.

The usual and predictable hiccups occurred that are part and parcel with weathering my first "workout" in the liturgy. Indeed I'll remember to pray more loudly when facing the front in the future; for if the people cannot understand what you're praying, how can they give the "Amen" (cf. 1 cor 14:16)? Nevertheless, the entire service was like leading my first "workout portion" of Skill Class all over again. Improvements will naturally occur since no one ever undergoes their "first time" more than once. Being the Deacon for Saint Matthias Anglican Church is comfortingly reminiscent of being a young assisting instructor for Temple Kung Fu, yet I expect it to be far more rewarding; For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8).

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