The Teaching Window

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So the other day I was watching a martial arts DVD on Silat when the instructor talked about being in his “Teaching Window”.  Or as he put it the time was now for him to teach.  He went on to talk about how it is important that you train with an instructor when they are in their teaching window or the time when they will be the best combination of practitioner/teacher.  Some times you can come in too early and train with someone and some times too late.  If you train at the beginning before a “Teaching Window” opens you may get poor training or even worse broken.  Meaning the teacher is experimenting and figuring things out.   So what is or was he talking about?  This is not simple to explain but rather pretty complicated and there is some variables depending on each individual person.  Bottom line some martial practitioner’s should never teach.  Pretty much this is the vast majority of martial practitioner’s.   They should only train and make progress on their own skills.  Some people just do not have the right make up to be a good teacher.   They may not have good enough fundamentals themselves and they also may not have the ability to show things and explain them in multiple ways to students.  They may also not have the patience necessary to teach.  There are however a smaller percentage of martial practitioner’s who in the end can become a good teacher.  Being a good teacher takes commitment, skill, comprehensive fundamental’s, knowledge of principles, elements and theories and the ability to break things down and explain them in multiple ways so that students can understand them and in turn learn well.  Plus a whole lot of patience and excitement at seeing someone learn.  Not everyone can or should be a teacher.  In IRT that is just one reason why I will not promote just anyone to the Associate Instructor level.  If you are at that level you have my stamp to begin the teaching process.  Otherwise you probably should focus on your own training.

So what is this “Teaching Window” that he was talking about?  There is a lot that goes into this.  However, from a students prospective you want to learn from someone who has mastered the fundamentals of their system.  You also want someone who can explain everything.  Beyond this though a “Teachers Window” opens once they have mastered the fundamentals and understand the principles, elements and theories of their system.  Yet this window is not infinite but instead finite.  What????  Well here is the crux of the situation.  A teachers window opens for the amount of time that they can still do the fundamentals at an athletic level so that the students can see it done this way.  This happens before a teacher starts on the path of constant refining and refining of their technique to the point that their age or refinement becomes so fine that a newer student will learn the refined version without first learning the fundamentals in their athletic level.  As a teacher/practitioner refines their skill sets they in turn make their movements smaller and more specialized than in the purer more athletically fundamental format.  If students are taught by a teacher too early on in the teacher’s window the fundamentals might not be just right.  If they learn to late in a teacher’s window then they might be learning a refined version.  Either one of those situations is not ideal for the student.  No, instead they learn best if they are in the instructors “Teaching Window”.  I have witnessed this in several systems down through the years.  Take Modern Arnis for example.  Those that learned from Professor Remy Presas early on when he moved to the United States were getting him in his prime.  He was in his “Teaching Window”.  He was young and fundamentally sound and understood his system and could show and explain it to you.  Later on in his career he was substantially more refined and students that came in later picked up the more refined version but their fundamental movement was nowhere near as good as the previous generation.  You can really see this in their footwork!  They are very refined but their footwork stinks in my opinion.  Those that trained with the Professor in his optimum “Teaching Window” really benefitted from training in that time frame.  Now before people get ancy or upset about this I am not saying by any means that those who practiced at the end are terrible martial practitioner’s.  Quite a few of them are really good and have overcome not learning from the Professor in his “Teaching Window”.  This can be because of their own innate abilities or also because they also learned from one of the Professors students who trained during the “Teaching Window” and helped them with their fundamentals and movement.  So not everyone who trained later on moves like shit as a friend of mine would say.  All window dressing without a window is his other favorite quote.  No some learned from one of the Professors students who was an instructor and learned during the Professors “Teaching Window”.  This is not the only other system where I have seen this there have been quite a few more.  Take for instance Budo Taijutsu or Hatsumi Sensei’s martial system.  In the Bujinkan it is not uncommon to see people imitating Hatsumi Sensei’s movement now when he has refined his skill set over decades.  If a Budo Taijutsu practitioner did not train with Hatsumi Sensei early on in his “Teaching Window” or learned from someone who did then they may simply not have the were withal to copy his movement and make it work.  He is of course older and so refined in his movement that most cannot copy his movement and translate it and make it effective for them.  Those like the Japanese Shihan, Doron Navon and a few more who managed to get in right at the right time during his “Teaching Window”.  Have great fundamentals because they saw him in his prime. (they may have also survived the beginning)  I have seen all of the Japanese Shihan, Doron Navon, Mark O’Brien and more and when they move you can see it correctly.  There are of course quite a few people who also do it correctly or pre-refined.  They learned either early on from Hatsumi Sensei or they apprenticed with one of the Japanese Shihan or an Instructor who got that significant fundamental exposure and transmitted it to them in their “Teaching Window”.  Try learning from Hatsumi Sensei now and you are in for a whirlwind as he is demonstrating what he does.  He would be the first to tell you that he is not really “teaching”.

This teaching window goes across all martial systems.  Each instructor/teacher has a “Teaching Window” where the students will benefit the most.  Once the window closes a newer student might not be able to get the fundamentals in their most athletic form unless of course they train as well with one of the teachers older students.  This of course does not mean that training with a teacher who has refined to the point of perfection is not good.  By no means is that true.   No if you can be there at the middle and the end so to speak you will definitely be getting the goods.  You would be getting fundamentals plus refinement!  That would be a real bonus!  However if you are at the end you need to make sure that you get those fundamentals in their most athletic form.  No young man should be moving like an old man or an old man who has refined his martial practice to the extreme!  A young man in the end has to move like a young man!  Though it is okay for an old man to move like a young man athletically.  Which brings me finally to the point that this “Teaching Window” does of course vary for everyone!  Some teacher’s have a long window some have a short window.  Some might even have a very, very long window and some should never have taught at all!  So train hard, train right and find the right teacher in their teaching window!!!  In everything we do in the Martial Sciences timing is of course the key.  Good luck!!!

Brian R. VanCise

Note: This blog is opinion only and neither Instinctive Response Training LLC or Brian R. VanCise are responsible for any third party actions.

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About Brian VanCise

Hi my name is Brian R. VanCise and my passion is the Martial Sciences. I have trained almost my entire life in the pursuit of martial excellence and I teach a world class curriculum in Las Vegas, Nevada. Contact us at: 702-326-3622
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6 Responses to The Teaching Window

  1. Tim says:

    Interesting post, and makes me wonder, based on my time training with my Yang taiji shifu and seeing his way of teaching change if his window is not past. He is in his 70s, been at Yangshi taijiquan and only Yangshi taijiquan for 60 years and he can still throw me around like a rag doll. However you can no longer see many of his movements and for some of the things he taught me I had to look to Chen Style (which tends towards bigger movements than Yang) to figure out what he was doing.

    And I agree, just because you have a black belt or have trained a style for many years does not mean you should or can teach it.

  2. Brian VanCise says:

    Yes Tim,

    Some people should just never teach. This is not a knock on them just that it is not their calling.

    In regards to your teacher if you can see if there is another practitioner of his that he taught to an instructor level and see if you and he could collaborate. I am sure you could show he many things and also he could in turn show you. That may help with your outlook on Yang Taijiquan. If that is not a possibility then seek out other Yang instructors maybe not to be with them long term but to get an idea or viewpoint on how they move. All of the above might help plus continuing to work with your Yang Taijiquan instructor. Then things might round into form. I know you are a long, long time practitioner so you have the experience to see the differences. I know in Budo Taijutsu if you want solid fundamentals you certainly do not go to Hatsumi. His teaching is more like a demonstration. Correction’s and in depth instruction has to come from someone else. Instead you go to someone he trained a long time ago or someone one of his Japanese Shihan has trained to instructor level. Even then you really have to be choosy!

    • Tim says:

      I am his most senior student in the area and it is the more recent stuff he has shown me and it could just as easily be me as well. But I will say he does not teach his beginners like he use to and part of that is the lack of seriousness on the part of those showing up to learn but I do believe part of it is exactly what you are talking about in your post

      The thing about Yang style is the longer you do it the circles get smaller and things get harder to see…and I am not getting any younger either 🙂

      • Brian VanCise says:

        Hey Tim,

        That is interesting. Is he the only one teaching the beginners or does he rely on you or someone else. I will say this though that when you are a very serious teacher and you have people showing up but not in a serious way that can affect you and the way you teach. In a situation like that I personally cannot have people around in they are not really serious. To many things can go wrong with what I do. This has caused me in the past to ask someone to leave. Not very often mind you but yes it has happened. There are other things as well that can some times affect a teacher. Family life, personal issues or some thing like a favorite student moving on. I can remember that I personally was dramatically affected when a student of mine left to take care of a family member. When he came to training it made my day and when he was no longer there it hurt. However, what can you do but go on and endure. There are some systems that actually have a way to deal with when a student also gets to the level of a their teacher or passes them. In one system I am a part of when that happens typically the teacher tells them it is time to go out and teach and open their own training hall. Most of the time they stay friends but once in awhile if not handled correctly they don’t. I have watched this happen a few times. Sorry to get off topic a bit.

        I understand completely about the circles getting smaller and things getting harder to see. To me with my very, very limited knowledge or viewpoint in the Chinese martial arts certain systems like Taijiquan, etc. have that aspect about them and really good long term practitioners in all systems refine, refine and refine some more. 🙂

  3. Brian VanCise says:

    This is a response to someone on another forum who well didn’t like this post. That is okay there are a whole lot of reasons why someone might not want to hear this message. That is whether one is a student or a teacher. This blog post was meant and is meant for someone to think…. So here is basically a response to someone who did not like the post:

    unfortunately I think you missed the message. At no point did I say that one’s “Teaching Window” is when you are young or athletic. Actually that is the time when students would learn the least and or be broken because a teacher more than likely has not mastered their fundamentals and is experimenting. Nor do they probably have a true understanding of the theories, elements, principles of their system. No instead the point was to show that a teacher only has so much time to be good at teaching in the Martial Sciences. One has to have a combination of the ability to show and do the fundamentals correctly with athleticism, have the ability to understand the principles and elements of their system and be also able to convey that to their students. It was also meant to show that as a teacher/practitioner ages they refine, refine, refine and that is very hard for a new student learn from unless they can still show the fundamentals in their purest athletic form. Instead a “Teaching Window” only opens for a while and for some people that might be very short or really never at all. For others it might be a long time! Some teachers should hang up and not teach unless they have a core that can help them pass on what they do. Lots of hidden messages in this blog post. I new this post would be controversial and not liked by some but frankly that doesn’t bother me! 😉

    I am after all a old style, old world practitioner living in the modern age who is well up there a little in age and I can be a little cantankerous! 🙂

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