I like to go on courses relating my martial arts. You train with different people. you learn different ways of looking at known techniques, you learn new techniques, and you have a lot of fun with people who also enjoy their martial art. Courses vary – they can be good, brilliant and (sadly) indifferent. I have yet to go on a bad course, but I have come away from a few which have left me feeling a little frustrated with the lack of organisation. So here is my view, as a student, on what I like to see on a course.
Flexible payment options
I appreciate that costs have to be covered, but try to think of the matter from a student perspective. If other commitments make you unable to attend one day of a two-day seminar, yet you are expected to pay for both days, then chances are the student wont even turn up for the single day. This week the British Aikido Federation have been running their week-long summer school. You can either pay for the week block (£120, an absolute bargain) or you can pay for a day slot (£25). I could only make one day, but if the charge had still been for one week then the organisers would have missed out on £25.
The overcrowding of training spaces at a seminar is something that really irritates me. This problem often occurs where someone well-known in a certain martial art is teaching. I understand the need to cover costs, and to keep the cost down for each individual training, but if the instructor or his assistant cannot get around to see you because there are 200 plus people in the room, then really your benefits from the course are limited.
There is also the safety aspect. If your martial art involves falling, then you need to be able to have the space to land safely. I have been on one seminar where we couldn’t complete the throws because the mat was too crowded! If your martial art involves weapons, then space is required to be able to move the weapons.
If need be, split the class in two for when it comes to techniques that involve throwing. I have seen this done. It allows half the class time to pause to recover their breath, watch what the others are doing and learn something as an observor. Which neatly brings me on to my next point….
I am not superman, nor are most the people I train with. A four-hour seminar should not have four hours of constant training! People can only absorb so much information, then they stop learning. Organise a break where people can have a snack and some water.
Splitting the class
To date my favourite weekend long course is the Auichi Jiu Jitsu annual nationals. One of the reasons I love this event is because of the way the classes are run, alternating between everyone training together and then splitting down into smaller, grade based groups. So a typical morning will see the entire mat train together, then the mat split into different sections depending on the kyu and dan grades present. There are many advantages to this system.
a) The joint training allows everyone to learn off each other.
b) The grade related training allows specific techniques to be honed in on for a specific level of ability. It stops the lower grades getting frustrated because they cannot grasp the advanced techniques. It stops the higher grades getting bored and gives them a chance to practice advanced skills with people of equal ability.
c) It allows other people to teach. These people may not get a chance to teach much in their own club.
So you train with your fellow martial artists all day, then you shower up and go home. Humans are social animals, we like to meet people. Any social event after the course, be it a coffee, a beer, a pizza or a full meal, gives the chance for people to:
a) discuss what went on in the course,
b) get to know each other.
As a student, feedback what you enjoyed about the course. I know it sometimes seems that the instructor has super powers, but I promise you that mind-reading is not one of them. Let them know what was good, let them know (kindly) where you felt things could have been improved. If you couldn’t attend the course that your own club organised, let them know why.
As an instructor, be open to the feedback. Encourage students to tell you how they got on. This is where that social event comes in handy. You can’t please everyone, but if 90% of the class are saying something was good/in need of improvement then it’s likely they are right.