Embrace Your Inner Grasshopper – The Value of the Teacher

You’re lucky we have the internet today.

Growing up in the 90s the world’s knowledge wasn’t at our fingertips. We had to go to places like the library and get our information from things called “encyclopedias” and “newspapers”. It was quite a different time. Then, I was still an impressionable teenager desperately seeking to find my identity. When I discovered break dancing it was an instant hook. I was so impressed with all the fancy movements that I wanted to learn all of it.

Except I didn’t really have any resources.

It was the turn of the millennium and I was in Hong Kong, where the break dancing scene was still in its infancy. There was no one really to teach me, and I met with a small group once a week to figure stuff out on our own. When I practiced alone it was mostly trial and error. There was no one giving instruction, no cues to follow, and no YouTube tutorials to watch. The best information I had to go off of was written instructions with a flash animation.

While this style of learning was a dedicated effort, it was ultimately inefficient. As an able bodied teenager, it took me several months to learn how to do windmills – a basic power move. And even with all that stubborn practice, my technique was still pretty awful. #thestruggleisreal

These days information is a lot more accessible and comes in better quality. I could do a search on YouTube for “windmill tutorial” and get at least a dozen videos ranging from amateur to professional bboys. I’ll have access to multiple points of view, various tips, and even different programming and training regimens.

With all these resources available, you’re ready to move the furniture back and get practicing. And I’ll admit that training on your own does have its appeal. However, even with all your stubbornness and dedication, your results still won’t come as efficiently as they can. You’re still missing one thing: a teacher.

A teacher brings three things to the table that self-learning can never fully replicate: Observation, Knowledge, and Instruction.

Observation: this is your external set of eyes, and these eyes know what to look for. Sure you certainly can learn a lot from watching film of yourself, but a teacher can pinpoint any flaws in your technique right as you’re doing the skill. With a brief comment and quick adjustment, the turnaround in your execution can be almost immediate.

Knowledge: real knowledge takes years to accumulate, and it’s not only done so through books and literature, but by doing and teaching. With the internet you can likely access all recorded knowledge on a subject. However making sense of all of it and applying it to what you’re trying to do is very difficult. A good teacher understands how much of that knowledge to share and how to portion it in a way that is absorbed the quickest.

Instruction: it’s one thing to know what you’re doing wrong, but a complete different matter to know how to fix it. And like the old saying goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”, the approach that works for one may not necessarily work for the other. Instruction is where a true teacher shines. Combining her knowledge of the subject and observation of the student, the teacher makes the best judgment call, giving the student the instruction he needs to progress to the next step.

My Teacher

Recently I’ve had the luck of working with a great teacher.

I was at open gym practicing back handsprings when an interested observer came up to me and said “you need to use your shoulders more”. She walked me through a set of drills demonstrating the effectiveness of blocking with my shoulders versus using my arms. Applying her instruction, I did some more back handsprings. They felt completely different.

What was once a move I did with a small sense of apprehension now felt extremely secure and comfortable. All it took was focusing on one variable that I had begun to neglect. With a few simple comments, this teacher was able to instantly plant a mental cue that may otherwise have taken me a while to figure out. Below shows the Before and After.

bhs-before

After

I asked who she was and she introduced herself as Laura, a former gymnast with 40+ years of coaching experience. Go figure.

Realizing that she had a very willing (albeit older) pupil, Laura generously volunteered to coach me. She patiently walked me through the execution of a proper round off, taught me a few conditioning drills, and gave me some insightful advice on learning gymnastics as an adult. But the most important thing Laura ever did for me is the key contribution a teacher makes for every student:

She pushed me past my comfort zone.

Coach Laura had me work on skills that I wasn’t completely mentally ready for. That was scary as fuck. It also seemed a bit twisted since as an adult you already have an established sense of your limits. But I guess sometimes those leaps in progression require an unexpected push from someone else. I know mine did. And it was Laura’s push that set the standard for just how uncomfortable I was willing to make myself each time I needed to get to the next step.

Thanks Coach, for investing in me 🙂

Laura was the first of many teachers that played a strong role in my pursuit of movement. I urge you to look for the teacher that will come into your life and change your movement journey. Remain watchful and stay prepared, for “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”.

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