Aikido and Teaching:

Teaching is an art. The thing is it was often explained to me as a power game where the teacher is always looking to control the students. This has never sat well with me. I will always remember my first weeks as a trainee teacher as my mentor and I did not see eye to eye. I heard his concept of discipline from the other side of the campus and I knew the student who was receiving the full force of his reasoning also felt the sweat from his nose due to the proximity of their faces. This was never going to be the way that I “encouraged” learning and years later when I started to be informed by the findings of neuroscience it became patently obvious that the brain does not create learning in fearful situations – except in the instance of moments of fight or flight.

What I have grown to recognize is that the teacher / facilitator needs to hold a space for learning. It is a safe place, where mistakes are not only ok they are encouraged. It is a place where we are open to the outcome of the learning rather than dictating what the learning will be. Searching for a metaphor for teaching I have come up with the martial art of Aikido. While most of the martial arts center on the concept of combat this was not originator Master Morihei Ueshiba‘s desire. “Aikido is not a technique to fight with or to defeat the enemy. It is a way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.” Wikipedia suggests that his philosophy was one “of extending love and compassion especially to those who seek to harm others. Aikido demonstrates this philosophy in its emphasis on mastering martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, not only is the receiver unharmed, but so is the attacker.” This also strikes me as a good philosophy for education.

Where I love the concept of Aikido is that the purpose is to maintain balance and through turning, pushing and drawing you lead the other person to a place of imbalance. It is not a forceful action and strength is not a requirement. So a teacher / facilitator strives to maintain equilibrium regardless of what comes in their direction. Also, with time while they can predict what may happen, they are actually better off being present. The imbalance that we encourage our students / participants to experience is cognitive dissonance; a place where they have to reason and are motivated to find meaning, as it is from this that the learning grows.

What is a good metaphor for what you do?

Thoughts on Physical Education

“We’re on a mission to make self-reflection hip for just a moment, just long enough to save us.” Jamie Catto

I have a thought that if the word diversity refers to looking for difference then university can be about seeking unity. For me education works best when it moves to bring people together through learning. Two men who have taken this concept of seeking similarities a great deal further are Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Cato of 1 Giant Leap http://www.myspace.com/1giantleap; a concept band and media project that travels the globe collecting music and video images on a laptop. What makes this wonderful project so distinctive is that they layer music from around the world onto a track having provided an initial beat. Through this we hear both the similarities and the unique nature of each artist performing within a whole while knowing that they are separated by continents and cultures. This surely is a wonderful metaphor for education.

When thinking about what Physical Education can be I am also drawn to 1 Giant Leap, watching their videos something becomes apparent. Humans were made to move. Naturally we are movement literate, we are made to walk, run, jump and dance. Somehow through a sedentary and mechanized western lifestyle we educate ourselves out of this natural state.

When I look at it from this perspective physical education becomes a different paradigm. I no longer wish to focus on teaching “how to” sports classes or even an interest in lifetime activity. Suddenly I find myself passionate about encouraging reconnection with movement and experimenting with its subtlety; I want students to play with timing and balance, and to examine their range of motion. It fills me with excitement when I can suggest a holistic outlook and examine philosophy through movement. Take an activity like Le Parkour; a contemporary, viral and frequently urban discipline, which is based on the idea that obstacles are ramps into a new world of opportunity. As part of the activity a traceur (practitioner of Parkour) replaces the concept of obstacle as barrier and substitutes it instead with the obstacle being something to be played with, explored and ultimately as providing a chance to develop a new skill. A traceur will experience this reality many times in their average “jam” and suddenly it becomes their truth when transferred into life in general.

As a physical educator I want my students to feel rhythm through their core and be so moved by it they spontaneously erupt in movement that fills them with joy and a sense of satisfaction. I want them to remove rules from this movement and just let themselves go and be happy in their expression. I want them to create community through their sharing of this expression.

It is important to me that students see movement for what it is an integral part of life, one that has ramifications on their whole. Fitness is about far more than looking good. Thinking of it purely in terms of cardiovascular disease is limiting. Movement allows all parts of your body to function better; it promotes happiness, learning and a healthy mental state. It is the lubricant for a life that is balanced and fulfilling.

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