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An Appreciation for the Struggling Student

An Appreciation for the Struggling Student

I’ve had some very gifted athletes as students over the years. They come into the training hall already in great physical condition with an understanding of what it takes to practice and improve. They have strength, stamina and are already flexible. They push themselves in class, they go home and practice, they pick up the material better and faster and are driven to be the best. The only major life lesson for them is to be patient and to not think because they’ve mentally learned the technique, that they can’t make it better with time and more repetitions.

Honestly though, I feel like I didn’t get to really serve these students the way I really wanted to. Their Black Belt Journey is almost too easy. We gain so much more from overcoming horrible challenges.

Then there are the average students. The changes in them are apparent from day one. They learn how to do the required work. They gain strength, flexibility and stamina and every technique is like some new magic trick that fascinates and empowers them. Their self esteem soars, their self control and confidence rockets upward and in a very short period, they are like a completely different person. They know it and everyone who knows them sees it and comments about it.

Honestly, these students gain so much, and I take such pride in serving them and watching them progress, but they are not the students who give me the greatest reward from teaching.

There are different types of learners. Some are visual learners, some learn best auditorily, and then some learn best from actual “doing,” they are kinesthetic learners. We all learn from a combination of the three, but there are many factors that can dampen a student’s ability to pick up things and learn, no matter how they learn best. ADHD, dyslexia, autism, among others can really add additional challenges. Some just seem to be on a ‘different planet.” Some are easily distracted, some are maturationally younger than their actual age. These students are the ones we help the most. They are the ones that help us to be our best as well. We advertise that we can help these students and above all, they are the ones who will gain the most from their journey. I’m actually a little jealous of them, because the changes they experience on their Black Belt Journey will be so superior to the one I had.

I’m overjoyed to have them as students because they force me to really break down my techniques and my teaching methods so they can learn in the easiest way for them. I am at my best when I am challenged, and I am challenged best by challenging students.

When you have a challenging student, whether it is their behavior, or their ability to learn, or their physical ability to do this, the first thing you need to do is decide to like this student. Make a conscious decision and find some traits in them you admire. Second is to make sure you give them very specific directions with detailed breakdowns so they can understand. Be patient and give them time one on one with you, or another instructor, or another higher level student if that’s all you’ve got. In the end, be a good finder and praise them for the little things, very specific praise so they can see their progress.

In the end, our job is not to create the greatest martial arts athletes, it’s to change lives through martial arts training. If that is your attempt, then the greatest martial arts athlete thing will just happen.

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