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Business, Focus Edition Wing Chun – Traditional Kwoon Culture…

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By: Corey Slade •  4 years ago •  

…creating a focused, efficient learning environment for mutual benefit, wellness, growth and community.

First let me paint a picture for you in respect to a typical Wing Chun Kung Fu training session as we ‘Coaches/Leaders/Older Kung Fu Brothers and Sisters’ aspire to and as demonstrated by our late Grandmaster, Chu Shong Tin during his 60+ years of coaching.

Imagine a place that was open for training for long hours. Where you could just rock-up and leave when it suited you, based on your schedule, your personal proficiency, maturity and mood on a given day. The closest place I can think of is a 24/7 Health Club Gym.

The difference here is that the floor supervisor is generally more akin to a community elder who guides the participants as often as not indirectly using the combined wisdom and power of the resident group. Newcomers are always introduced and welcomed by the lead coach of course but it’s common from this point for them to be delegated to work with the more junior ranks. In this way the lead coaches’ energies are guarded (not expelled entirely on every new person that walks in the door) and directed/rewarded to the more senior/proven attendees. This also allows the lead coach to roam more freely, observe and gain a balanced perspective of newcomers and indeed the entire group and their needs. From time to time based on observations the coach may see a need to draw the group in together to explore an idea or entertain a certain theme or simply to practice a form/kata.

Essentially from day one you are not only being coached toward better Wing Chun skills but also to become a better communicator/partner/ person/community member! Stay long enough, train often and you will work with brothers and sisters at all levels including the lead coach. This method of coaching guarantees that everyone’s skill and understanding is progressively challenged every single session based on your personal needs. The guidance provided is based upon the student’s greatest need/weakness and only changes when the partner identifies a greater need.

This way of training is a fundamental training platform only and is by no means the be all and end all, but it does, in my experience, address more problems than it creates in the long term. Initially we may have been drawn to Martial Arts and Self Defense for practical reasons. In time however we understand that, essentially, the most important reasons for continuation are for personal wellness and joy upon which we can build personal growth. Without personal growth we couldn’t sustain our service to the community.

It’s easy to be critical of such an informal coaching methodology, particularly within the ‘Fitness Industry’ where training generally is all about how much you can get done in 45-60 min’s. I’ve also experienced authoritarian based coaching or should I say ‘Instructing’ whereby the Instructor runs every movement by the numbers like on a military parade ground. Don’t look sideways and don’t talk to anyone unless it’s the Instructor! There are definitely benefits to such training styles, for example a highly standardised knowledge transfer, and arguably quick learn times. However, this approach works best when mixed with other coaching styles to allow a collective contribution and experience where interpersonal skills are developed alongside the physical.

10 Ways to Focus your Coaching Environment

1. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Become the best coach you can and treat that separately and as seriously as mastering your specific sport skills. I don’t just mean going and getting a certification either. Commence every training session as a coach, willing to serve the needs of others. Willing to really reflect on the best approach for the efficient transfer of knowledge based on the student’s personality before your own desire to impart your way or what’s trending! The fringe benefit here is (and it’s a biggy!), as you learn to convey concepts and techniques to others, your own understanding and potential application improves beyond that achievable by mere physical repetition alone.

2. PRAISE EVERYTHING – EXPECT NOTHING! No ‘ifs, buts or maybes’. I originally came across this approach working with children having a generally shorter attention span and more primitive co-ordination. But after some years coaching, I feel it maybe equally appropriate to apply the concept to everyone. If you coach for a long time, you realise that your expectations can get the better of you sometimes, leading to frustration, even judgment and resentment. If you want a long, less stressful coaching career, then use the old SANDWICH analogy of Praise (positive), Constructive feedback, Praise again. Try to expect nothing and ‘MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS’. This may also work the other way in that if your expectations are too progressive for a student then they may develop ‘Student Guilt’ whereby they discontinue due to their perceived failure or shortfall in your eyes.

3. Listen. When growing up, we received formal education on reading and writing but not how to listen. Yet, when it comes to serving others (coaching), listening is probably one of the most important skills to have. You need to learn to listen with real focus, suspending all of your judgements and opinions. You also need to be listening not just to the words but also to the non-verbal signals such as body language.

4. Be Present. Prepare yourself by cultivating mind/body integrity prior to every coaching session. In this way you will be truly open minded and present well in your approach to session and any potential challenges. Even if you are a senior or a hands off approach type of coach, this should not be ignored. If nothing else, it conveys leadership and earns student respect. Specifically, this means strategic and logistic preparation. A well-considered lesson plan, theme, techniques, possible directions etc. Mentally and spiritually it means using visualization, breathing and self-awareness on the journey to address your own stress. Physically – on early arrival perform CV warming, Joint and muscular mobilization through light stretching, foam rolling and mindful movement.

5. Return yourself and student to the beginning/basics often if there is a plateau or impasse developmentally for it is (at risk of sounding cliché) ‘WHERE GREATNESS IS FORGED’. Along the same lines, don’t pressure yourself or feel pressured to progress a student if they haven’t grasped something to an acceptable level for fear of boring or losing their interest. Try looking from a different perspective or calling for others’ suggestions if stumped as a coach. This may seem like a coaching weakness at the time but will earn respect from the student as they witness you putting their needs before your own ego with a team approach.

6. Identify ‘DOMINANT MOVEMENT PATTERNS’ that underpin what you’re trying to have your students achieve for your given sport. A Martial Arts (DMP) example would maybe include the foot or bodywork required to gain a more advantageous position but would not contain the finishing movement such as a strike or submission. Then engineer a variety of drills, exercises or even better, games (fun things are always better absorbed) that can be performed safely in the warm-up period that encourage maximum repetitions. In this way you’re leading students specifically to the main body of your planned session creating a perfectly safe physical preparedness (reducing likelihood for injury). This all whilst providing a more effective vehicle to roll out potential subsequent layers of technique.

7. Understand that aside from the ‘Sport’ skills, it’s your responsibility as coach to also impart, import and/or allow the development of interpersonal and intra-personal skills at training sessions. After all, most participants in most sports are not going to the Olympics. Try a 5 min chat, sharing your own experiences or those of others that can benefit a student. For instance, how to deal with a certain problem in their life away from sport. In this case, drawing a distinction between ‘Failure at school or with a job application’ vs ‘Failing to try’ will be invaluable. Be careful not to jump on your soap box too often. Invite others 1st and enjoy a fresh perspective (be the student), continually evolve your thinking.

8. Edify those students with strengths in certain areas in front of others and admit their superiority comparatively to your own skills. Apart from conveying your own security, this encourages all students to observe and identify for themselves their own strengths and weaknesses and those of their peers. It will assist them to become increasingly inter-dependent rather than dependent or independent.

9. Use the 80/20 rule of coaching whereby a student is contained within an envelope of 80% success (max) and 20% failure (max) for most of the training session. Psychologically, the student is not crushed and is buoyed by regular success but is also challenged enough so as not to be bored. However sometimes when you are certain they have enough personal resilience/intra-personal skill, have them crushed! From a Self Defense perspective, this is very important to prepare them for potentially real life situations. They then start learning to manage the ’in’ and ‘post’ fight emotional issues.

10. Constructively Challenging is about not holding back but at the same time not destroying the relationship. Many people associate coaching with helping, which clearly it is. At the same time if the coaching never rocks the boat, it just becomes another nice chat. Playing back contradictions is a great way of constructively challenging. For example: I hear you want to test for a new belt but at the same time you seem to be resisting the commitment to train your forms/kata which are a mandatory requirement to grade successfully.

Ultimately, I believe we should always try and allow some less formally structured training time within a session. This will allow students to unpack the teaching, to explore, make mistakes (they shouldn’t be treated like robots), and invite creativity, intuition, natural movement and responses.

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