You and I

Formal writing practices suggest avoiding use of the first person perspective, feeling it makes the writing less objective. Generally, that has been a guideline for the posts in this blog. However, in this case, I need to speak for myself.

I am constantly striving to learn Wing Chun, and how to teach Wing Chun. In the quest to learn how to teach, I often evaluate the phrases I use. I freely admit I can be a bit foul-mouthed at times, liking some four-letter words, but I do teach mostly adults. Sometimes an expletive can add emphasis or generate a moment of laughter. Laughter is important in learning Wing Chun. It helps you to relax.

One thing I have been incorporating into my teaching is the use of the question, “What’s different?” I learned this from Sifu Francis Fong. An instructor can either tell a student what to do, or guide the student toward self-discovery.

When a student executes something without the proper structure or focus, the instructor can point it out, telling the student they should be doing x or y. What Sifu Fong does, and what I have been trying to do more often, is pair up with the student, taking the student’s role and ask, “What’s different?” Then we run through the drill twice, the first time I do the technique the way the student has been doing it. The second time I execute the technique in a proper fashion. “What’s different?” The student feels the energy, structure, or focus for himself or herself. The students discover the error themselves, as well as how to fix it.

This self-examination of my teaching practices leads me to wonder about a particular habit, which I would like to get some feedback on.

When demonstrating a concept disconnected from a student, either free standing, or against an inanimate object, or with another partner but not the students the demonstration is aimed at, I will often say, “I want to …” “I want to focus my energy here,” or “I want to be sure this is covered”, or some other point of interest.

The question is would it be better to say, “This is what you want to do”?

In the “I” instance, I am trying to provide a road map, placing no direct requirement on the student, again allowing for more self-discovery. However, that may also pull attention away from the students.

The “You” instance focuses attention on the students themselves, but may also have a ‘command from on high’ feeling.

What do you feel works best for you – your instructor saying, “I want to do this” or saying, “You want to do this”?


About Sifu

I teach Wing Chun, both traditional and practical, at KDA Karate Academy. I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager. In addition to being a Martial Arts Instructor, I am an author. My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge".


  1. This entry is mostly relevant to Teachers/Instructors. Read through it and feel free to ask yourself ‘What does this have to do with what I teach? ” It’s lengthy due to the technical nature of Behavior Modification. Read on I tie it in with people.

    (Edited by KDA)…

    Just as I help owners modify their dog’s behavior, the dogs have modified my behavior as well. These are qualities I would suggest anyone in a training/education capacity cultivate: Patience with a capital ” P”. Don’t be so ready to correct your student. Give him a chance to figure things out. Every dog is different, humans too. Some are more visual learners while others learn by doing. teaching is most effective when positive reinforcement is used devoid of any indication that the subject was wrong.

    A study was done with humans. Two groups of students were presented the same material in a neutral and quick manner. The students were led to believe they were participating in a memory test. The groups of students took multiple choice tests on computers to measure. One group heard a pleasant tone. The other group heard an unpleasant Beep when they were wrong, Of the students tested, those who got positively reinforced, 63% showed significant retention of the material. The students who only were let know when they were wrong only scored 33% and many were highly stressed some could not complete the test. Additional studies revealed that positive reinforcement alone produces students who learn more quickly and retain information considerably longer.

    • Dog-Guru:
      Thank you for reading and sharing.
      Your passion for your work is apparent.
      Let me openly state I edited a good bit of your comment, as I did not feel it directly applied. Operant Conditioning, while somewhat applicable in Teacher / Student relationships, it is not as direct. In the case of Martial Arts, often the “negative reinforcement” does not come from the Instructor (equivalent of the pet owner). It would come from a third party – an opponent in a situation disassociated from the teaching environment. Suffice to say there are some significant differences.

      To your latter paragraphs I would like to add / modify: There are 3 paths to human learning: Visual, Auditory, and Tactile (experience). Some are visual learners that need to see an action. Some must hear descriptions, reasons, or justifications. Some need to feel or experience.
      In reality, most humans are blends of these 3. One of the three provides an initial strong foothold, but for real understanding most people require at least a sample of the other two. This is especially true in the martial arts and why martial artists “train”, why dancers “practice”, and any number of other physical artists spend hours rehearsing.

      One example I often use is describing your (anyone’s) first bicycle. Your Mom or Dad probably spent a great deal of time talking about “balance”. They showed you videos of people and pointed out moments of “imbalance”, and explained how to fix the problem. But you had to get on the bike and FEEL it to get it. I will often also talk about swimming in the same way. I can talk about “floating”, you can look at me float, but until you get in the water you cannot begin to understand the concept.

      Training the martial arts are much like that. I can show you a technique. The visual learner will fix on the moves. I can explain the technique. The auditory learner will understand the concept. The tactile learner has only a blurry concept at this point. However, it can also be argued that both the visual and tactile learner’s concepts are also blurry. Only when they all DO the technique do they get an understanding of how their weight shifts, how the weight of their opponent affects them, how position and structure are affected and effective. The visual and auditory learners require the feeling. The tactile learner needed the visual and auditory explanations in order to put themselves into the situation where they learn best – the feeling / experience.

      The question of the post is not so much how to transmit the knowledge, but how to keep the adult human mind engaged during the process. How to keep the student feeling they matter. That the training is about them, for them.

      There is no question that positive reinforcement is superior to negative. To quote Charles M. Schwab: “I have yet to find a man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”

      Thank you so much for your reply and input. Keep them coming. I am sure some of what is discussed here will relate to your interests.

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