Teaching Improves Learning

By Erik Hofmeister

In medicine, we have an (arguably broken) saying: see one, do one, teach one. This month, Ken, Susan, Hali, Jon, and I began work on our Martial Arts Certification for Instructors.  This program, we hope, will make us better teachers. And that’s important.

As soon as students are capable, I try to get them involved in teaching other students.  There is a lot of evidence coming out of educational psychology that indicates people learn better in a collaborative setting, when they can both learn and teach.  In fact, the lecture setup- where someone just spouts information at attentive students- is one of the least efficient means of teaching information.

I regularly learn while teaching. I distinctly remember teaching a turn in a Kyuki-Do form- the second form you ever learn- which had been a very difficult move for me to master.  After teaching it, I was able to conceptualize it in a different way which made the move much easier (I still call it the hardest move you learn in Kyuki-Do before your blackbelt).   If you’re not learning when you’re teaching, then maybe something is wrong.

I used to think that students would just know how to teach.  It’s not something that anyone ever taught me, so I never thought of it as a separate skill.  That is, until I encountered students who needed a lot of work to develop their teaching skill.  I realized that I couldn’t just launch students into teaching other students- they needed more supervision.   Now, I watch students teach and give them feedback to make them better.  The best way to improve a skill- ANY skill, which includes teaching- is to practice it and receive feedback on your performance.  I want my students to teach like they do their kata- not just adequately, but _well_.

I see students evolve all the time after teaching.  Having to explain the material and demonstrate it makes them think of it in an entirely different way.  I find that most students don’t really start to learn a form until they teach it.  Teaching students how to teach has the added benefits of expanding their skill set, allows the head instructor to effectively delegate teaching roles, and prepares the students to be instructors themselves in the future.  More students teaching and learning how to teach equals good.  Athens Yoshukai, the Teaching Dojo.

5 thoughts on “Teaching Improves Learning

  1. I wholeheartedly agree, Sensei Hofmeister. I like “Yoshu” as the embodiment of this to shodans: “You think you know Yoshu…until you have to teach it…and then you realize how much work you have to do.”. I also agree that the sooner a student begins to learn how to teach, the better, especially for shy, quiet or soft-spoken students.

    I am also in full support of a teaching certification, be it formal or informal, as long as the student has milestones to reach and can demonstrate ability.


    • It _is_ always super entertaining to have new shodan teach Yoshu to someone for the first time. 🙂 But, you know, THEY learn a lot as they do so! I always try to make sure my students have an opportunity to teach their higher-level kata. It can be a problem if you don’t have many high-ranked students for them to teach, though! We have done an in-house certification for a couple of years through AKF Athens. This year marks our first foray into a certification we could begin to offer to other schools. I hope it will go well! Osu!

  2. Osu! I fully agree with this article. Teaching has taught me a lot about martial arts and the ability to teach is one of the most useful skills I have learned through martial arts. Teaching has also improved my leadership skills tremendously, as I am now used to thinking about what needs to be done and then directing people to do it.

    I think teaching is partly so useful to one’s learning because you need to know more about a technique to teach it than you do to just execute it. For example, if you were to divide a hypothetical technique into to ten components, you may only know and have to focus on five components of that technique to effectively execute it because your body and mind take care of the others naturally, to such an extent you may not even realize they exist. However, when you teach, your students will likely have difficulties with some components that you were unconsciously proficient in. Therefore, teaching eventually makes you aware of _all_ the components of the technique and not just the subset of components you were familiar with previously. You can then apply this new awareness to your training to comprehensively improve all components of the technique and the technique as a whole.


    • I think what you’re talking about speaks to the fact that we have three domains of learning: affective, cognitive, and psychomotor. You can learn the psychomotor aspect of a technique, but not necessarily the cognitive (WHY are we doing it this way, is this the most EFFFICIENT way to do this, HOW could it be better?). Effective teaching forces you to at least consider those cognitive characteristics, which feeds back to improve your psychomotor performance.

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