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Thread: Long-distance learning

  1. #1
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    Default Long-distance learning

    This is kind of an abstract topic, but I wanted to get some people's opinions on learning the sword arts long-distance from one's chosen instructor. The first thing we always tell people to do when they become interested in the Japanese sword arts is "find an instructor." If one isn't available in the area, it becomes "find one who'll let you visit and train with him/her occasionally."

    So then assume a willing instructor is found, far enough away that weekly (or even monthly) visits are not permissible. How far can a student or group of students get operating this way? Iaido is probably one of the most lenient when it comes to this scenario, since so much of it is solo practice; most other arts require partner interaction, so lets assume a small group situation, all roughly the same skill level. How much is lost by not having constant supervision by sensei and sempai? How does it change based on the skill level of the student(s)? Will there be umpteen nuances of the art that will most likely never be picked up?

    Anyone else care to think out loud?
    Ric Flinn

  2. #2
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    Default

    I can only speak from a kendo POV. I think such a program could be done using videotape instruction tailored to stages in the progression. The instructor makes a tape, demonstrating techniques with a senior student or other instructor. Show correct form. Show common mistakes. Now require the students to practice those techniques, and only those techniques, correcting each other based on what they've observed on the tape. This won't work well with a one-student group, you need immediate feedback and it's hard to tell for yourself what you are doing wrong.

    After one month has passed, ship a tape of the students performing the techniques to the instructor and have him provide another tape. He may choose to elaborate on the techniques already given, or provide new ones to work on or whatever seems appropriate based on the progress of the students. He can also provide individual criticism. This sort of interactive tape exchange, paired with a dedicated study group, could produce some success. The important thing is to exchange tapes often enough so that the study group doesn't develop bad habits that are hard to correct. Similarily it's important that the study group doesn't decide they're bored with this month's homework and work on things they haven't got instruction for.

    This will work way better than just having a tape of the kata or techniques. However it's not as good as an instructor who can watch a student with a dozen problems in the waza, and correct the majority of them with one piece of advice at the root of the problems. Better than nothing if people really want to learn, though.
    Neil Gendzwill
    Saskatoon Kendo Club

  3. #3
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    Default travellin' (samurai) Jack

    I have to travel six hours each way for iaido lessons. In the two years or so that I've taken lessons, I've definitely improved and am testing for shodan sometime in the spring. I am willing to accept the idea that my training could have gone faster had I regular contact with my instructor, but nevertheless, I'm still learning.

    Training seems to involve a number of factors, such as attitude, committment to the course of study, willingness to practice during "off-times," etc. Problems naturally arise during training and so long as some of these basic elements are there, they probably can be overcome. I think things like kendo or judo are much more difficult as they require a partner to learn, but I have no personal experience in this.

    Personally I am committed to learning swordsmanship no matter what. I practice 5-6 days a week, sometimes everyday, because I want to learn. I know people who live near the iaido dojo who don't practice nearly enough.

    I think it definitely helps to have a supportive sensei (like John Ray) who takes extra time out of his schedule to teach me while I'm there and it definitely takes some student-teacher contact. Viedotape just doesn't cut it as a primary instructor to me--only as an aid when the teacher isn't immediately available to answer things like "which foot is forward, again?" and such.
    --Neil Melancon--

  4. #4
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    Ric,

    I am flying into Des Moines to teach a kenjutsu seminar this weekend. You can find more info at http://www.dojoofthefourwinds.com/ohio_seminar.html

    Regards,

    James
    James Willliams
    Kaicho
    Nami ryu

  5. #5
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    Originally posted by James Williams
    Ric,

    I am flying into Des Moines to teach a kenjutsu seminar this weekend. You can find more info at http://www.dojoofthefourwinds.com/ohio_seminar.html

    Regards,

    James
    Hi James,

    Thanks for the pointer. I'm already planning to attend, so I'll see you this weekend. I haven't heard any details about what will be covered, so I guess I'll just be surprised.
    Ric Flinn

  6. #6
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    Ric,

    Me too.

    James
    James Willliams
    Kaicho
    Nami ryu

  7. #7
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    We provide a 'correspondence course' (tsushin koza) because even though Japan is a small country, many locations are far (in time it takes to travel) from big cities and even farther from iai dojo.
    The course includes 2 videos of all the kata as well as pamphlets with photos explaining all the basics. Sensei travel all over Japan on a monthly basis visiting students, and students travel several times a year to join in seminars, testing, etc.

    The biggest issue w/doing this, I think, is if you have long periods of time without instructor feedback you may lock yourself into bad habits, especially at the very start of training. Once the basics are reasonably wired in (i.e. even if you can't do it correctly you can tell when you are/aren't doing it correctly) then practicing on your own with say monthly visits to a dojo/sensei is quite reasonable.

    May take some time to advance, but it's not a competition so who's counting?

    regards,

    renfield kuroda

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    Default

    Renfield,

    Is your correspondence course in Mugai Ryu?

    Best regards,

    Flemming Madsen

  9. #9
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    Here's a few more details about my situation.

    I've been training in iaido, religiously, for about 3 years. The instructor of our group trained for a handful of years (not sure how many) before moving here, and not being able to find an instructor here himself, continued training and allowed others who were interested to train with him. He is a very good instructor, very dedicated, and I owe a lot to him, but he acknowledges that there are countless details which need clarification.

    We have found an instructor who is willing to work with us, but I don't know to what level, since I haven't spoken with him personally. I have no doubt that the quality of training he would provide is top notch, but the problem is his dojo is a long distance away. The best case scenario, a couple of us will get there a two or three times a year, for a few days at a time. As I said, I don't know to what extent this dojo is willing to help us, but I got the impression that they weren't exactly bending over backwards.

    So we're beyond the beginner level, well into intermediate. My impression is that things are going to get tricky as we try to continue forward. Any thoughts?
    Ric Flinn

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    Default

    Hi Ric,
    You never say what you are practicing, but it seems to me that your situation could be made to work. A couple of pieces of advice though ... You will undoubtedly be told that some things you are doing are wrong and to change them. Do your best to do just that. Whenever anyone from your group can make the trip for training, be sure that they tape the entire training session. This way you can all see the corrections and advice that are given. Thank the instructor for going to the time and trouble to help you. The vast majority of decent instructors in the Japanese Sword Arts teach for various reasons of their own, not to make a living. It is a large pain to try and teach a group long distance, and the fact that he is willing to help says a lot about the gentleman. A small gift for his help is entirely traditional, and would probably be in order.

    Cheers,
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

  11. #11
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    Originally posted by Seishin
    Renfield,

    Is your correspondence course in Mugai Ryu?
    Yes it is; Mugai-ryu Iai-hyodo.

    Regards,

    renfield kuroda

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