Monday, December 29, 2008

Kickbox as you are . . .

Say you were flipping through an adult continuing education catalog, looking for a cool class to begin the new year. You narrow your choices to three: a fitness class consisting of mixed cardio-kickboxing, yoga and dance; a boxing class; or a self-defense course. Would you expect the same material, teaching style, or focus from all three?

Appears that at least one person has some association issues. In yesterday's Washington Post, columnist Paula Span questioned the language used in the kickboxing element in her morning fitness class. You can read the whole article here:

Span wasn't complaining of "bad" language. "Jan," the peace-loving fitness instructor, uses what Span calls "girlie" language to describe specific kickboxing moves. So, rather than describing a hook punch as impacting the side of a jaw and dislodging teeth, she'd tell her students to visualize clearing off the top of a dresser. What a more fighting-oriented class would call a knee to the groin move, Jan evokes the image of gardening, of breaking branches over your knee. And, according to Span, these descriptions work. They build on what the students, mostly middle-age middle-class women, can relate to and mimic physically. And it makes them feel comfortable.

Span's question is this: Should she be bothered by what she describes as a "sissy" approach? Her eventual answer is no, she's fine with not visualizing violence, there's already too much out there. Who cares if it may appear "sissy," as long as she and the other students are getting their workout?

Who cares, indeed? Which class is Span taking? Fitness kickboxing is, well, fitness-oriented. From what I can tell, Span signed up for a fitness class, not a boxing (sport) class or a self-defense class. Jan the teacher is thinking creatively of ways to get her students to execute the moves correctly. That's part of excelling at teaching: she understands her students. She builds on what her students already know to extend the physical skills to the fitness class. This makes for comfortable, effective, good learning. If she's seeing the appropriate results, great for her.

Now, if Jan was a self-defense instructor, then I feel she'd have to extend. She would have to ask her students to move beyond their comfort level. But by first connecting the physical motions to what her students already may know and can relate to, she's developing a rapport and trust with them that should make it easier for her to ask them to go past their comfort zones, and they are more likely to follow her to that scary place because of that groundwork.

However, she's not teaching self-defense. More's the pity, she seems like a good teacher.

I'm sometimes frustrated in how some (too many) women are so reluctant to consider self-defense as a set of critical life skills (other women have noted the same in other fields, notably Barbara Stanny and Mikelann Valterra on personal finance). However, that's what is. To paraphrase a famous Seattle band, students come as they are, not as I want them to be. My job as a self-defense instructor is to increase their awareness of self-defense situations and options, including physically fighting. Not all students will be gung-ho fighters; in fact, virtually none of my students are. My niche is encouraging these peace-loving women to acknowledge their own power and stand up for themselves and for those they love. Fighting skill, a critical tool, is not the only tool. Don't fight who you are, fight as you are.

1 comment:

  1. Now I wonder, should I be using more “fluff talk” in my kickboxing or self defense classes for comic relief?!? But I’m not sure I could tell a class to throw an uppercut like fluffing up a pillow without cracking up; not to mention that I’ve never fluffed a pillow this way. However, I do appreciate the effort that Jan the instructor put into attributing common motor control movements to the techniques she was moving.

    Hey, maybe more “fluff” will bring in the crowds? I make major scheduling decisions for my classes three times a year. During those times, I often wrestle with how to get the women in our society over what seems to be a collective “Cinderella Complex” and motivate them to take a proactive approach to their health & safety. Perhaps I should change my class name from “Fundamentals of Self Defense” to “Cinderella Gone Wild.”

    On a more serious note, self defense instructors do walk a fine line and should consider their choice of words. A good teacher will read the clients and using their feedback to adjust the tone. If a group that I’m teaching appears to be very sensitive, then I will loose them mentally if my word choice is too harsh for their taste. If the client base is of thicker skin, then they will not take me seriously if I talk too “fluffy.” I could even have problems getting their attention and controlling the audience.

    Being a from-the-hip shooter (and talker), I tend to say things as they are. Since I have gotten more compliments for my straight-talk than complaints for being to harsh, I will for now continue to talk like I do. And believing that more women should take responsibility for their own safety, I will continue to show one or two self defense applications in my kickboxing classes whether or not my clients expect it or want it. And likewise, I will continue to lighten up some of my self defense classes with a little music & some cardio. Shouldn’t being physically fit make defending yourself easier?

    If Span's wasn’t bothered by what she describes as a "sissy" approach then I wonder if the reverse would be true – Would Span truly be offended in my kickboxing class when I describe a knee strike as “introducing an attacker’s head to your knee?” That’s an open invitation to anyone reading this to come to one of my classes and let me know.

    DiAnn L. Stasik, M.Ed, CI-Ptr
    NWMAF, NETA & AWSDA certified
    W.O.W. - Women Only Workout, LLC