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Learning Theory and Methods

2 or 3 moons ago, we had mentioned the idea of discussing learning and teaching. Well, this article serves as a precursor to this topic. Grab some tea, make yourself comfortable and settle in for a while...

Before going on into the discussion proper, we'd like to highlight the fact that the mode and way of learning and teaching will not doubt vary across different Cultures and Dojos - so what we are going to discuss below are but examples from our Dojo. However, the underlying similarity should remain: that of the teacher understanding the students' needs, and contextualizing the knowledge delivery modes to suit their needs.

As one might have already guessed then, the center of this discussion is the student. In the field of learning theory, they can also be referred to as "target learners". For the purpose of this discussion, our target learners' profile are adults ranging from age 20 and up, can be studying/ working (full-time/ part-time), semi-retired or retired. Nevertheless, all have family commitments as daughters,sons, girlfriend/boyfriend, mothers, fathers beyond the Dojo.

Understanding their profile is key to effective communication and learning. As our target learners' profile are mostly young adults and up, the learning/ teaching methods take the form of an adult-learning approach (Andragogy). Some key characteristics of this approach includes 1) the learner is self-motivated to learn, 2) the learner brings with her/him some prior experience, and 3) her/his perspective are more focused on immediacy of knowledge application. There are certainly more; interested readers may like to refer to Malcom Knowles's adult learning theories for more info.

Some might be wondering what has this got to do with iaido. Well, in the context of learning and teaching within the Dojo setting, the student iaidoka generally would learn on their own volition with respect to point 1) the learner being self-motivated to learn. Therefore, the teacher mainly ensures the student learn the correct things (e.g. correct body posture, correct application of tenouchi, correct perspective of iai) while still allowing experimentation space for students to work out the wazas on their own after being taught.

Regarding point 2) the learner brings with her/him some prior experience, the teacher could tap into the students' prior experience for more meaningful learning. Some may think there is limited value here; given the students most probably would not have background in iai. But what if we could tap into students' experience to show how certain bio-mechanics should be? For example, the student might have some pre-conceptions on how to do nukitsuke. The teacher can leverage this by customizing the teaching to show how it can be better and correctly done - would that not make for more meaningful learning?

Last but not least, point 3) her/his perspective are more focused on immediacy of knowledge application. Students generally are keen to try out and want to be able to perform a waza as soon as possible. Perfectly understandable but, how to maximize learning?

Rather than explaining the long theory behind a given waza, one way could be to first capture students' attention with a show-and-tell demonstration of the basic moves in a waza. Then, let them practice and experiment, giving feedback on areas to improve. For certain there will be a lot of areas to work on, but that is only natural. Fellow iaidokas and those before us would know the amount of effort and practice put into perfecting any waza, and still, there will always be more to work on. Therefore, the key is to calibrate teacher's expectations on students' progress. Surely it is not expected for new students to achieve the level of finesse of iaidokas whom had spent years practicing. Seasoned Senseis know how far to push the students' limits, which areas require immediate attention, which conceptions the student can explore and learn on their own... all these come with experience and observations. Importantly, help the students learn by helping them anchor the key points of a wazas (e.g. posture for begineers), the rest will fall into place as the studnets practice and learn at their own pace.

Regarding the application of immediate knowledge, the teaching can be packaged as bite-sized bits of knowledge for student to practice as key takeaways. For example, if a student is learning Mae (1st waza of Seiza no Bu), the teacher can show her/him the practice exercise that can be done at one's own pace, outside the Dojo environment, without bokken. Such exercises reinforces muscle memory and help to quickly build up the core foundations not only in that specific waza, but also lay the foundation for all wazas to come.

So there you have it, a brief discussion regarding learning theories and methods. The next few articles will further expand upon the topic of learning and teaching.

If you are interested to find out more about learning iaido, do drop us a note and arrange for an observation / learning session.We hope this topic has been an interesting read. Till then, take care and have a good day.


Photo credits: Rachel, Serene, Warren

Disclaimer: The views regarding this article are the Author's general observations and experiences from ACTA and Iaido.

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