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To Err Is Human

We all make mistakes. It is natural. The difference between a good student and a poor student is that the good one works to correct his mistakes.

A mistake is an opportunity. For the sensei, it is an opportunity to correct the student. The sensei can say, "you made a mistake." Or he can ask the student to perform the technique again and see if the student might realize his own mistake. Obviously, the sensei should not criticize or belittle the student in front of others -- "wow, you certainly are stupid to make such a mistake."

I always say that the students' errors are my errors, not theirs. Either I taught the technique wrong, did not ensure that the students understood it when I taught it, or did not correct the students when I should have. However you look at it, I am responsible for errors in my dojo.

I generally notice two types of mistakes in my dojo. The first is a simple technical error. For example, the student crosses his hands wrong (right over left rather than left over right). This is easily fixed. It is important to also explain why the hands are crossed a certain way. If the student was doing it wrong, he probably did not understand the underlying application.

The second error is in execution -- of body dynamics. This means that the student is doing the right technique but is doing it incorrectly. This is the more common error in my dojo. We are always seeking to improve our body dynamics. The mechanics we use change depending on the level of the student. Thus, we are always doing it wrong when compared to how we could do it if we were more advanced. Learning is an ongoing, continous process -- there is no end to it. What is right for a new student may well be incorrect for a more advanced student.

For the student, each and every mistake that is pointed out or revealed by the sensei should be received with gratitude and joy. After all, once you correct your mistake you will have improved yourself. How thoughtful it was of your sensei to give you such an opportunity!

A mistake is simply a mistake. There is no moral significance attached to it. Blocking wrong is simply incorrect -- it is not bad or evil. It is like watching the television. If you are watching the wrong channel, you simply change it.

What should you do if you are reading a book and come across a word that you do not understand? Should you skip it, make up your own definition (guess) , or look it up in a dictionary? Obviously, you should look up the word in the dictionary. I was writing a legal brief once. I was a brand new lawyer. I used the word "obviate," thinking that it meant to make something obvious. Was I correct? If you're not sure, please check out the definition at dictionary.com. It is a great resource.

When you are not sure about a word, you should look it up. When you are not sure about a technique, you might ask your sensei or seniors in the dojo. But don't just skip over it or guess. There are no foolish questions. Other students might have the same question. If you ask it, your sensei's explanation can also help them.

I will tell you something personal. Advanced instructors sometimes do not like to admit that they don't know something. If my sensei asks me, "do you understand?", I want to say, "yes." But if I do not understand, I should answer, "I'm sorry sensei, but no I don't. Can you please explain again?" There is no shame in admitting that you don't understand something.

To err is human. We all make mistakes.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin