Non-Verbal Teaching - The Necessary Skill of a Sensei!


I was dong randori last night with some kid (a 7 year old girl), and as is normal for such a matchup, I was doing my best to avoid Osotogari.  I continuously kept pulling my right leg back, so that the Osoto would miss - hoping that my young uke would pick up on the lesson I was offering…

And indeed she did… for when she kept failing at Osotogari, she switched her attack to the leg that was close and not moving away from her - Ouchigari!  Naturally, I took a nice fall, and congratulated her on her slick change of tactics.

I believe that much instruction in Judo is done just this way - non-verbally.  For another example, I will virtually never let someone cross their feet in front of me.  Deashibarai awaits anyone foolish enough to do so.  And while I’ll occasionally remark that you can’t step across like that - I generally just let the technique teach the student.  It’s amazing how often people will stop doing that which gets them thrown.

Another little ‘trick’ I do is to push with my hands… and when some white belt pushes against me with their body - it’s Tomoenage or Seoinage time…  Then I do it again and again… until they catch on that I’m not pushing with my body.

Another example is when I run up against someone who likes to take a defensive crouch.  I merely snake my right hand over their shoulder, grab their belt, and force ‘em lower than they ever wanted to be.  Good Judo is done standing straight up… head up, not staring at your opponent’s feet.

I think that a great deal of Judo is taught exactly this way - non-verbally.  As the instructor, you have to learn to be consistent in how you teach this… and as a student, try to understand that much of your learning is going to take place without words.  I always try to teach as I do randori with students… it’s never just randori for me.  Much of the fun in Judo is to see if you can pass on what you’ve taken years to learn…

Now, on the other hand, I’ve been in classes where the Sensei would almost never say a word, the entire class being non-verbal as far as instruction goes - and I’m firmly against such a ‘tradition’.  Many believe this to be the essence of martial training - and perhaps in other styles it is.  But Judo has from the beginning had a strong verbal component to its instruction.  Jigoro Kano was extremely verbal in his approach to teaching Judo, and this is, in my opinion, one of the reasons that Judo did so much better than the existing styles of Jujutsu.

But if you’re teaching - keep in mind that it’s not only when you open your mouth that you’re teaching others… and if you’re learning, it’s not only when your ears are in use that you’re learning.  Of course, all of us are both learning and teaching… white belts are merely on one end of the spectrum, while yudansha are on the other end.  But think about this during your next class… non-verbal teaching is quite important!