By Njoli Brown
First of all I want to start this by stating that I’ll be speaking from the perspective of someone who, when instructing youths, primarily works with young people in the middle to high school age range. As much as I think it is a wonderful exposure for younger students, I also realize this kind of instruction as a distinctive skill set and would say that my experience has been nominal and insufficient to give any expansive and well founded opinions. That being said, there are many people who see the instruction of youths as a part of the culture of martial arts. As in many cultural practices, young people hold the key to maintaining the legacy of oral wisdom passed from teacher to student. But are you ready for the challenge?
So, I’m going to break this down into 3 guiding principles. I’m sure there are many more which could be relevant to the work you intend but I’m going to focus on clarity, design & outcomes as the reference points to keep your program effective and satisfying both for teacher and student.
Before beginning you need some time to reflect on your intentions. This may seem like a given but it’s assuredly worth stating. Young people have a tremendous aptitude for recognizing your excitement, your enthusiasm and your dissatisfaction. It’s up to you to create a project that has the space to evolve unexpectedly and also brings you joy.
Is your vision to create a fitness program? Recent statistics have the rate of childhood obesity skyrocketing. Current count is something like 2:3 people are at weight related health risk in the Bronx and these numbers can be applied to communities all around the country. If this is your goal, kudos to you.
Are you looking at this martial arts club as an occasion to connect youths to a new kind of cultural engagement? Completely worthwhile. Every time we expose our students to new ways of thinking we allow them the opportunity to debate, to reconcile and to measure their own beliefs. By doing this they go through the practice of forming opinions and strategies which they can use in an ever more diverse and global landscape.
Is it real world self-defense? If you’re willing and able, I can’t imagine a better forum for talking about resolving conflict and facilitating conversations about violence in our communities. In addition, a self-defense class recognizes a very pragmatic desire on the part of kids and parents to look at the issues which threaten our safety and to think about how the incidents taking place in schools throughout the country are affecting the consciousness of students in the day-to-day.
Whatever your purpose might be. Think about how you are reflecting this in the framing of your sessions. Are you making time to process and allowing your students to voice their opinions? You are creating a community so that also means that at the same time that you guide it’s development, you are also taking it’s temperature and finding innovative ways of integrating the vision of its participants. Making time for conversation, both on a group and individual basis, is key to understanding the players and for gaining their trust as they come to also understand the things that you find important.
I am an advocate of the concept of flexible structure when it comes to planning. For your sake, the sake of your students and the sake of the institution with which you are working creating some short and long term goals for your project gives structure to your vision. These goals may change, perhaps because of the nature or number of students or for a variety of other reasons, but recognizing the necessity of a plan causes you to invest a certain level of commitment to every engagement you have with your group. It also allows you to find ways to weave deeper context into your sessions. Maybe you can introduce some supporting text. Is there some video footage? Are you planning a field trip at a time and place that is relevant to the stage you’ve reached?
In addition to all of this, I believe that my work with youths should be mutually supportive of parents and schools. Through deliberate design you can have clear conversations with parents about your process and can ask pointed questions regarding the hopes these parents have for their child’s participation in your project. You can also reflect on ways in which your work might inspire and highlight academic successes as well. Have you taken some time to investigate the social and academic issues your school system is navigating? You might be surprised to find the ways in which your work is reinforcing (or negating) the educational objectives of your wards. Learning the language and inquiring about the hurdles, obstacles and achievements of your local school system gives you an increased insight into the pressures that young people are encountering.
Designing a first rate program requires not only content. It
So where is this all going?
Some of your students will decide to stay with you for years to come. Some of them will be with you for a semester. Many of them will be with you for any and all the increments in between. Depending on the type of project you are developing, your planning should account for each student’s sense of closure or completion.
Even if this means only the completion of a phase within their development, involving and partnering with your group members in the creation and survey of your design gives a realization of the landscape of their growth. Performances are great, ceremonies are grand and most young people will carry fond memories of occasions when they have been publicly acknowledged in front of family and friends. But even if a large public event isn’t possible, an instructor should realize the import and gravitas which rites of passage hold. A dinner, a special workshop, the presentation of an annual photo journal, recognize growth and change and young people will often dedicate themselves to its continuance.
Outcomes? In many ways they are unpredictable. But of all things I think there is a common sense that we, as instructors, are trying to help in the development of good people who recognize their own value and their roles in the societies in which they live. This is no “kick flick,” no JCVD film where all the difficulties get sewn up in the end. Instructing youths in the martial arts is the responsibility of mentors, friends, brothers and sisters who recognize that rocky trails lead to beautiful mountains… and more beautifully rocky trails.
I’ve included the short bio below, solely for the purpose of providing a sense of my reference point and the mediums which I use for this type of instruction.
Director of Martial Science Macto Bicallis, Head of Kali MaBi, Co-Lead of FICA New York
Pekiti Tirsia Kali / Capoeira Angola
Njoli Brown began his study of Capoeira in Denmark (1997). After two years of intensive study with group Quilombo do Norte came the decision to study the Angola style of capoeira with a master (mestre) of the art form. In 1999 came a move to Seattle to train with Mestre Jurandir Nascimento who, at the time, had recently moved to the northwest from southern Brazil to start a chapter of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation.
After spending some years in the northeast of Brazil to continue his study, Njoli moved home to New York City and began his work to collaboratively establish a FICA group, along with Treinel Michael”Ligerinho” Kranz, dedicated to training this beautiful art form throughout the 5 boroughs. Alongside this he spends his efforts developing and facilitating a multiplicity of youth and community programs, both domestically and internationally, centering around the use of Capoeira Angola as a tool for inspiring community action and social justice.
Njoli Brown’s practice in the Filipino martial arts began in the Philippines in 2009 with a focus on Lightning Scientific Kali, under the mentorship of Grandmaster Vic Sanchez (Kali Arnis International), and ( beginning in 2010) Pekiti Tirsia Kali, under the guidance of Mandala Kit Acenas (Kali Makati). Over the years he has balanced his stateside practice between study with Brooklyn – PTK Elite and Kuntaw Kali Kruzada of NYC. Njoli has the great fortune to spend extensive time, annually in the Philippines for work and study and this has provided the opportunity to connect with the art in dynamic ways, physically, emotionally and culturally. In 2014 Njoli officially started Kali MaBi at the behest of his teacher Mandala Kit Acenas and works to spread the legacy of Pekiti Tirsia through classes and workshops in the tri-state area and the pacific northwest.
Awarded the title of Lakan (black belt) by Grand Master Vicente Sanchez of KAI in the summer of 2012.
Awarded the title of Lakan Guro by Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia Kali in the spring of 2014
Awarded the Yondan (4th Dan) in Bujinkan Ninjutsu in the summer of 2000