Earn Your Keep (the follow up…)

By Njoli Brown

Every summer I spend about a month and a half out in the Northwest.  I’m getting my hiking in, connecting with family and friends, yeah, hard life.  But I also consider this the time where I earn my keep.  I hit my boxing training a bit harder, I work my silat, try to make the rodas and capoeira classes I can and I double up my gym time when I’m not in the mountains.

Back in NYC I have a fantastic group of students and colleagues who’ve been generous over the past few years to work with me as I develop and to dedicate their time to learning what I have to teach.  Now, I’m lucky in having some fantastic teachers who’ve spent years giving me the tools and the kind of support it takes to let me feel confident imparting their gifts.  But all this being said, the worst thing an instructor can possibly do, is rest on his/her laurels.  How many of us have seen the result? Too many.

Now this is obviously taking into account those with debilitating injuries, mental or physical conditions (ie age, disease), etc.  Even so, I recall an event where my capoeira teacher taught his workshop from crutches.  I also know a student who spent her year of physical recovery translating articles and interviews of old mestres from Portuguese to English.  I figure, the least I can do is model the kind of consistent growth I ask of my students.

So, what does that look like.  No, it doesn’t have to mean an extra 4 days a week at the gym or a complete overhaul of your training regimen.  But what it does mean, is taking a good look at the holes in your game and exhibiting the kind of diligence it means to clean them up. Conditioning slipping? Perhaps show up that 20 minutes before class to jump rope (low impact on the knees and high return on the effort).  Be okay with showing your students what it looks like to work before you work.  Feel like you’re losing those fast hand mechanics?  Get yourself to a boxing gym and ask folks who know the science to help you clean up your technique.  Speed is as much muscle elasticity as it is strength. When was the last yoga class you hit.  Local community center… free.  Maybe I’m hurt and out to the physical game for a while but am I innovating in ways to train my mind?And maybe, just maybe, you need a reminder of what it’s like to not be good at something.

Push yourself, find the time and earn your keep.
*Thoughts? Suggestions? Definitely kick them down.

Viva, Treinel Yehnana!!

A lot of the new heads in Capoeira Angola might not know her name but a lot of the legacy of powerful black women making strides in the game is due to her. I had the good fortune to share space with her during this trip to New Orleans and it came rushing back, the memory of her as a figure who refused to give up her personhood for the sake of hierarchical structures and who represented a powerful womanhood in a game that required an often confusing mixture of boldness and humility. In many ways she embodied and continues to embody the canonical elements of struggle and perseverance that our capoeira songs espouse.

I hope that our young and old angoleiros will come to recognize we don’t have to look so far back to find heroic figures and will look to our peers, at times, to find leadership, guidance and mentoring. For an array of life reasons some of these people are no longer in the roda but they’re always in the “roda.” Viva Yehnana! http://ow.ly/i/jO8j1

A Teacher’s Gratitude

So I just returned from another trip out to the Philippines.  This trip was, for the most part, a training endeavor for my practice in the Filipino martial arts but on every count it was spectacular.  Not only did I feel my learning expand day by day but, as well, in the company of some pretty fantastic people, I had the opportunity to explore the region in a way that was completely new to me.

So much knowledge was being shared student to student, teacher to teacher and teacher to student.  I felt I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge an aspect of teaching that can sometimes be overlooked.

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Tuhon Nonoy & Guro Njoli

Common knowledge, teaching can be extremely difficult.  Not only that, it is often one of the most culturally, and definitely financially, undervalued professions in our society at large.  But I wanted to speak not only to the amount of respect and gratitude that our educators deserve, but also of the special role that gratitude plays in effective teaching.

Although the training was often hard driven under intense heat and uncertain sand, the words I consistently heard from instructors were “thank you.”  Seems like such a small thing.  But being acknowledged for our presence, our time, our acceptance of our faults and shortcomings, created a recognition that the teacher acknowledged as well their own humanity and reliance on us, as participants in their process.

Over the past year or so, in every class I do, no matter how difficult, I’ve been trying to be more and more diligent about beginning with thanks and ending with the same amount of gratitude.  Teaching is only itself with the presence and attendance of students.  Optimal learning happens when teachers allow themselves to learn and to access their own human connectivity and when students find themselves connected to the process.

Additionally, not only can we create available spaces in which students can learn, but educators must also, provide tools so that learning peers and community members can demonstrate gratitude by supporting a matter of growth which will ripple effect throughout the environment.

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Sign language insert in the menu of a local Palawan restaurant

One evening we went to a local restaurant to commune and to bond.  As we entered I noticed that on almost every wall there were posters of American Sign Language.  It was curious but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why this was relevant in the context of all the random kitsch wall adornments.  When we sat and I found another copy of the sign alphabet inserted in the menu I was so impressed, in reading closer, to find that it was meant as a tool for clients to use in support of the staff members who were deaf and hard of hearing.  Such a profound demonstration of gratitude!  We do not just hire deaf staff members, we don’t just hold the expectation that they will completely accommodate a hearing culture, but we also give our community tools and insight into the importance of broadening our vision of who makes up our society .

All of this said, it can be an important thing when we recognize that positive actions can influence and inspire in ways that read as actual visible productivity.

 

In The Red Rocks

It feels like sand in the air and and the bristly needles of every bush make raspy, rough sounds against my jeans.  The ground feels deep.  Much deeper than depth, like deep richness, full of soul and old blood.  Dry in the wind, there are sounds, like birds, like voices, like calls. Cool in the lungs.  I’m mindful of keeping my tread light.  The scents are sharp and cut through one another.  Crisp like danger and welcome.

Washington, You Break My Heart

Washington breaks my heart

It breaks my heart with its beauty

It is heart breaking hard and is protected with pillows wrapped in solar panels and decorated with barbs

It holds my love

robes it in bicycle chains and forgets itselfForgets that it is stitching with cold and water and kisses.

Washington breaks my heart

when it won’t let itself be whole

when it cuts itself to pieces

when it loves itself

when it liberates itself

when it riddles itself with caves and hidden places

and broken ladders

-Njoli-

 

Spring Into Summer, Summer to Fall: The Bridge Between Camp and School

By Njoli Brown

I first started teaching out in Seattle about, I’d say, 14 years ago.  I worked in a small independent elementary school (Happy Medium Craig-SeasholesElementary aka The Giddens School) and, over the course of a few years, worked in almost every possible capacity, co- teaching, after school programming, special programs, 4th grade, 5th grade, kindergarten.  It was a wonderful place to learn the craft of teaching.  I was surrounded by amazingly dedicated and inspired teachers, most of whom, seamlessly integrated their own creative, artistic selves into the task of designing curriculum.

Now, I’ve never been much of a non-worker so, during our summer breaks I’d search out gigs where I could simultaneously work and still feed my desire to explore and to spend time in beautiful places.  The idea of working camp just dropped into my lap. It was all of those things at once, existing in places all over the world and with a direct developmental relationship to the kind of capacity I wanted to build, inspiring young people to discovery.

Again, I’ve done the range of camp gigs.  I’ve been a backpacking lead, athletics director, youth development director, program developer, etc. and in all of those things it’s occurred to me this special potential, this bridge where learning can happen in the midst of a time where young people feel liberated to truly be themselves.  Camp experiments with creating the illusion of boundlessness while maintaining the boundaries that keep spaces safe.  At the same time they often miss the teachable moments because they are blinded by the lessons they imagine their charges should be learning.  high ropes course

Perhaps it’s because of the majority number of inexperienced, although tremendously energetic, staff.  Maybe it is because of the precarious balancing act the administration has to play in order to protect its revenue stream, by sustaining the “care-free” ideal.  It could be a discomfort with or lack of capacity to train staff to recognize teachable moments and not to shy away from them.  Whatever the case may be, when I see camp really working, it is a marvelous thing.

I spent a couple of years working with a summer program called Morry’s Camp.  The interesting thing about this project is it’s integrative goal of providing an exciting outdoor experience while recognizing the importance of making space for a social justice component, an academic tutorial piece and career internship opportunities.  During the school year they arrange for meet-ups, field trips, etc. and, by doing this, they recognize the student as a fully rounded being and introduce a new perspective on “year ’round” education,” making recreation and emotional development an equivocal part of the process.  There is a true sense of dedication to the youth as a “camper,” a scholar and a part of society at large.

There are other programs which do this successfully (i.e. Outward Bound, SIT: World Learning) and as many which view summer programs as a chance for kids to “get away from it all.”  I’m not one to say which of these perspectives is wrong or right but solely to draw attention to the possibilities.

School, as well, has been an experimental process highed-nodewith as many  iterations as there are students to teach.  I think it’s become fairly recognized
that, nationally (and I speak in general terms), schools model themselves as much in relationship to  the evolution of student thinking as they do in relationship to the type of thinking that is required for the era, whether this speaks to market or social requirements.
This being said its been quite a while since the production line model of education has been an appropriate metaphor for real world success.  Alternative classrooms are not the end all and be all.  In fact, at times they can be as exclusive as they are inclusive but a holistic perspective on teaching engages the array of different “intelligences” which are required to share an educational space.

The bridge between camp and school.  Historically they have been seen as a relief, one from the other.  But many of the things that make each wonderful, individually, could be a welcome addition to the toolbox of the other.


 

Be on the lookout for my article later this season…

Who Camps?  The racial, social, economic divide in the summer camp experience. who camps

 

The Mentor & The Grandmaster

This video is such a joy to watch.  Yes, of course, the eskrima is at such a level that it couldn’t be anything but beautiful. Just as much, I was taken in by this interaction between teacher and student.  There is palpable connectedness, love and respect.  From both, the side of the teacher and that of the student, one of the lessons that takes longest to learn is the ability to truly “see” the other, but developing that capacity seems like one of the most worthwhile things we can gain out of our martial practice.