For many of us once we get past the basics of learning kendama we never look back. When teaching others it can be hard to reconnect with the feelings of curiosity, determination, frustration, and “oh wow I got it” common to being a player starting out.
I recently had the opportunity to become a beginner again. A few months back, while moving some heavy boxes of kendama, I tore my right bicep muscle from my forearm bone. It required surgery to put it back together and though I can use my right hand I am not yet allowed to play kendama with it. Since I have to keep playing to get my daily kendama fix I needed to teach myself how to play left-handed.
Now for some of you out there that may not seem like such a big deal but believe me when I say that on the best of days my left hand has played only an assistant role in daily activities. Certainly it has never really been required to have fine motor controls or even particularly good hand/eye coordination because, hey, I’m a righty. Not only am I right hand dominant but also right eye dominant which might explain why left-handed play seems tougher for me. (If you were ever curious about which of your eyes is dominant check here to learn how to test yourself.)
Well it turns out that there’s a reason we have two hands and two sides to our brains; we’re supposed to use them. Apparently my constituent parts didn’t get that message because although I knew I could play kendama right-handed the right brain/left hand connection didn’t hear about it. Trying to teach myself how to play left-handed was even more disjointed than I remember the learning process being as a righty. My left hand consistently goes the wrong direction, the movements are much bigger than I intend, and some days it really doesn’t feel like it’s actually my own hand out there trying to catch the tama.
Suddenly I was getting aches in formerly unused muscles from all the practice, bruises from the misses, and head-aches from the knowledge that “I know I can do this but it’s just not working.” I was reliving what every first timer goes through made doubly weird because I knew I could do these very same things right-handed.
We’ve all had days where we have had a little less patience with newbies. When we have forgotten what it’s like to be in that new player’s shoes. The more I practiced the more empathy I developed for the people I teach and have taught.
My injury has given me new insight into teaching by refreshing the experiences a new player has while learning kendama. It has also given me the chance to hone my skills as a lefty so I am able to teach left-handers more effectively. While I’m still a long way out from a full recovery I look forward to being a better, more understanding teacher of kendama.
For me, the takeaway from the story above would be this: Remember and reconnect with what it’s like to be a beginner when you teach others. You’ll both benefit and the kendama community will be stronger for it.