I've gotten some great feedback over the last few days. Some folks like my principles first approach, but there are others who believe (very strongly some of them) that specific practices should be taught and mastered first.
Maybe I should clarify why I like the principles-first approach. Know that in doing so, I'm not saying that my way is right. In fact, I don't pretend to have all of the answers anyway...I'm only sharing what has worked for me as a teacher and coach.
First, I'll admit that a principles based approach has a major drawback...it takes time. You've got to plan and spend the time laying a foundational fund of knowledge and understanding. This is important because it's that principle foundation that we are going to build our technique upon. This can sometimes look like me giving a mini physics or kinesiology lesson so that we understand the natural order of movement. Once we understand the principle involved, building our technique becomes a continuation of what occurs naturally.
Here's an example that I walk through with every new student when working on our roundhouse kick (mawashi geri):
When learning this kick, it's important to open the hips. We do this by turning the foot of the base leg outward. "Open your foot." "Pivot on your base leg." It would be incredibly simple to drill the step of turning that foot to throw the kick a million times. I believe though, that in doing so, there will always be a part of the mind engaged in the task of turning to foot outward in order to open the hip. One of our goals is to train and execute without having to think so much! So, to teach the principle of turning the foot outward, here's little activity I want you to try:
Get up. Whether you're on your phone or at the computer, I really want you to stand up and try this. Now, stand with your feet shoulder width apart...be comfortable standing. Now take your left foot and turn it outward, about 90 degrees.
Stay in this position for a moment. What do you feel? Likely you feel the tension running through your left knee...tension that your body doesn't like. So now, put your weight on that left foot so that you can lift your right foot off of the floor. What happens? Did you notice how your body naturally wanted to correct that tension by rotating everything so that you face to the left of your original position? So what is the principle I use to teach the mawashi geri; it's this:
Your body doesn't like tension, but sometimes we have to create tension in order to make progress.
Those of us with more life experience know that principle pervades every part of our lives. Want to grow professionally? Create positive tension. Want to grow stronger physically? Create positive tension. Want to grow relationally? There's going to be tension...see it as an opportunity for growth and progress.
Real karate...budo karate is about the perfection of character. I want everyone who walks into the dojo to leave a slightly stronger person. Maybe I'm being selfish, but a large part of me lays down the principle first because I'm never guaranteed to have another teaching moment with that student. By giving a principle to guide thought and movement, my hope is that I impart something that will become part of an individual's walk toward forging a better version of themself.