In this episode of the Handstandcast we have a solo episode from Mikael, discussing his teaching journey: Going through his learning experiences in training and how that took him to teaching, how his teaching methods changed over time and what it means to teach and be teacher.
Want to have your say on the Handstandcast? You can now leave us a voice note here with your Q&A questions for Emmet and Mikael! If you have any specific topics you’d like us to cover, or want to send in questions for our Q&A episodes, please get in touch via our contact form.
S2E61 – Mikael’s Teaching Journey
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Transcript of Episode 61: Mikael’s Teaching Journey
Hi, and welcome to the Handstand Factory Podcast. A solo episode, just me, still in Turkey. It’s too tricky to make the actual conversations between me and Emmet run properly through internet that is unstable here. It is what it is.
Today I will talk a bit about teaching, and why I started moving into teaching, my transition from being only a full time performer to becoming interested in teaching, and the skills that I’ve attained along the way to help me facilitate teaching and so on. There will be reflections and thoughts around that.
When it comes to teaching as a concept, it relates directly to learning. If you listen to this podcast, you’re probably interested in learning, in some aspect or other. Most people are, but some like to intellectualize more than others. Some like to just intuitively try things and learn them.
I think it’s safe to say that learning is generally healthy for your neurology and brain and character and self development and what not. It’s a part of what allows you to experience new things.
First of all, I was interested in that, in learning things and understanding how to approach them. That came in the teenage years, when I started doing karate and breakdancing and stuff. I suddenly saw that it’s possible to learn these things I thought were not for me, or not fitting my body, or general limiting beliefs that are simple to build up through the years.
As I started to really experience that I can do something about this, get good at something, that sparked it.
As a tangent, I despise those sorts of get rich quick ideas of just getting rid of limiting beliefs and everything is fine. It’s not like that. If you want some sort of real depth understanding of how you relate to these things, you have to experience them. It will likely take you a lot of time to learn about how you perceive and learn things best. You might have to try a bunch of different things.
You can’t be too afraid to fail, but also having a large hubris won’t help you either. You have to find the balance between that. When I was learning, I got increasingly interested in how learning worked in general, extrapolating that into a wider format, and then being able to apply that and teach others.
My first teaching experience was in karate when I was 16. There was a shortage of higher degree or grade people in my club in my tiny hometown. The teachers asked if I would be a replacement teacher, in case they didn’t come. They saw that I was there notoriously, and was always practicing.
I started teaching then, a little bit, very limited. I would basically repeat the same vocabulary we had been taught. I wasn’t adding much to the mix, but I was 16 and very happy to be able to try this, and gain the trust of leading a group. It worked out reasonably well. I enjoyed being in that position.
Of course, you are leading and facilitating an activity. You need to know what is going on, what you’re trying to achieve, and you can’t step outside the boundaries of the level of knowledge you have, and so on.
It was interesting to be able to try and experience it.
Looking at how I later got into actual teaching, on a professional level, this had a big impact. I was exposed to it in an early age from a simple format, which then got more and more complicated and geared towards my specific interests, as they developed and I became an adult.
I’d been doing breaking for a bunch of years, and teaching a bit. My job in Oslo the last couple years was being a breaking teacher for kids when I worked for a small dance school that had courses for kids. It was connected to various after school activities. I’d go there, and they’d sign up and we’d have classes. I taught a lot of kids through the years.
I was also connected to this large culture house in Oslo. I also got to teach basic acrobatics, and stuff, because they needed an extra “circus teacher”, even though I knew nothing about circus at that point.
Basically what they needed was a person who was good at controlling crowds of kids, and I had become decent at that over years of teaching kids. It can be quite chaotic, and very different than adults. What I found to be effective was making it more into games or simpler and shorter chunks of information, no real intellectualizing, and making it accessible so everyone could do some stuff.
Make it a game, and reasonably fast paced, so you don’t have a couple running and going up the walls, going all kinds of crazy.
That also had a good impact, giving me more experience in the bag for teaching. Fast forward some years, finished circus school. Actually the middle of circus school was when I taught my first workshop, in Finland in 2010. I was invited to teach a handstand workshop and I put together…something. I’d never done a workshop before, but through the years of circus school, under my coach Sacha, I got more interested in how he was teaching, how I approached the same things.
I saw both the strengths of being in a circus school setting and that type of training, and also the things I identified as weaknesses, in terms of: you’re only teaching a sample size of people who are already extremely talented with high quality training before; on average, everyone has exceptionally qualified bodies for their disciplines, because they were chosen through the audition process, etc.
When I taught my first workshop, I mashed together a bunch of things I was interested in at the time. Some of it worked, some I got rid of over the years. My methodology and what we did with handstand factory has really changed this, but the aspects are the same stuff mostly.
Of course it is handstands. Even though there is no ultimate way of doing anything, slightly different approaches, and so on, in the end it’s handstands, all rather uniform. It all exists in a certain spectrum. You find very little effective training outside that specific spectrum.
If you want to learn the regular route of hand balancing: straight, one arms, so on; you’re not going to play hand ball to learn that. It’s too far away to get anything from that.
More similarly, you would not go to gymnastics classes either, if your goal was to learn a one arm, specifically. It would be closer to the thing you want to do, but it’s not exactly that.
Most people teach most of the same stuff, and I’d argue that the methodology is what is different between people, than actual technique. Most of the aspects are rather similar, if not identical in many cases.
Anyway. I got more interested in the details of the discipline, because I saw there were tons of nerdy tiny details. I started looking into anatomy, how shoulders function, information that was good, some was not exactly great when I look back at it. At least I started to get a wider understanding of how it’s relating to the body, and how bodies are not necessarily the same.
Some of the most important things that happened to me as a teacher was basically going out of the circus school bubble. Not everyone can handstand super well, or do a one arm in the circus school I was in. But most people, you ask them to get on their hands and they could comfortably get up. There was an ability level where if they messed around enough, even semi seriously, they might achieve a decent level of handstand because of all their other acrobatic practice and experience.
Stepping outside of that and seeing this isn’t the case among people that haven’t trained this discipline, just like I would suck if I went into a maths class, as I haven’t done mathematics.
When I taught my first few workshops, I did encounter a few problems, which I’m grateful for happening. People are not able to do a general..they were climbing up the wall as I was showing chest to wall handstand on my first workshop. They get to the top, and some didn’t dare to get up. They said, how do you get down if you fall over? I said, you just twist down.
I realized that twisting down means absolutely nothing to this person in front of me. I needed to solve that and find ways of handling various situations, which had become blind to me. I did not see them as issues any longer, because I had not…
Of course I’ve experience the problem when I learned, but didn’t feel the large fear of falling over. I hadn’t experienced the feeling of not being able to carry my bodyweight, because my arms were not strong enough, and so on.
I hadn’t experienced shoulders being too tight to do a kick up. I started seeing these things and understood I had to do work and figure out a lot of stuff, and start developing a framework for a methodology.
Back then, I didn’t call it “framework for methodology” at all; they’re words I use now, reflecting back onto it. Back then it was, “oh shit, I need to make sure I contribute something to these people coming to my workshops. They see me as an authority in the field and I need to be able to help everyone, not just the 5/15 people that already have what’s needed.” You can’t just tell the rest of the people to do push ups.
I wanted to have more intricate answers. It is frustrating and can be a very confusing practice at first, so I wanted better answers in general, or better approaches.
I was performing and in school at the same time, and I still found that teaching has become equally interesting. One of the reasons, that might sound like I’m being a good samaritan, but it’s really fun to do handstands, an interesting practice that gives me a lot. If someone can do that as well and enjoy themselves with it, that’s great. That’s the first stepping stone for the entire thing.
We both find it interesting? Cool. Then learning this might net you a bunch of interesting experiences. That is the number one reason for teaching and sharing.
Of course, it started to become a job, something I could start sustaining myself off of, because sustaining yourself as a full-time performer is not easy. It’s fine in your 20s, but as you start getting up in the years, if you need to be on stage constantly to make all your money, it’s gong to get rough at some point or other.
Moving onto a teaching role is quite common in circus.
I wanted to combine this, which made it possible for me to both perform – if I have another method of sustaining myself, it is more sustainable in the performing practice, because I can take breaks when I want or need to, because there is another source of income that is possible, not requiring you to get a 9-5 job where you are bound in a specific place and time, which is hard to combine with performing.
So this was an ideal scenario.
When looking at this entire thing, sharing knowledge and being able to teach, of course there is a difficult balance. A lot of stuff you can find for free, just going on YouTube for really good tutorials. There’s a lot of very good stuff out there.
We were talking about this on the podcast when we had Yuri Marmenstein over. You can literally learn it by spending $0 on the entire process. I respect that. That works very well for some, maybe not as well for others. This is why it is good having teaching and coaching alternatives.
A lot of people have different learning styles. The fact that some people are obsessed and nerdy enough to go on Youtube and find and trial things to become really good without any coaching, a lot of those people become very smug. “I am self taught. Check out how good I became.” You don’t need to put other people down just because they like to work with a different type of approach. It’s just different.
For me, for example, there are a couple of dance styles I’d like to learn. I will go take classes. I could probably et pretty good at it, just from YouTube and practicing through that. It doesn’t strike me as interesting as taking classes when I get back to Stockholm, for example. It’s different, and doesn’t mean you’re a more glorious person because you chose to do it in a specific way that suited you.
With Handstand Factory, when we started out doing our discussions around what and how and why to make this thing, between me and Emmet, we had similar or different approaches. But the fact that we still find it interesting to this day, that’s the most important thing to me. If I was bored of teaching or looking at scapular muscles and how they relate to this and that – if this was genuinely boring for me, I’d struggle to keep my interest up. It would just be something I do to make bank, or ignore on my free time, or try to not have in my life, to as large of an extent as I do now.
For people who teach or want to teach, it’s finding out one’s interest and commitment. It takes a long time to get good at – both learning and teaching it, unless you want to copy paste what someone else has done. You might earn some money copy pasting, sure, but are you actually learning something as a person?
To some people that’s important, and it’s something I value. I wanted to do some of my own approaches to things. Find out what kind of commitment you actually have to it. Give yourself a few years of being a practitioner. If you stick with this stuff for 5 years, genuinely having interest, you’re likely to stick with it for a while longer, and find the teaching process interesting.
It doesn’t mean you need to clock in 5 years before you teach, but it says something. It’s important to see if you actually care.
I don’t think you can know if you actually care, just by the initial kick of starting something. I think there is something important there to consider, for those interested in teaching various things.
Towards the end, I was thinking, what could you do to improve your teaching? All these questions regarding teaching. It’s a hard question to answer; people do this in different ways. A teaching situation is one where, it’s a social situation, in any regard. You need to become comfortable and secure in that role.
A lot of it is that, being in that state where you are reasonably relaxed, able to convey your thought and improvise a little bit. You might get curve balls, questions you didn’t expect, or someone who can barely do a push up, or hold their weight at all. You need to accommodate them when teaching; there’s all kinds of different aspects to it that are important to consider.
Becoming calm and confident in that position is important; it literally takes experience. You can’t be confident for the first X hours you do this. You might be nervous; you might be uncomfortable or not knowing what you do, and so on.
In general, teaching is taking on smaller chunks in the beginning so you can build that confidence without doing a large workshop of 45 people as your first ever teaching experience. Do some privates, teach some friends, try with someone you know. Anything so you can get to experience how you yourself explain to other people, and how the interpret and are able to use and retain the knowledge you share.
If I wanted to teach something else that I don’t teach, I would be in a good spot because I taught other things. I’d immediately try to scale back the size of the group, or other parameters. It’s new, I don’t know what I’m doing. I have to test my footing a bit before heading into full combat of it.
Then creating yourself a structure. Even with online students, I do have a structure or framework that is quite solid and fixed, reflected through what we do with Handstand Factory too. When I work with people, 1v1 or group workshops, I always allow this to fluctuate a little bit. I can’t always know how things will be. Being able to have smoother edges is important and valuable.
The more comfortable you become with your own teaching style, how you word things, you start developing your own vocabulary. It doesn’t mean you make up new words to teach, but you get your own mannerisms and become a character in a sense, in your teaching.
That is helpful, and leads me into thinking about approach…the specificities of how you as a person would teach. I teach differently from other people, because I’m not them. You start finding your voice getting clearer to yourself, and others.
This took me a while to understand, but it’s really about personalities. Some personalities click with others, and some not. I’ve had students that didn’t really get into the way I was teaching. I either had to radically change it for them, so they could take in what I wanted to give them, or there could even be clashes. These things happen.
Ultimately, it’s good. It gives you..teaching becomes a way of expressing. It’s not about being unique for its own sake, but studying something solidly so you know what you would like to say about it. If you know what you would like to say, it’s highly likely that you will express that in a specific way. You are not a photocopy of another person.
That is also what makes people interested in training with different teachers. They want to hear different words, try different cues, experience how someone else’s experience has gone through this process. I highly recommend for people to check out and train with different people. It gives you a wider understanding that this isn’t a one dimensional practice, as with all things.
There is also value in sticking with someone’s methodologies for a serious amount of time, so you can actually experience that. There is value in trying out different ways of thinking, as long as you are rooted from the idea that we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s more about modalities, words, expressions of how things feel, which might be more fitting to one person than another, people having different anatomies…
This has been one of my gripes with hand balancing. Too often, it’s been taking one body and extrapolating that onto everyone when it’s blatantly clear from anatomy that our bodies do not look the same on the inside, muscularly and for bone insertions and sizes and angles, and all this.
By definition, due to that, we can’t say there is one specific type of placement you can draw on paper that will be better for everyone. It’s more depending on the person. I surely know that when I started out coaching, I was much more rigid and specific. Some months down the line, someone showed me a video of the complete opposite, and the person is much better than me. Hmm..maybe it’s a variation, and up to preference, rather than being a robotic production line facility, where everyone needs to come out looking exactly the same. That goes against the artistic side, in the circus sense of things.
There’s a lot of different things into teaching and my reasons for doing it. Ultimately it’s fun and interesting to see when peoples’ faces light up because they got something. I recognize the feeling and it brings community and the ability for people to enjoy doing these things. There is no real higher value than finding joy in doing it for its own sake. That gives lots of fuel to keep it going, regardless if you become the best at it or not. It’s much more about allowing it to become a practice that you basically have a good and bad time with, and experience yourself from many different angles.
That’s the end of my ramble. Cheers.