Professor Vince Bruni-Bossio of the Edwards School of Business earned the University of Saskatchewan’s Master Teacher Award at this year’s Spring Convocation. (Photo: Natasha Katchuk)

Honouring a sensei: USask Professor Bruni-Bossio receives Master Teacher Award

He is an inspiring innovator in the field of experiential learning and a sensei of martial arts. Now, Vince Bruni-Bossio is also a Master Teacher Award winner at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).

Now in his ninth year of teaching at USask, the associate professor in the Department of Management and Marketing at the Edwards School of Business, and director of the Edwards Experiential Learning Initiative, was honoured at 2019 Spring Convocation with the Master Teacher Award, the university’s highest level of recognition for teaching excellence.

The Master Teacher Award honours two USask faculty members each year who make outstanding contributions to teaching through a vibrant learning environment, positivity, professional growth, and leadership.

Bruni-Bossio said that his teaching style is heavily influenced by his martial arts training. He’s been training and studying the philosophies of a range of martial arts, including Aikido, Chi Kung, Tai Chi, Wing Chun and YiQuan for 25 years, as well as teaching for 15 years. To elevate the learning experience in his classrooms in Edwards, Bruni-Bossio ensures that his students understand the reasons behind exercises and assignments, creates real-life learning contexts, and walks together with students as they learn.

Understanding the why

“In my martial arts training, my sensei explained that learning the principles behind the various forms and techniques is far more important than mastering the technique itself,” Bruni-Bossio said. “My intention is always to help students develop a clear vision of why they’re being asked to learn or do something.”

Bruni-Bossio explained that the why might include learning basic principles for approaching problems, like listening before arriving at a conclusion, or seeing a problem from multiple perspectives.

“Imparting these principles is not always easy and requires self-reflection,” he said. “In my martial arts training, I would talk with my sensei afterward about what had occurred during practice. I try to create a similar space with my students.”

Real-Life Learning

Bruni-Bossio said his martial arts training, coupled with his extensive work as a consultant, have honed his skills for navigating highly intense situations, keeping him focused and alert. He doesn’t believe the classroom is separate from the real world, but rather represents an important preparation ground.

“In my teaching, I create a practice space similar to a martial arts dojo where students can demonstrate their abilities with the understanding that failure is part of the process,” said Bruni-Bossio, who earned his Master of Business Administration at Edwards in 2010 and received the Provost’s Outstanding New Teacher Award at USask in 2016. “Students aren’t just learning skills, but also developing their confidence.”

Walking Together

“In my experience, the most difficult part of learning is starting the process,” Bruni-Bossio said.

He noted that in the Japanese martial art of Aikido, the process of Irimi is the understanding that one must enter into a mindset to deal with an opponent or situation.

“To help students overcome the discomfort of entering a new process, I strive to help them start with confidence,” Bruni-Bossio said. “My goal is to walk with students through their concerns, with the learning process being driven by their questions.”

That also helps students become comfortable with not knowing all the answers.

“I want to empower students with the knowledge that they may not have all the answers but they do know how to find them,” he said.

This type of apprenticeship learning comes directly from his experience with martial arts, both being a martial arts teacher, and from his own sensei, Bruni-Bossio explained.

“Sensei literally means a person born before another or, as my sensei explained, the one who walked before,” he said. “It reflects the idea that the teacher has experienced the same learning process and therefore can be trusted to lead the way.”

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