Saturday, September 09, 2006

Taking Charge


For the student who has aspirations of becoming a black belt, I highly recommend taking an interest in teaching. Any act of altruism eventually comes full circle; by teaching, the teacher learns. But more than possessing knowledge, teachers are afforded a certain authority. They mete out the rules, decisions, and their consequences; they are responsible. This is what former US president Harry Truman meant when he said, "The buck stops here." Teachers are held as role models, and their behavior and actions are intended to guide, influence, and impart the right disposition and attitude in students. I believe this is an important part of the maturation process for the aspiring martial artist that should not be missed. If through instructing one learns, then through leading, one becomes self-empowered.


Genuine leadership entails becoming part of the group effort, not just putting one's feet up on a desk. Most of the instructors I've had through the years trained alongside the rest of the class. This dispells the notion that the sensei is on some kind of an ego trip. It also creates a sense of unity and camaraderie in the dojo. Training is still the way, even for long time practitioners. It's important to understand that leaders should not be dependent on the existence of followers, nor vice versa. To lead the way creates new leaders, not the need for more followers.

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13 Comments:

Anonymous BCP said...

Nice post and I agree because I find myself in this exact spot!

You don't realize how hard it is to teach until you try to break something down as simple as a round kick! I've done it hundreds of times and can usually do it without thinking.

I'm finding that whether your aim is self-defense, sport, or tradition, teaching forces you to re-think (and sometimes re-learn) everything that is associated with these things.

Even if you are not interested in teaching a full session I'd encourage you to talk to your instructor and offer to even teach a portion.

I also agree that it is good to see an instructor sweat along side the students. However, sometimes he/she cannot because the need to be able to watch everyone else. So shooting for balance here is a good idea.

~BCP

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Dave Shevitz said...

When I'm asked to describe what it's like to teach, I usually say: "It's like all the time I was only training, I was walking along a path looking at my feet. Now, I'm looking up and seeing everything around me." Teaching truly can open your eyes in ways unexpected, and your technique will never be the same.

I do notice a debate regarding training along with your students. I personally think a balance is needed. I usually throw my students several times during class, and try to be thrown by them in return. Yet, my focus is on their training and their safety; not mine. I've seen some instructors get so wrapped up in their own workout they neglect to help other students who are struggling.

As I've written about before, however, if you don't train with your students, you better still be getting your training in somehow!

10:18 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

I also like this post in regards to the teacher is the student is the teacher concept. Breaking things down also allow visualization enhancement which always improves the practitioner. Good post!

10:20 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

BCP,
Dave,
Mr. James:
Thanks for your comments. Many times, I've heard instructors say, "I never get to train anymore." It's true that if the teacher relegated themselves to the status of another trainee, their ability to run the class would be compromised. I could see that happening. So yes, there should be balance.

Breaking things down really changes perspective. I remember the first time I was asked to show kata to a new student - a form I knew backwards and forwards. I got halfway into it, and I just drew a blank! I'm sure this experience is common.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Windsornot said...

I guess we are on the same wavelength this week! ;-)

Being someone who is both still working towards her 1st degree black belt and is an instructor trainee (soon to be put to work teaching her own class soon-- Yikes!) and being part of a leadership program, it is important to remember how it is on both sides. I am not aware of any instructors who are not always training, even if it's just for the sake of training. Even the owner of my school, who is working towards her 5th degree belt, still competes on an international level, and only doesn't train as hard recently due to shoulder surgery (still recovering). After dealing with someone recently who is in our leadership program, but who is not sympathetic to a student who doesn't not get it and is not encouraging (I'm still pissed about it!), the differences of being a true leader or instructor and just someone who knows the stuff are clear.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous blackbeltmama said...

As a former English teacher, I can attest that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone. I know Romeo & Juliet like the back of my hand. That being said, I was asked last week to help a yellow belt with his kata. It was such a nice refresher for me and I really enjoyed it. I think I might like to teach karate one day or at least help out.

1:51 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Windsornot:
Not everyone should instruct. Of course, having a skill and possessing the skill to teach are not the same. Patience is a virtue, especially with new students.
----------
Black Belt Mama:
Since you found the experience positive, you could ask to help out around the dojo once in a while. You don't have to open a school to reap the benefits of teaching. (You really should consider some instructing, especially since you already have qualifications - most martial arts instructors that I've met never had any prior teaching experience at all.)

7:28 PM  
Blogger lizzie said...

What's great about my dojo is that the higher students get to teach the lower ones. I've taught a little, but that's because I'm still a 6th kyu. Some people have know how to teach very well. However, some people don't know how to correct the techniqe of the student. Therefore, the student doesn't improve.

8:08 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Lizzie:
6th kyu (green belt in most styles) is a good place to start some teaching. You don't have to be an expert to teach at a certain level, though.

11:24 AM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

Maybe so.

Sensei currently is overwhelmed right now with his kids class. He asked me last year to teach with him but.... ... pfff the kids class, ugh. I hated it.

If I truly have to go through that, I will. But I guess if I can go around it, I probably will. They simply didn't want to be there. And about 1 out of 3 doesn't want to be there. That definitely was not for me.

Adults classes are easy to teach. I love those. Is that part of the journey too? To learn how to teach kids?

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Dave Shevitz said...

I think teaching kids can be very beneficial to the instructor. You learn a lot about patience, as well as how to really project your presence (or ki power, or whatever phrase suits you). You'll also probably have an opportunity to hone any diplomatic skills, because sooner or later you'll have to deal with someone's parents.

That said... is it mandatory to teach kids? Doubtful. But there can be a lot to learn from it.

9:26 AM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

I'm wondering John... Me? I LOVE to teach. I quite thrilled to be asked to help during class.

However, I have found out that not everyone wants to teach, or likes to teach.. Some karate ka that I have met really have the inner motivation of personal training.. For example, I met a lady who teaches for a living all day, she told me that when she goes to the dojo, she would rather not teach, but to go within, and just relax. I can't blame her for that.

Is there not a place in the arts for black belts who would like to focus on their personal progress rather than sharing knowledge?

12:55 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Mireille:
Sure there is. Teaching can be rewarding, but it clearly is not for everyone. I certainly don't blame your friend for taking that position.

12:24 AM  

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