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Training the Teachers

When I was a young black belt beginning my teaching apprenticeship, I was fairly sure that it was a racket when I was asked to teach.  Sure, I thought, you want me to teach classes for you for my “development as a martial artist.”  Hmmm.  Sounds like free labor to me!  Then I heard even more senior instructors saying that higher ranks were often granted based on contributions to teaching and the arts.  To a young man in his physical prime, that sounded like an excuse to quit training (which it is in some organizations).

And now I'm older.  Now I get it.  I just wish it had been explained more completely at the time.

As I work with my own students at the black belt rank, I do my best to explain this more carefully than my teachers did for me.  I tell my students that:

First, if you're a good teacher then you'll encourage questions.  Some questions you won't have an answer for.  Teachers must train themselves to be willing to say “I don't know,” to expose that vulnerability and acknowledge their own weak points.  This will drive them to examine possible answers carefully, talk to new teachers, read more books, and develop confident knowledge.

Second, when you do “small batch” karate, you will see a different kind of karate for every person in the room based on their height, weight, physical limitations and strengths, psychologies, and so on.  Rather than encouraging everyone to look like a  carbon copy, everyone will instead exhibit a karate that you individually tailor for them.  Up until black belt, budding teachers have been learning their own karate.  When they step in front of the classroom, they have to learn the karate, and teach the karate, of every person in that classroom.  They have to learn how to understand the physiology of the 6’5” former football player who blew out his knee in college, the very lithe and flexible Yoga practitioner, and the student who was just released to practice after recovering from shoulder surgery.

The two “secrets” above for converting your teaching into your own training are essential to understanding the importance of passing on knowledge.  We have to talk about these things with students who choose to teach because they have to understand their own learning process.  These realizations will not come without candid conversations about how teaching others continues the path of growth and development for yudansha.

A coach overseeing a young athlete and a junior coach


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