As teachers, our job is more than simply passing down fighting skill. There is a lifestyle to being a martial artist that most students are unaware that exists, and can benefit even the casual student. When we accept our students, we should touch their lives in many ways, and give them more than the physical and combative benefits.
One of those things is to teach the student how to BE a student. Too often, our students think of themselves as the Master… the customer, who is always right. We must teach them that there is a culture within our walls that must be learned in order for the art to be learned. Otherwise, the student would only learn a piece of the art we have to offer. One of the conditions is that in the classroom–as is in any classroom teaching an exact science–the teacher is the Master. You must be the authority, and the students must understand this. It does not, however, mean that students may not question, but if you take questions you must be willing to prove your point to the student as well as the student must understand that you intend to prove the points you make. This leaves the burden of responsibility on your shoulders as the teacher to keep your skills sharp “for demonstration purposes” at least. I believe that too many teachers encourage free thought to the point that students cannot learn, as they are often busy teaching what they picked up along their short paths. This is in line with the saying that “one cannot learn and teach at the same time, as one cannot listen and talk at the same time”. We are the absolute rulers of our classrooms, and since what we are teaching our students will one day save their lives, they must learn as if we were the absolute rulers. This is the only way as students, they will actually soak up what we give them. Learning how to learn then, is one of the primary and most valuable lessons we should impart.
Besides teaching the students how to be students, we should also teach our students to become warriors. This role is more than just learning the art. They should also become the artist. This means an entire lifestyle change. They cannot study becoming a warrior while living a contradictory life. This means if a man has serious flaws, it will impact his ability to learn and grow within the art. The flaws I am speaking of can be of the following:
- physical–overeating, drinking alcohol, using drugs and tobacco, being a “party animal”, not getting ample rest and sleep, getting too much rest and sleep (becoming lazy), not training hard enough, taking shortcuts in training
- emotional–anger problems, pride and ego, arrogance, jealousy, self-centeredness, condescending and vindictiveness
- spiritual–dishonesty, immoral behavior (lustful, maliciousness, deceptive, an adulterer), one who is willing to hurt innocent people
These people can change, but if they do not change, they will never benefit from learning the art. As teachers, we cannot afford to say “this is not my business”. It is your business. The character of your students will determine the character of the teacher. If you fail to monitor or address these things in your students, you are a failure as a teacher to them.
We must also teach our students to make this art a part of their life, not just to be treated as an extracurricular activity. Yes, a strong martial arts program is a good substitute for a gym membership. But there is so much more to it that we are committing a disservice if we do not inform our students of what else can come with it. The more difficult parts of the art to learn: fearlessness, competitiveness, developing a sense of self-worth, true confidence that one can accomplish anything, the rejection of failure… these things develop quickly in students who have immersed themselves wholly into the art, even if they only train twice a week. The student, then, must think of himself as a modern-day warrior, not just a guy taking stickfighting lessons. I will post some articles on how this is accomplished soon, as I believe this is one of the most vital parts of a martial arts teacher’s life.
Finally, as teachers we must impart in our students the notion that the school and training is valuable to their lives. The martial arts school at one time was a home away from home. In my school in California, I still have students who had only spent several months training with me 10 years ago who will still visit periodically. They still call me “Guro” or “Kuya”. Some have moved on and achieved Black Belts from other men and teach in their own schools, yet they still refer to me as Master Gatdula. This is including the students who have left on what was then bad terms, in their minds I am always their teacher, and my school is always their school. I once had a student I expelled after discovering that he was selling drugs and some violent crimes. When he was released from prison, he came to my school before going to his mother’s house to apologize to me and some of our students. This is the value of a strong Master and school culture; your classmates are your family, your teacher is your Uncle and your school is your home. When we have cemented this notion in our students, you will then see a more committed student, who takes his training seriously and will represent you and your martial family well. This is the reason I have been able to function as a teacher for nearly 20 years without using contracts, and teaching the hardest classes around, with no belt system, a long curriculum, at a rate nearly double what my competition is charging. Value what you do, make sure your students value what they are learning, and everyone benefits.
Often I have heard teachers say that American students make poor martial arts students because of their attitude and approach to learning. I disagree. I believe that although the culture of America is not conducive to a traditional martial arts school being able to flourish, it is the responsibility of the teacher to teach this culture, just as you would teach a front kick or a disarm. You mold the students you want, as this is a part of the teaching process. With this in mind, you will have exactly the kind of school and students you want.
This is the philosophy of the old saying, “When the student is ready, the Master will appear.” Your students are just getting lessons, until they have learned how to become a student. Once we have prepared our students, the real teaching can begin.
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