I was on a thread on Karateforums, and the subject of child prodigies came up. This was along the lines of child Black Belts, and which children were qualified to be Black Belts, and how high do we set the standard.
I am of the “Black Belt is the end of the road” cloth, while some believe that “Black Belt is just the beginning”. There is some validity to the “other” view. Black Belt is the beginning of the road for a new journey. However, the Black Belt is considered an “expert”, and you do not take students who lack the skill, knowledge nor expertise and award them with such an honor. You have to admit, what fuels this practice is income. This is due to the fact that the average Black Belt test fee is $250, and schools are graduating up to 100 new Black Belts a year. I believe that we should set a high bar for the students to shoot for, and then ask them to actually meet that goal. While we like to talk about martial arts training developing confidence and self esteem, what better way to build those things but by developing students who attain that which was thought impossible? The consensus seemed to be that many teachers do not feel that students are capable of meeting those goals, and alas! The truth comes out! Teachers simply do not expect much out of their students, because they just don’t think they can help their students reach that level of skill. They do not expect much because they don’t think their students can do it.
Or is it that the teacher himself isn’t capable of teaching students who are anything less than “child prodigies”?
Sure, any teacher can take a naturally gifted athletic child and make him into a champion, but is that an indication of a skilled teacher? Or luck of the litter? I have always maintained that a true master can turn any student–fat, skinny, cowardly–into the type of martial arts fighter they’d like to be. But the truth is, that some teachers just aren’t capable of teaching and molding every student. There are mediocre teachers, just as there are mediocre students, and poorly skilled teachers often breed poorly skilled students. Sincerity has nothing to do with it; it is a technical skill. If those teachers have never learned how to mold, and have never achieved great skill themselves, it is very unlikely that they will be able to develop this in their students.
The answer to this problem lies within the teachers. They must commit to developing their own personal skill and knowledge first. Teachers are frequently satisfied with simply achieving certification, and never putting their skills to the test. They make excuses not to compete, or spar, and really have no measuring yardstick to assessing their skills beyond who likes them and how many associations they build.
Good teachers often lead to good students. And if you look at the average classmate of most of these so-called “child prodigies”, you will find good skill in most of them, and you need to look not much further behind them to find a great teacher. “Child prodigy” is actually an illusion. When you see one, you are looking at a combination of good student, good teaching, and a whole lot of practice and dedication. To state anything less is unfair to the student’s commitment and hard work, and an insult.
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