They say that half of being a martial arts teacher is finding suitable students. I believe it is more than just filling up your floor with as many people as possible. Of course, doing so will add to your bottom line, giving you the income to teach without worry about financial issues. It also gives you the opportunity to provide your students a strong, stable environment to train in. I learned from teachers who did not have to worry about finances. They were old-school men who taught in back alleys (literally) and backyards. I have always said that my best friends throughout my learning career have been trees. While most students had an abundance of classmates and equipment available for their training, I trained on trees with padded trunks, banana trees (which have soft trunks), and palm and coconut trees. My teachers were able to pick and choose students, and often declined to teach many who inquired. Many of teachers of this caliber were able to produce the highest quality students, as they were able to put all of their attention and effort into a few students, and were able to train them exactly the way they needed to get the desired skill level. Sometimes, however, this practice backfired as many teachers died either unexpectedly before students’ training was complete–or they simply never found the “right” student. Ultimately, this old method of student selection ensured that no unqualified teachers came out of their stables.
Today’s teacher does not have this luxury. We have $2000 rents to pay, Yellow Pages ads, web designers–let alone mouths to feed. Students are fickle. They wave with the wind, are impatient, and often too lazy or too fragile to train the way we did. We must balance proper training against student retention and against the acceptable training methods of the time. We no longer have the ability to direct training for possible proteges because a student’s career or love life may interfere with their training. I, personally, have found myself holding back information because I wasn’t sure if a student was going to stay long enough. I have also lightened up on students if I thought he would be afraid of the training and not return.
The question is, how can we ensure the future of our schools, our legacies and our systems, if we cannot find the right students to prepare for the next generation?
Before we answer the what, we must answer the who.
I am going to break from the book (Good to Great) by interpretation of GTG concept “First the Who, then the What”. In the book, Who then the What is referring to finding the fight person for the right job–for every job–within an organization. This is somewhat applicable for the FMA school, because we must have the right people supporting a school and a system, not just teachers. This can be advertising people, fighters, face men, writers, etc. However, for this article, we will deal with “finding” the right teachers and teaching candidates.
Finding the Right Candidates
This is actually misleading. We don’t “find” the right students. I believe it is lazy teaching to rely on luck to “find” good students. Part of our jobs as teachers is to teach. We teach more than just martial arts; we teach how to learn, how to be a student, what to expect out of their martial arts training. In other words, we teach them how to be the “right student”. Often you may take on a student who is challenged physically. He may be terribly out of shape, he may be lazy, he may be afraid of his own shadow. He might be afraid to fight. He could be very tight or uncoordinated. He could naturally be weak. We could go on, but the mission for teachers is to develop these students into good fighters, and eventually, into good teachers.
So, my message to you, Guro, is to turn every willing student into the best example you can produce.
But there is more. Students must understand their role. They are more than just cannon fodder for your fighting reputation in the martial arts community. They are ALL in training to become the next generation of teachers and fighters. The advanced students must take an older brother role in the school and help mold the junior students. I have never been fond of the hierarchy used by many martial arts schools; this isn’t the military. Most traditional FMA schools utilize a family structure, where the Master is the father, and the senior students are older brothers and older sisters, and the junior students are there to keep the older students on their toes (as they are always on their heels). In fact, our younger students (younger as in rank, not age) address the senior students as “Kuya”, which means “older brother”, and “Ati”, meaning “older sister”. This is more than just respect, as your senior students are in training to become the next generation of teachers, and assisting is practice in teaching.
Lastly, you should stress to your students their role in ensuring the future of the school and the system. They keep their skills sharp because the reputation of the school rests on their shoulders. They must also be ever-present in the community to build their own reputations for their future. Your job is the build them up and find venues for them to be seen and judged–in addition to training them properly (hopefully this shouldn’t have to be said). When they know their role and their importance, the students themselves will know what to do to play in this role.
Every student should be molded this way. Whether or not they stay long enough to become teachers, your students–ALL students–will come away with appreciation for their time with you, because they had gotten more out of association with you besides swinging sticks around. Some students will move on and become teachers at other schools, but they will still have respect for you and your organization because they know what potential your training could bring.
The student is the lifeblood of a martial arts system and legacy. It is more than just income; they are the future of your art that will outlive you and the building you occupy. Treat your students this way, and your legacy will live on for generations.
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