Producing Good FMA Instructors, pt III

When I first began teaching, I was 15 years old and my Jow Ga Sifu, Master Dean Chin, had just died. Within our Kung Fu school, most of my older brothers were Sifu’s age or older and no one thought in a million years that we would be left with his legacy so quickly. A year earlier Sifu had told my Si Hing, Master Raymond Wong, that if anything would happen to him (Sifu) he would be responsible for my training. There was an agreement among us that I would be studying to become a teacher, and I was expected to be at the school every weekend, training for most of the day. The year Sifu died, Raymond had me teach the first half of his class and we would watch and talk to me about how I did. Soon, Raymond had me teaching entire classes and when he opened his school in 1987, I was one of his instructors (along with Sifu Craig Lee). The process of me learning to teach took about 4 years, longer than most people take to get a Black Belt.

Over the years I studied other Masters and Instructors, and their teaching methods. I noticed early on how teaching method directly affects student skill. Some teachers, like Raymond and Sifu Chin, seemed to abuse their students (this is an exaggeration–I am referring to the intensity of their clases), which resulted in highly skilled students. Others were too conceptual, and their students received no physical benefit from the training, only academic learning. One of my Si Hings, Master Rahim Muhammad, who taught the second class I attended at Jow Ga (along with countless more) treated children as if they were adults. He still gave information in bite sized pieces, but even today at 40 years old, I remember conversations he had with me when I was 12 about admiration, importance of practice, controlling one’s tongue–very profound lessons for an 8th grader. This is significant, because while others simply taught me technique because I was a child, Rahim actually spoke to me about philosophical ideas.

As I grew up, I observed how each teacher passed down his lessons and I would then reflect on how those lessons would be absorbed. At a young age–considering that I planned to be a teacher–I became a student of how to teach the martial arts. I read books, I read magazines, I talked to my Si Hings about their ideas about it. Years later, I spent countless hours with Master Boggs Lao, talking about his teaching philosophy. Boggs was an amazing teacher, because every single student in his schools was a good fighter. That was no exaggeration… every student.

During the year that preceded me opening my own school, I spent entire days with my Grandfather revising my method, and how I planned to utilize it. I was teaching for a Karate school chain, Kim’s Karate, and putting my ideas to work. In a short period of time, the students went from mediocre to fired up and kicking butt within a year. Some of these students had not trained hard for years, and within months they were formidable. Together, we drew the entire curriculum and method of delivery in a series of 3-ringed notebooks I carried with me everywhere I went.

Over the years, I added and took away and modified my method. As always, I put my ideas on paper and then reflected on it before instituting in the gym. This is an important lesson about teaching:

You must think about teaching–your curriculum, how you will teach the material, how the students will receive, practice, and develop the material, and how the lessons will be tested and refined. This “thinking” must be on paper before being thought through, then it must be thought through before being put to use.

Many teachers do not think of the art of teaching, and the result is that their students do not learn the lessons well. Of course, we begin with a good curriculum, but you must also have a method of delivery. Once you have identified your instructor candidates, talk to them about the art of teaching and give them a basic format… they will take it from there. I don’t believe that a formal course in teaching is necessary; about half of one’s ideology is self-reflection. However, you should provide input, commentary, and supervision.  I recommend allowing your students to teach classes while you observe, and doing this for at least 6 months and giving your feedback. As you “teach” your students how to teach, he will be developing his own ideas and methods in his mind and putting those ideas to practice while he is teaching classes.

The art of teaching, is just as important as the art of fighting–it is just the next level of development for the martial artist.

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