Producing Good FMA Instructors, pt IV

When I was a young man, I knew only one method of living the martial arts, that of a young martial artist and fighter. Because of my exposure to older masters who still kept their skills up–including many who still fought (like Lemuel Talley, Billy Bryant, and James Wyatt)–I was critical of those who allowed physical skills to wane. As immature as this sounded, I was worse to martial artists who did not fight or couldn’t fight.

My outlook, of course, has changed as I am more mature and open-minded now. However, I still harbor many of these opinions, and I am almost as hard-headed and stubborn as I was when I was younger… with my opinions. But as a teacher, I respect many differing views to my own. I have to–I teach two families of students from all walks of life. They all have their own reasons for studying the martial arts. They have physical limitations as well as gifts. No two students are exactly alike, and my schools must appeal to several types of martial arts students if it is to have a life that supports mine. As one who considers myself an advanced teacher of the art, I must have the ability to teach nearly every type of student that comes my way. Before promoting any student of mine to the teacher level, I demand the same from them.

Not All Men Will Be Fighters

We all have our preferences. Some us enjoy the workout/body-building aspect of the martial arts. Others enjoy the combat. Then you have the ones who like to work with weapons. Still, you have the ones who just like learning the arts, and learning as much as they can. Not everyone wants to be a streetfighter.

Before I get into this section, let me first state that if you are teaching the martial arts, you have the duty to ensure that all students, regardless of what they choose to specialize in, must be capable of defending himself. If you cannot teach a student to defend himself, then either rename the class or program to “martial fitness” or something else, but not martial arts.

A teacher’s ability lies in more places than simply conveying a technique or principle. Don’t listen to the guys with the shallow knowledge who think that’s all there is. A teacher, at his most basic level, is also a fitness instructor and fight coach. He must know how to recognize his student’s weaknesses and fix them. He must be able to train students with physical limitations and erase them with the right combinations of exercises. At a deeper level, he is a martial psychologist who can alter a man’s courage or over confidence. He must build up his student’s fears until they become confidence, and must teach the overly aggressive man to become patient and calculating.

As I stated in part III, the instructor candidate should become a student of the teaching of the arts. This level of training is more academic than the lower levels, which are more physical. The instructor candidate should be close to perfecting his technique–not really learning new one, just refining–and should be studying martial philosophy and teaching ideology. At this time, he is also putting his theories to application under the Master’s observation… in the ring as well as in the classroom.

**In my school, we actually differentiate between two “Black Belt” levels (we don’t use belts, but the equivalent):¬† Expert, which is more technical and physical, and Instructor, which is philosophical.**

The teacher must understand that many students will not want to fight full contact, and most will never become instructors. He should be prepared to teach students who cannot do everything the younger, more fit students can. He should be able to develop these students at their own pace, even if that student is in the same class with the fighters. He must be willing to teach these students properly¬†if he takes them on. He must respect those students and treat them fairly and justly. And he must be creative enough to set challenging goals and find ways for the student to meet them. Lastly, he must be knowledgeable enough to make the training worth that student’s time.

Turning Cowards Into Heroes

Not everyone who walks through your doors will be a tough guy. On the contrary, most of your students are going to be physically weak and probably afraid of everything. The teacher cannot be too macho or too hard core; he must be a charismatic, who can appeal to the desires of new students. Re-education is fine, but he must find a way to capture the beginning student’s attention and interest.

There is a saying that good teachers will see 99% of their students fail to get the one percent that will become good future Black Belts. I completely disagree with this saying. After all, are you a teacher? Or just a guy looking for self-motivated students? I would think that a teacher who experiences a 99% drop out rate is doing something wrong. The best teachers reach into the student’s minds and hearts and find a way to develop the warrior in them. As Guros, we are passing on more than just a few techniques and drills; we are teaching “average guys” in the modern world to walk the walk of warriors. You can’t do this by scaring off new students, or making training so hard no one completes a year of training. At the same time, most schools experience a high attrition rate because training is often hard, and most students simply aren’t cut out for a real program.

The solution to this is to make the class learnable (if there is such a word), and to build the student’s skills, confidence and courage little by little, step by step, goal by goal. This is the method of the Masters. Slow, goal-oriented, patient, challenging.

Help your instructor candidates understand this, and they will be successful students. I believe this is the main reason most martial arts schools close within the first year; the teachers have a weak knowledge of what it takes to have longevity in this business. I also believe this is the reason seminars are so popular for those looking to make a living off of their martial arts.

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