I was watching one of my Assistant Instructors, D Spann, teaching my full-contact class for me Thursday night, and thought about another student who joined with him. This other student was a Filipino student (D is African American) and came to me with two Black Belts, one in Tae Kwon Do and the other in Kenpo Karate. They were both about the same size and fitness level, except the Filipino student seemed to be the “natural”.
By the way, I hesitate in calling a student a “natural”, because doing so treats his hard work and practice as if this skill was innate, and it’s not. But D came with no FMA experience, and the other student had considerable exposure to the FMAs.
D attended class religiously 4 – 5 days a week, as did the other student and a few others. See, they were all young, single and childless. This crew excelled quickly. We worked like horses, and sparred almost nightly. Out of my group of assistant instructors, D was the newest, got slapped around by the elders, but learned his lessons well. And before you know it, he and the Filipino student who joined with him were hanging with the elders in sparring easily. But then something happened.
These two guys were the smallest guys in class, the newest guys in class, and eventually they were the most fanatical ones in class. The fights between them were back and forth, and soon I could see competition developing between them. Some days, D got the upper hand. Some days, he got pushed around. But as a teacher, I am often not very nurturing as I probably should have been and I saw a dynamic that would make or break a student in this situation.
First, my Filipino student allowed the competition to become a competition. D was just their trying to learn martial arts. My Filipino student was trying to learn, but he seemed to think that he was supposed to be better because he was Filipino. I often have this conversation especially with my younger Filipino student, because skill knows no nationality, and many of us believe that we are better simply because the arts come from our bloodline. But you still have to work hard. When the competition leaned his way, he felt good, but when it didn’t, he felt bad. The correct reaction should have been to encourage him to train harder.
Second, competition should lead to the two students helping each other develop and excel–not for one to try and become “better” than the other.
There’s nothing more to that rule; competition can be used to discourage and defeat, or it can be used to encourage and empower. I would have to say that a mistake I made as a teacher was to tell my Filipino student to man up and work harder, when I should have held a mirror up to him to show him where he was headed.
As a teacher of the arts, we do not always get into our students’ heads and try to help them through such conflicts. Often, we will think of ourselves as nothing more than fighting coaches who try to turn our guys into killers, when we are in a great place to help these young men deal with their prejudices, insecurities, and psychological barriers. We will see an insecure student bully others and not address it. We will notice a student who is afraid to fight, and be glad he quit, when we should have encouraged him to confront that fear. We may see something in our student that can be brought out through his pursuit of martial skill, or something that should be suppressed or cured, and think that it is none of our business.
I’m starting to get off subject, but I’ve said the most important thing I needed to say about this subject.
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