As a young teacher, I had a prejudgment that some potential students were not suitable for my style of teaching. I thought that only the toughest students would accept this training, and when students who did not appear “tough enough” I discouraged them from joining my school. Seeing many of the older masters refuse students, I thought I was keeping to tradition by not accepting all students who inquired. This behavior gave many a poor impression of me and affected my bottom line adversely as well. After several years of this, I learned that the problem was not a lack of “good” students, but “good” teacher.
I believe a “good” teacher can teach everyone. Let me clarify: everyone that has the desire and will to learn. Not everyone that walks through your doors with slender arms is a coward, and not every big guy who pursues training is tough. In my opinion, lazy teachers enjoy teaching the athletic; knowledgeable skilled teachers often enjoy teaching the awkward and uncoordinated. It is the Master teacher who can take those who are not physically capable and turn them into killers. In my years of teaching, I have seen some of the most difficult students become what others refer to as “natural”. This is the reason I see that description as offensive, as it discounts all the hard work and effort the student put into his training. Rarely will someone appear “natural” without having put a lot of practice forward before looking “natural”. Even those children who seem to get it right away have spent hours and hours playing and exercising, years before undertaking a sport or activity that makes them look “natural”. I do not believe that good skill and athleticism is bequeathed to one’s children. Often the children of athletes live in households where fitness and sports is a family activity and pastime; this is why martial artist’s kids tend to look “natural”.
My children, for example, grew up around weapons and sparring. So it should have been no surprise that when I began teaching them Eskrima, they already knew my strikes up to number 7. My three year old already practices the first five hits, and has been doing so since he was two. They now spar with strategy, and until I taught my own children, did not realize that a child can strategize at 7 years old. And it is not always easy to get them to practice without threatening to take away TV and video games…
Some of my favorite students over the years have not been “naturals”. I have had students join in their 50s and 60s, and within a year look like experts. One of my favorite students weighs well over 350 pounds, and I have seen him defeat a Black Belt when he was a beginner. Today, after a four-year layoff, he joined much heavier than when he left, yet he still gives my 20 year-olds hell in sparring. One of my students, who is in his 50s, once broke the ribs of another student half his age. I once had a student who inquired to my school in 2004, and declined joining in favor of a nearby Tang Soo Do school. Two years later, as a new Tang Soo Do Black Belter, he was beaten and robbed while with his wife. The morning after the altercation, he was at my school at 8 a.m., again inquiring about training. Recently, I had a young man whose wife left him for another man, and the “other” man assaulted him while he was with his children. This gentleman stands about 5′ 10″ and weighs only 150 lbs. He is not what many would call “FMA material”. But nonetheless, they have a desire to learn, and as long as they can endure the training, they will make fine FMA fighters.
I have many, many stories about non-combative type men and women (and some children) who have passed through my doors in search of good self-defense and fighting skills. I have not always dealt with these students justly; but I have learned that if they bring the right attitude and enthusiasm towards the training they will make a Guro proud.
In part II, I will cover some of the techniques you can use to teach those who arrive with other-than-ideal-“natural” ability.
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