Martial artists have this “thing”, that we always like chasing after the new “thing” in the martial arts. Every few years, the new fads come and go, leaving behind a wave of newly certified teachers of the arts and a few die-hard enthusiasts. While once touted as and extremely effective form of fighting, the old “new” art will now be scoffed, ridiculed and ignored. Years later, in discussions between martial artists, people will wonder, “what happened to ninjitsu?” A few of the certified ninjitsu “experts” will still be teaching in obscurity, but a majority of those who attended certfication seminars and took video tape correspondence courses will leave ninjitsu as nothing more than a bullet on their resume, and will be heavily promoting their new “thing”.
Boy, you martial artists kill me.
These arts are mostly good, legitmate fighting styles. They are worthy of having representation in every martial arts community. So why do they all but disappear after their 15 minutes of fame is over? What happened that made these arts come and go? I have a few opinions:
- Martial artists are mostly an impulsive lot. We like to jump into something, balls to the wall, but not for long. When something becomes popular, we want to read all about it. We just can’t get enough. But it’s like a beautiful woman who allows us to indulge in her beauty too much…. her beauty and mystique fades if we get too much of her and we’ll take her for granted. As long as an art is a secret and mysterious to us, we love it. But when we undress it and learn more about it, it’s no longer attractive.
- Most martial artists are also lazy. We will want to learn something, but not want to put too much effort, time or money out to learn it, and learn it well. It’s not that we are lazy people because we are martial artists; it’s that we really aren’t martial artists, and we are just regular people who lack the discipline and work ethic of a true martial artist. So how do we get this learning? Through introductory seminars, videotape, and easy classes that skim the surface of the art yet certify us to teach it. The result? Shallow knowledge of the subject, so we really don’t do these arts very well and cannot keep the attention of a serious student of the art. We also do not have enough information to properly teach the art, so we must tack the art on to other programs.
- The martial arts public is fickle. If we see movies about the art, or otherwise get the impression that other people are buzzing about the art, we will be interested in it. But if no one is talking about the art, than we won’t have much interest. So, the movie “Ninja Assassin” comes out, and everyone wants to learn the Kusarigama. But they can’t find anyone who really does the weapon well, barring a few tricks that impresses only the novice. So after a few lessons, the power of the movie has worn off, and interest wanes.
There is more, but I am not in the mood to get too deep with you guys right now. If you care, there is a solution to this issue in the martial arts.
- When you study an art, study that art. Don’t dabble. If you learn it, learn it well. If you find that your teacher has only limited knowledge in the art you are studying, learn all you can from him, then train rigorously, and then pursue more learning after you have plateaued with this teacher. You can control how much you learn, just by being committed.
- As a teacher, stay away from fads. In every section of the martial arts community, there is a dedicated group of students that will support you. One of the challenges of being a martial arts teacher is the revolving door of short-term students. We must constantly recruit new students to replace the ones that quit. You can alleviate this problem by focusing your effort on recuiting serious students and specializing in an art or two (or a subsection of the community) that is not relying on movies and popularity. A good example: Any art you have recently gotten involved with. If you have been training in an art for the last 20 years, and just started learning a new art 2 years ago, don’t make that new art your primary focus in your advertising. You aren’t really qualified to teach it, and most likely you are studying that new art for the same reason new students are coming to you to learn it… they saw that movie too.
- Talk to each prospective student about commitment and focus. You’d be surprised how your first conversation with a student will influence how they treat their training. Many teachers will talk mostly about price and why their school is a good school. Instead, turn that conversation into one about your student, and what he or she will need to do to become successful. By focusing on the student and his responsibility as a student, he will be more focused on the difficult task of learning the art instead of the excitement of learning an art he’s excited about.
- Plan a full schedule of learning all the way to the end of the program, and know how long you will be teaching the art to graduation. Many teachers do not think that far, and end up teaching in circles because they have no plan. Regardless of how much information you have to pass on, a good plan will help you teach effectively and retain a student’s interest.
- Demand excellence from yourself as well as your students. Development of skill (and realizing that one is developing) is an excellent motivator. Give your students something to strive for and they will push themselves. However, you will have to demand it of yourself. Do this, and your class will not suffer from a loss of interest like the “dabbler’s” class. Two things can cause a student to lose interest: boredom and frustration. When a student sees that he is improving, it excites him. When a student is “getting it” and understands what he is doing, it excites him.
The main point of this article is this: When you teach something, specialize in it. You’ll go a long way with it when you do.
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