Teaching As a Form of Learning

A few months ago, I got a visit from a blog reader who had a Kajukenbo background, but was in the process of discovering the Philippine fighting arts. I have since forgotten his name, but he learned in Vallejo or Fairfield and had some exposure to the Filipino arts and missed his opportunity to learn. He confessed that he did not appreciate the value of our arts (despite being Filipino himself) and opted instead for Karate and the mainstream arts.

He was a younger man, about early to mid-20s. He had done a little competition, but never lost time in the dojo until recently, when he moved to Sacramento. He keeps in good shape, and his eyes still lit up when he talked about the arts. Not able to find meaningful work, I suggested that he started a class. After all, he’s put in more time to learning this art than many surgeons–why wouldn’t he be knowledgeable enough to teach?

Beginners, that is.

I have an opinion; that in order to become a true expert in the art you must have had a full career as as student (which he has), as a competitor/fighter (which he is working on), and as a teacher (which I am suggesting to him). He really is not experienced enough to be a school owner because of his lack of fighting experience, but since he is so young, he could compete while teaching and making a living at it. Of course, his classes would be full of beginning students, and by the time his students are advanced students, he would be experienced enough as a fighter that he could realistically guide them to expertise. Something to think about.

I won’t get into why I think he needs to fight in order to be a teacher. Today we will talk about how he can further his learning by teaching.

The young man confided in me, that he felt that he did not know enough to teach the art, despite being a second or third degree in the arts and having more than 10 years of study under his belt. I blame this on the foolishness of all the belts and over-priced tape these schools sell students to put on their belts. In the arts, I told him, there are a maximum of four levels of Black Belters. You have novice Black Belters, basically your brand new experts. But they really aren’t novices, are they? They have put in at least 4 to 5 years of study, and 4 years is enough time for a guy to become an expert in accounting to fix cars, to clean teeth, to become a professional footballer… why not the martial arts? You know what they call soldiers with 4 years of service in a field? “Specialist” or “Sergeant”. That’s a far cry from someone who can’t show you a thing or two. Next, you have your experienced fighters and teachers. They are experts, no longer novices and have been around the block a few times. These guys know what they’re talking about. About 4 years after being a Black Belt, these guys have the MBA of martial arts–and they’ve put in more than enough time to earn one. This is your Sensei and Sifu. After that, you’ve got your Masters–the guys who have been doing this since you were in diapers. They were learning the art since before there was internet and Youtube, and you had to board a plane to study with a Master–instead of download his instructional tape on the net. Those Masters, in those days, knew their students intimately, and were basically adopted parents of their pupils. Those Masters, my friends, can NAME every Black Belt certificate they’ve ever signed. Today’s Master has no idea who’s out there teaching his stuff. Matter of fact, today’s Master doesn’t care–as long as he’s getting a cut. Rarely did you ever meet one of those Masters, and when you did, you knew full well that they weren’t any ordinary men.

Then, you have your founders and Grandmasters. These are the guys who watched the systems you study today get put together. They remember when your Master was riding his skateboard to class, and they are in a position where they can refer to your Master by his childhood nickname. I remember Masters I met in Stockton refer to Chuck Norris as “Carlos” Norris. They never could get used to his “new” name of “Chuck”. Imagine that.

Today, they blur the lines that separate them, they add new titles and levels, and rarely do they have the skills to separate them. We aren’t worried about them. But there is something you can benefit from all of this.

The more you teach an art, the more you understand it. Even when you are imparting basic skills, by being forced to explain it to crispy, green beginners–as uncoordinated as they are, as weak, poorly balanced and double-left footed–you must think of situations and variations you had never previously thought about. Some students don’t have the flexibility you had as a student. You may have forgotten how difficult it was learning these techniques. And then times have changed since you were a skinny kid. Today’s beginner grew up watching Aikido with Steven Segall, Chin Na with Jet Li, wire work with Yuen Woo Ping. He is familiar with Wing Chun trapping and stick and knife work of Eskrima. He can name all the popular actors and their styles. He watches UFC, and he knows that when you punch you have to look out for a shoot or takedown. Along with this knowledge come a whole lot of “what-ifs” for you to answer. As teacher, you need to be on your toes to provide those answers, and have the skills to show them what you’re talking about.

Any style will open your eyes when you teach it. Your personal preferences and biases will color all you do, and it’s perfectly okay! This is the beauty of teaching the art; you don’t have to do it Guro’s way–you are the Guro! All the things you use to like to do in the mirror when you were a teen is now a part of your curriculum, and you will have to back up the new way when you teach it. So guess what happens to that art when you do this?

It becomes yours. Welcome to the fraternity of Guro-I’m-doing-it-my-way. You will experience a little turbulence along the way, but hold on to your skill cushion and use it for a flotation device when students (or other teachers) are out to “see” if you know what you’re talking about. Just make sure you’ve practiced enough to prove your point and you’ll be all right. No teacher starts out knowing all the answers and has a road with no bumps or potholes. Trust me, it’s like parenting; if there was a tried and true method to learning to teach, they’d certify people in doing it.

Oh wait… LOL!

Yeah, they’ll sell Almighty Creator certifications in Eskrima if people would pay for them. But trust me, the art of teaching the martial arts is not something any teacher can teach you; it is something you must learn on your own by doing it yourself. But the first step is to get out there and take on a few students.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

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