Learning the Art While Teaching (No Cornerman, pt II)

Today’s article will be short and sweet. This may seem like a contradiction from much of my past writing. I normally speak against teaching the art until you have acquired your own fighting experience, but this is no contradiction. I still believe getting your own experience is the best way to ensure that what you’re teaching is valid. However, it isn’t the only path…

I’d like to add this note–that fighting is not an exact science. There are many variables and the rules are there to be upheld, broken, modified, proven or dis-proven. It would be foolish to speak in absolutes when we are talking about fighting, but there are many exceptions although some of them may be less valuable than others.

In many cases of teaching the fighting arts, the teachers did not gain their own fighting experience. For example, my younger brother and I had both suffered serious head injuries while young men. He stopped fighting, I kept on for 10 years after mine. But my brother was my “cornerman” for many of my fights during my 20s and gained a wealth of knowledge by being ringside while I both competed and trained and sparred in gyms. He had many ideas that I disagreed with, but knowing that he could not climb in the ring (my brother had undergone reconstructive surgery to his skull) I took his ideas and in many cases adopted his techniques and strategies. Today at 41, my brother knows a lot more about fighting than many lifelong Guros and Sifus older than he is.

Which leads me to my point. Fighting teachers must do more than learn an art and then start teaching. They must get hands-on experience. In cases when they cannot–or simply fail to get it–there is a good option. That option is what all boxing trainers do whether or not they had a fight career of their own. The teachers must bring a group of fighters up through the ranks to the best of their ability (their, being the teacher’s and the fighters’) and get them in front of opponents. It must be frequent, and it must be as often as possible. If you do not have your own fighting experiences, you owe it to your fighters to have them test those ideas for you. And you owe it to your fighters to suck up your pride, allow your methods and ideas to become molded as parts of your system are tested, fail and show signs of needing tweaking here and there. It is the fool of a teacher who insists to his students that the problem in a fighting system is the student rather than the system itself. When fighters are green and still learning, it’s one thing. When they are advance, experienced and well-trained (and losing) it’s another. You must allow the art you created to show you that it is valid, as much as you must allow the art to tell you that it needs modifying. There is no shame in that; even the greatest fighters we admire have all gone through the stages of learn-fight-change-grow. Admit to yourself that you do not know it all and make your art better–on the backs of your faithful pupils. In the end, you will have a much better system of fighting.

I’d like to say a few more things as well. Sometimes we believe that it is honoring our teachers and masters by keeping their systems intact without making adjustments and including our own findings from research. I completely disagree. Most of our teachers, while they may have inherited systems from their masters, have made adjustments before they taught us. If we fail to try and improve their art, we allow the art to become stale, static and outdated. Other systems and fighters and schools are constantly improving and experimenting. If we don’t keep up in the name of tradition, we will fall behind and the art once-known for being progressive and effective will become obsolete. What a shame! Your master trusted you with it, and your students are trusting you as well to give them the most effective technique you can. Many a student has had the misfortune of learning under a stubborn teacher who insisted his student take a stale, ineffective art onto the floor. Don’t do that to your guys.

Allow your fighters to teach you while you teach them. The process of Advanced Teaching is a two-way street, even for the most knowledgeable and and best fighters. Listen to their feedback and chart their progress and honestly look into yourself to find the solution to the question: Is there a better way to do this?

The Master-Teachers all know the answer. Thank you 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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