It is said that teaching is a two-way street. How true.
I’ve stated in earlier articles that some teachers are more skilled at teaching beginners, some are good at teaching the advanced, and then others excel at teaching teachers–guiding experts and novice teachers to mastery. You have instructors, you have trainers, you have teachers, and then you have Masters. There is a difference, and there is a hierarchy. Often, teachers do not understand the difference; knowing the difference between the types and levels of teachers–as well as knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher–will help them become better teachers. Ultimately, knowing the difference will help teachers bring their students from the beginner level all the way through the ranks, through the different skills and paths of a martial artist to the true path to mastery. It is at this point that the “certificate” denoting you a Master becomes irrelevant, and you know why I call such a thing silly.
In the beginning of a student’s learning career, the foundation must be developed through rigid adherence to basics and structure. Many teachers skip this level and immediately move towards a free-thinking “create your own path” style of instruction before the student has even learned to move his feet. We know why they do this: It’s entertaining, good for business, gives the student the illusion that they are learning “advanced” martial arts, and it caters to the impatient nature of new students. Yet in the long run, students never develop the strong root they need to become good fighters in the future. I call this the “seminar” approach to learning. Students simply “pick up” what moves they can memorize, and through casual practice–will learn to do a little bit of demonstrating. Nothing is internalized, and often, the student never even develops the physique he needs to be an effective warrior.
At the beginning stage of a martial artist’s education, he needs an absolute authority in the classroom. He does not need a feel-good babysitter who gives the student everything he asks for. This is the issue I have with students with a little bit of scattered martial arts experience when they join my school. He has seen what is out there and foolishly believes that he is too “advanced” for rudimentary training. He feels that he knows the footwork and questions why he is still practicing his steps. He thinks he knows the basic hits of my Eskrima and wants to get to the drills and disarms. Students must learn that this isn’t Burger King; you don’t get to have it “your way” and place an order for learning this weapon and that technique. My job is to get you started on your martial arts journey with as much skill, knowledge and ability as possible; I couldn’t care less if you were bored while you were learning it. So shut up and train.
At the intermediate and advance stages of the education there shouldn’t be much necessity for a skill in communicating to the student. It is there, that the biggest jump in ability occurs. This is where your students are trained, and repetition becomes key and the fighters are developing that superhuman strength I talk about so much. I have visited over 100 Eskrima classes (well honestly, I’ve never counted. It could be 90 or something) and I have yet to see one where students are tasked with striking to a maximum number of strikes. At the intermediate level, “instruction” is not as important as training. The training is physical, and only after that high level of ability is achieved should students return back to the intellectual style of learning.
Here is where we arrive to the subject of today’s article. At the advanced and instructor level of learning, a different kind of teaching takes place and it is a learning experience for the teacher as well as the student. If you have never brought a student to the expert level then you will be 100% in the dark about this experience. This is where you students should rival you in ability and strength; you should have exhausted your knowledge by this point, and you are guiding your students to surpass you in ability and knowledge. Yes, it is a tall order to think that your students will learn more than you know. But it is the pursuit that will push you over the edge to go from being merely a teacher to becoming a “Master”. I call this the “What next?” stage–where my students can beat me in sparring and force me to pull out the animal in order to put them back in check. Very few men reading this blog have the humility to allow their students to reach this level. And even fewer men reading this article have the knowledge and skill base to bring a student to this level. It is where your students are the best in town, where few other fighters from other gyms can rival your own student’s skills–and those students look to you to tell them what to do next. This is why some great amateur fighters stay with the same trainer after turning pro and then can’t win a single fight. It is why some pro fighters make their way through the ranks and then cannot find their place among the contenders. And it is why some trainers bring their fighters to another trainer to prepare them for the next level of learning, the next level of ability, and the next phase of their journey. Simply put, some teachers just do not have the ability and knowledge to bring a student all the way, when that student has exhausted everything you have to give. It is a very humbling, eye-opening experience.
Teachers can sometimes learn in the process of bringing their expert students to the next phase of their martial journey. They must also be honest with themselves and honest with their students about what they can accomplish as well. If you are a teacher who has never fought in the ring, but now you have a student who is good enough to climb in the ring what do you do? Pretend to train him and possibly turn him into another tomato can? Or try to put together a strategy for preparation and see if it works? Or do you take him to another trainer for supplemental training? This is a major decision for the both of you.
Loyalty can sometimes suppress a potentially great student’s path. Pride can sometimes cause a teacher to suppress his student’s potential as well. I see this all the time when young men bypass full-time training for easier paths to instructorship; and then years later they bring their Black Belt students to competitions to serve as cannon fodder for my students. Poor guys didn’t have a chance because they learned from teachers who never learned to fight themselves. Or worse, decades later, when the young man-turned instructor-turned Master now certifies his underqualified student as a Master himself. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Even when you haven’t accomplished those things yourself, when a student has reached the limits of your knowledge and experience, never forget that you still have more knowledge than the student does. Sending him to another limited teacher would be just as counter-productive. This is what you can do. You can allow your student to teach you, through teaching him. I cannot go more into this subject without teaching you things that I have reserved only for my own students. But I want you to know that at the advanced level of instruction, when your students are nearly as qualified as you are, you can learn while you guide him in his learning. You learn together as you bring him through the next level of your own martial journey, and what you learn there will help you when you teach your next generation of students. In the end, you both will be more knowledgeable and qualified to instruct. It sure beats just slapping a title on a piece of paper and selling it to him. Don’t be too proud to admit to yourself that this new level of teaching is unfamiliar territory; believe me–every martial arts teacher must experience it.
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