Teaching as a student

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by Bill Mattocks, Jan 12, 2019.

  1. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    Feb 8, 2009
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    I've seen this discussed here before, but it seems to be popping up again and I wanted to not ruin a thread on a different subject with this discussion.

    Many of us are teachers. Many of us are students. Some of us are both. Some are paid, some are volunteers. Some schools expect students at a certain rank to teach as a prerequisite for higher rank. Some do not.

    In my small dojo, no one gets paid. The students pay a monthly fee to train. It's a small fee compared to many schools these days, and there are no contracts. It covers the costs to keep the dojo open and the bills paid.

    I am an adult student, and an instructor. I come in early to help teach the kids classes after my day job is finished, twice a week. I stay the adult classes where I a student as well as helping to instruct adults who are less experienced than I am.

    I benefited from this when I was a new student, and now I give back in the same way. Some adult advanced students also volunteer their time. Some more than me, some less. Some only occasionally. Some run the vacuum or mop the floors or clean the bathroom at night. Some clean the mirrors. Some bring in supplies like toilet paper and paper towels and bottled water for the kids.

    Some students help out when asked, some don't wait to be asked. But I have not heard a single student refuse to help anyone if they were asked to do so. No one is required to come in early like I do - it's just something I choose to do.

    I'm sure other schools are different, and to each their own. I'm not sure how I'd react to a student who insisted that since they paid to be there, they would under no circumstances assist another student. OK Mister Selfish, have a nice day. I certainly would not refuse them a promotion they qualified for, but I do think I'd hold them in slightly lower regard. That's just me, that's not any kind of official policy of the dojo where I train.

    I will say that teaching gives back, and I mean a lot. Beyond the basic joy of seeing new students as they begin to absorb the fundamentals of the art, and watching them become more mature, confident, and just generally good people, I learn a lot from teaching. It teaches me lessons that I use in my every day life.

    Where I work as a day job, I have to train newly-hired IT people as part of my job. Believe it or not, teaching is not always about the technical skills you have to pass on to them. It's also about learning to speak to them in the manner that they absorb most readily. It means gauging their attention span and making modifications as you see them drifting away or not paying attention. I get that with children in the dojo, and I get that with young adults hired into the company where I work. The skills I have to learn to keep them on track and focused are the same. Interesting, huh?

    Teaching also improves my own martial arts skills. I am always asked 'why' are we doing this or that, and if I don't know, I can't just make something up or refuse to answer. I have to know and it has to be something I understand myself, not just parroting something someone told me. I have to be able to make it work. Kids have great BS detectors; they very often know if you don't have a clue what you're saying, and they'll call you on it.

    When I see a student performing a technique incorrectly, I try to fix it. But then I see several kids making the same error, and guess what? It's probably something they picked up from watching me. In other words, they are a mirror to my own faults as a martial artist. I have to be on my game. Good stances, good transitions, good speed, good form, good power. If I do not demonstrate well, they won't learn it well. It's on me to be excellent when I want to relax and take it easy. As a student, I might take a night off and just kind of drift through the class. Sensei might notice and he might not. But if I am demonstrating for students? No way, I have to be on my game. Practice is practice, and if I'm doing a beginner kata for the 12th time that night, it helps me to do it better also. I never fail to notice something new, no matter how basic the technique or kata I am demonstrating is.

    I have taught a lot of students at this point. Not as many as some, for sure, but quite a few. I see them come in, confused, lost, wandering around and eyes glazed because they just don't get it. I see most of them quit over time. Some few continue as new students keep joining. They move up the ranks, they get taller, they start to look more like karate students. They keep growing in height as well as technique. I am filled with happiness and maybe a little pride when I see one of my students who used to break down crying every time I criticized his movements, now performing complicated techniques well, and more than that, helping newer students with confidence and kindness, and I hope maybe he got some small part of that from me.

    I have one student whom I have helped to instruct from white belt to black belt. He's 16 now, 6 foot 3, and he's fast as lightning and has killer technique, strong as an ox. He feels no pain and has amazing ability to see openings and exploit them. I don't even really enjoy sparring with him any more. He is either taking it easy on the old man which makes me feel bad, or he goes to town and I get hurt some. But he's in the dojo every day, helping to teach the younger kids. On my fridge at home, I have a crayon drawing he made me when he was a little boy, thanking me for being his first instructor and saying he wanted to be like me.


    If a person does not want to teach, I guess I get it. I think they are missing out on an important part of their training, but I guess that's their choice to make.

    Over my lifetime, I have had a few teachers of various kinds whom I remember vividly, who shared something important with me and gave me good memories to last my lifetime. I have a lot of fond memories because some adult took the time to make sure I got a positive experience at a critical time in my life. I won't ever be rich or famous or important to the world in any way. I will live and die and it won't matter much that I was ever here in the first place, except to a few friends and my family. But if I can give a gift of a happy and important childhood memory to someone else, pass on a spark that keeps a flame going, then I am satisfied that my life was not entirely wasted.

    Some see volunteering in their dojo as a form of free labor, a way for the owner to extract more money and get people to work for free. That's one way to look at it. I see it differently, that's all.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
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  2. Anarax

    Anarax 2nd Black Belt

    Aug 16, 2017
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    New Mexico
    This is has to be one of the most heartfelt and sincere posts I've seen on here. I know exactly how you feel and it's a tremendous thing to witness your teachings passed along to someone else. The knowledge a Martial artists can gain from teaching is invaluable. Thank you for sharing
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  3. Danny T

    Danny T Senior Master

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    Sep 5, 2002
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    New Iberia, Louisiana USA
    It all come from how the head instructor/owner leads the culture and environment of the school.
    I have numerous students very similar to what you describe above.
    You truly want to know and understand whatever martial art, help someone else learn it, teach it, and by passing it on you also help in preserving the art.
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