So, you know how to punch, kick, and throw somebody around a dojo. You've been doing it a while and here comes your sensei, sifu, coach, etc. to bring you your black belt or certificate or what have you. You must be ready to teach now, right? Maybe. Maybe not. The thing about reaching certain levels of ability in martial arts is that it does not automatically make you able to convey what you know to others.
This is something I've personally had far more experience with than I'd like. The fact of the matter is that some times people get promoted when they shouldn't. Others don't get promoted when they should. And no matter who gets what when, it still doesn't mean they can teach it. They say that those who can't do teach. I don't know if that's true in other areas, but in martial arts, it's kind of the opposite. Being able to do just plain isn't enough. You need to be able to communicate that information. You need to care that the student progresses and not just be there to collect a paycheck. And you need to know WHY you do what you do so that you will be able to make sure that the student is moving toward the right goal. Some times, a technique needs to be performed absolutely one hundred percent correctly when the student is learning it. Other times, there may be some room for expression and as long as it works, it may be ok. It depends on the art, the purpose, and the student's natural abilities. Too many people get stuck in the monkey see monkey do mind set with martial arts.
It takes so much longer to learn or teach anything at a competant level when everything is done like that. Jeet Kune Do for example is supposed to be taught by concepts. That's why most JKD classes today aren't actually called Jeet Kune Do classes. They're called Jeet Kune Do concepts. You learn to throw a punch at someone's face, you've learned a high punch. You learn an angle of attack and a reason behind it and you don't need to learn a high palm strike or a low and high jab. You understand that those strikes are all connected to the same principle and you can switch up your hand positioning and whatnot on your own in your personal training. That's not to say that those other things can't be taught or should never be addressed. It just means that if a student understands what's behind something in the first place, you can spend far less time teaching individual aspects of something. In JKD again, Bruce Lee lined out five separate types of attack. One of them was a single angulated attack. Now this can be done with any strike. It's the stepping off the line of attack and delivering your own attack that is the important thing. So, when I was training, it wasn't necesary to learn every technique in the context of single angulated attack as long as I understood that any strike could be implimented into it.
Even in JKD, mistakes happen when it comes to instructors though. There are things like instructors' seminars and bootcamps and all that, but are they really teaching the instructors how to teach or just doing "advanced" training? Maybe there are some out there that really do teach how to teach. I don't think I've heard of them yet myself though. It seems to me that some people are naturally better at teaching than others. Some have a passion for it while others simply do not. Still, there is a science to teaching. And it's one that in large is left to learn by trial and error which really sucks for those first students. That's why at the very least, teachers should not let their black belts teach for the first time when they are not there or even the second, third, etc. untill it is absolutely clear that they are doing a good job. That may seem like a no brainer to many, but it's something that becomes a problem a lot more than many people may think. Some times, you can learn how to teach from a good teacher. They have to be really good though in my opinion. I've been fortunate enough to have at least two of my four teachers fall into that category of knowing how to convey knowledge in a superior fashion.
As of today, I've seen exactly one course out there which is actually devoted to teaching the accomplished student HOW to teach martial arts and it deals a whole lot with the WHY. That being said, I have not asked permission to mention this course by name or the teacher of it. So, I will not be including it in this article, but I do have a little advice based partly on it. It's an old practice in martial arts training to check the students' form, balance, and all the little things dealing with proper technique and really what will make them better able to defend themselves in general. We have to know the why with these things. There are certain times that certain parts of the body need to be tense while others must be relaxed. And when you analize a studen't punch, where do you look first? The feet. All of these things rely on the teacher being able to see these elements in each student. And that means not having a class which is too big for you to give each student a fair and adequate amount of attension. Again, I say that it is not enough to be able to do a technique. You have to know why and you have to be able to convey that to a student.
One last point and this should be obvious to anyone who wants to teach, but again you'd be surprised. Don't be a jerk. You don't start teaching a class with the intension of showing off or outdoing your own students, let alone making them feel bad. I've had an assistant instructor before who started a Q and A session in class when the head instructor was away. Doesn't sound so bad at first. But it soon became clear that he was only interested in showing off to the newer students and less about increasing their working knowledge of the art. He belittled students in front of the class. Joking or not, that's not what a good teacher does. Period. And to make matters worse, he would ask historical questions to the class about the art involved and then tell them they were wrong when, in fact, they were NOT. Maybe he thought they were. But though he was technically a higher rank than I was at the time, I'd actually done more study on the history of that art than I believe he ever did and I knew the correct answers when I heard them. It wasn't just about history, I should point out. It was about the purpose in certain techniques. That's why I'm comfortable saying that he was wrong. These were points which were documented in writing by the founder of the art. So, again, don't be a jerk. It makes people feel bad. It makes them less likely to speak up if they really don't understand something. And it makes them feel a lot less like taking your class. Some times people get what they deserve.