To teach is an interesting prospect. It requires a person to take the accumulated knowledge they’ve gained on any given subject and impart it on others in a way that is clearly and easily understood and absorbed. Since people aren’t exact copies of one another, this becomes all the more difficult when one considers that every person absorbs knowledge in a different way; some people listen, some people watch and some people must DO in order to learn. And I have dealt with them all…
Through the years, especially the past decade or so, I’ve had plenty of people ask me why I haven’t opened a school of karate. One of the biggest obstacles that I’ve faced is that my job usually has me moving to a different location every three to five years, which is definitely not conducive to the long-term teaching required for martial arts.
But the main reason, and the one that keeps me from slapping my style’s logo on a door is simply this: I just don’t want to. I should probably explain that statement. When a prospective student walks into the doors of any dojo, they take in the wonder and fascination that comes with watching a karate class. The students, garbed in crisp, white uniforms lined up facing the head instructor. The head instructor, or Sensei, providing the evening’s teaching in whatever form is required, be it calisthenics, forms, techniques or otherwise…
Meanwhile, what does the instructor get out of all of it? Yes, it’s important to acknowledge that learning and teaching go hand-in-hand in karate, no doubt about it. But teaching a class on any sort of permanent basis requires a certain level of loss that not all sensei are willing to pay.
If I take myself as an example, I have a certain amount of material that I need in order to pass my next grade of black belt. Now, I can train for probably about 90% of that required material by myself. But the remaining 10% usually requires a partner, specifically one who has the skill and technique to match what I’m trying to learn.
When I had opened my previous school, I would head to the dojo full of proverbial piss & vinegar, raring to go. Then I would face the dozen or so students who had attended class that night and begin our warm-up. As class progressed, my focus would always lean towards what the students required for their next grading or for the proper learning of the techniques. Sure, I’d enjoy myself and even get a good workout from the class (I could never do otherwise) but ultimately, my training and requirements came to a standstill.
And this is usually a common element of any instructor worth the belt around their waist. They put their own needs and requirements aside in favour of providing the best learning environment for the students. The students usually don’t recognize just how much of a commitment that actually becomes. I can even recall evenings where my own Sensei would only have three or four students and would openly ask what we wanted to work on that night. No matter what the answer, I would often hear a sigh and a far off look in his eyes, which I have no doubt was his recognition of the fact that he would be teaching and doing the same thing for what probably seemed like the umpteenth time, setting his own needs and wants for that matter, aside.
The only thing that ensures the survival of any martial art is to teach it to others. And most people who embark on that journey are genuinely interested in learning. But the commitment and sacrifice that happens is required from both sides: student and teacher. So, if you enjoy your training and consider it an important part of your life, thank your Sensei. He or she is giving more of themselves than you know.
As for me, the day may come when I’ll open the doors of my own dojo again. And when I do, I’ll show up and train my students with the same enthusiasm and commitment they require. No true student of the way would do anything less. ☯