Teach Or Leech, Learn Or Earn…

There’s an established standard when you walk into a martial arts dojo with the expectation of taking lessons and joining the club. For the most part, one expects to see someone with a black belt around their waist at the front of the class, teaching the student body. Not only is this NOT the case for every school you may walk into, it brings up an important point: although you SHOULD have a black belt in order to become an instructor, you should NOT be an instructor simply because you ARE a black belt!

Now that I’ve likely given you a headache with that last thought, let’s examine my reasoning behind it. Decades ago in my green belt days, Sensei had a student who lived two Provinces away. He was ranked as a brown belt but because he lived so far away, he held that rank well beyond what he rightfully should have. His skill, experience and performance put him well beyond brown, but the achievement of his black belt wouldn’t come for quite some time (much like my next Dan, which is about 10 years overdue, but that’s a different story…)

At some point, this student was approached by several people and asked to teach karate. He consulted Sensei, who agreed that he could open a branch of our dojo provided that he knuckle down and make a concerted effort to test for black belt in the near future. I attended one of his classes, about two years after he opened his doors (for the record, he still had his brown belt at that point).

I have to be honest; his teachings were exciting, dynamic and insightful. He had full and comprehensive explanations of the techniques he was trying to impart. And what’s more, the explanations made sense. His school was open for years, and as I write this I can’t confirm if it still is, or whether or not he passed his black belt (I certainly hope so).

Flash forward to a martial arts school that I currently frequent… The head instructor has found himself injured and has stepped back from teaching while he recovers. In the interim, the next highest-ranked black belt has taken over leading the classes. It’s been terrible. A pretty generic, blanket statement but accurate. His warm-ups are an exact repetition, every night. His workouts seem to drag and hold no dynamic movements or anything to keep the students engaged. He hesitates and takes full minutes between parts of his classes, as though he’s uncertain what to do next.

His explanations… well, unfortunately they often don’t make sense. He usually and steadily repeats key phrases, such as “connect mind and body” and “I wanna get the body moving a bit” several times throughout class. When he discusses a particular technique, his flow and follow-through doesn’t often match up with what he’s actually trying to do with the technique.

Don’t get me wrong; the guy is really quite nice. He’s got a great disposition and he trains well, when lined up with the rest of the class. But he seems to lack a little something in the teaching department. This has made sitting through classes problematic at best.

My experience with both these individuals have proven that holding the rank of black belt doesn’t automatically make you an instructor. Teaching is a fine skill, which may or may not be acquired and not everybody has it. Although you may hold the rank that is expected of an instructor, the color black does NOT make it so.

I think it’s important to recognize one’s strengths and area of expertise. Although you may have been doing something for years, even decades, you can expect that you may not automatically be able to teach it. And reasonably speaking, it’s much better if you relinquish the reigns to someone better prepared and suited for it. Not only is it to one’s benefit to do so, but it’s better for the prospective students you may be trying to teach. ☯

Published by


I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s