Friday, March 8, 2013

Are you ready to teach? Follow-up and 'Top-Five'

I had a bunch of great comments on my post entitled Are you ready to teach?

I’ve spent some time digesting the material and have come up with the following ‘Top-Five’ things to remember if you're considering becoming a teacher:

1.       It’s not about you
2.       Do it for the right reasons
3.       Kick ego to the door
4.       Everyone has doubts
5.       Never stop training

1.  It’s not about you

You’d think this would be obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of.  It’s about the students, without exception.  If you put the student’s needs first, you’ll rarely go wrong.  A good teacher cares about the development of their students.  You can’t let your focus shift towards your performance in that role.  Work at it, yes, practice, improve your teaching skills, but don’t let the focus of your attention shift off the students and onto your performance, at least not during class.  Students know when a teacher is truly invested in helping them learn and improve.  These are the teachers who breed loyalty and respect.

2. Do it for the right reasons

This isn’t a discussion on whether or not it’s ok to make money while teaching martial arts.  Money may be one of the considerations when deciding to teach, but it cannot be the primary motivator.  You must have a passion for your art and a genuine desire to pass down your knowledge, improve others and perpetuate your chosen art, or a variation thereof.  If you only care about making yourself money, your students will know this.  It’s not about you -see point #1.

3. Kick ego to the door

Ego has no place in a martial arts school, for student and teacher alike.  Easy to say, harder to do.  One of the comments left on the first post made me really think.  You don’t have to be the toughest person in the room.  Yes, you need considerable skill, but you don’t necessarily have to be the most talented martial artist in the place to be a good teacher.  There are incredible martial artists who are terrible teachers and there are decent martial artists who are incredible teachers.  Pure skill does not a good teacher make.  It’s a teacher’s ability to inspire and improve their student’s abilities that counts.  Again, it’s not about you.  (I see a pattern forming)

4. Everyone has doubts

Well, maybe not everyone, but it appears there isn’t an “ah-ha” moment when you are magically ready to teach.  Most people have doubts about being ready to take on that ‘official’ role of teacher.  This is ok.  It might even be preferred.  Perhaps it’s a touch of humility or perhaps it’s born from not wishing to waste anyone’s time if you’re not that good at it.  The thing is, your students will thrive if you’ve got the right stuff.  You may not be sure but they will let you know, through progress, comment and action.  We’re not always the best judge of ourselves and we can be our own worst critics.  Try to focus on the students.  If they’re doing well, progressing and having a good time, then you’re doing well.  And it’s about them, not you, right?

5. Never stop training

Just because you’re in the teaching role doesn’t mean that you’re not still a student as well.  Always try to improve your skills, learn new things and get better at what you do.  Show a life-long commitment to the martial arts.  It will not only inspire your students to follow suit, but it keeps your teaching alive, constantly evolving and improving.  You can always improve and in doing so, you’ll be able to bring back new techniques or concepts to your students.  Stagnation is a bad thing in the martial arts.  So go to seminars, train with other martial artists, train as a student of a Sensei or instructor, and most importantly, keep an open mind.  By always striving to improve yourself, you can keep an beginner’s mindset, stave off ego and be a better teacher to your own students.  And in the end, isn’t it about them..?

Those are my top 5 things to think about when contemplating the role of martial arts teacher.  I’m sure there’s lots more.  Please feel free to share.


  1. I think you have it all nailed - you'll make a great teacher. The only thing I'd add is expect to make mistakes (as one does as a student) and expect to get better with practice (as one does as a student also). Teaching and learning run in parallel, with the learning a few steps ahead - hence the meaning of sensei - the one who went before.

  2. This is a great post, JM. I wish there was a way for everyone who wants to open a dojo to have to read this and consider it before moving forward.

    I'd like to add to #1. I think there should be a hierarchy in terms of priorities.

    1. The Students - No students. No school.
    2. The Teacher - A healthy dojo requires a steady hand at the wheel.
    3. The Dojo - To ensure that students and teacher have a place to come together, then the health of the dojo (income, primarily) needs to be in balance.
    4. The Art - The art comes last because the art would not exist without each of the above being in place first (except Dojo - since you can train people almost anywhere).

  3. Sue,

    Great point. Expect to make mistakes, learn from them and move on. Embrace them as learning opportunities. It's funny, most of the time when you think of Sensei, you think of a specific person. The one who went before - it speaks volumes and is a good reminder to learn by teaching. Thanks.


    Thanks for the kind words. Hmmm, similar to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I like it. Each level needs to be satisfied before the next is met. And just like with Maslow, there's another level of mastery and self perfection on the top, something very few achieve but everyone strives for...

  4. Teaching is a different skill set to practice, therefore, learn to teach in addition to learning the subject you are about to teach. Learning to analyse a defence or technique is invaluable and generally absent in the martial arts. A good guide to this process is Carr's Sport Mechanics for Coaches. An understanding of mechanical force is also helpful because force is what makes every technique taught in the martial arts work and focuses our attention on the essence of the techniques. And then of course there is the 'core of all learning' which is based on how humans learn. We can produce far better teachers by teaching them how to teach, and by teaching students how they should be taught.

  5. Hi John,

    My remote notifications have been sketchy so sorry about the delay in responding. I find the study of teaching methodologies fascinating. How to reach diverse audiences and facilitate learning is definitely a huge part of being a good Sensei or teacher. Thanks.