Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
At some point in every Martial Artistís career, the student progresses to the teacher. This can happen in a formal manner by the head instructor naming the student an assistant instructor or organically where younger students look up towards older students. However it happens, becoming a teacher is a powerful and enlightening period of growth for any Martial Artist.
A teacher is the custodian of the art. It falls on their shoulders to honor the art which they have learned and carry on the lineage of their Martial Arts. Itís a great honor to be recognized as a teacher. That distinction brings responsibility. While this may seem daunting, there are some basic guidelines to follow which will help ease the transition into becoming a teacher and upholding the integrity of the art.
The most important skill any teacher can have is humility. This speaks volumes not only to how you act but the state of mind with which you approach the training floor. Humility allows a teacher to have the respect to listen to the studentís questions and comments. It allows the teacher to approach all situations with an open mind and a willingness to learn as well as teach.
When I began to teach, my instructor gave us a list of rules that we followed. The most important was to remember that learning can come from any source, even the students we teach.
Each of us comes into the world with our diverse views. Because of this, a student may come up with questions or comments you have never considered. It is through the things that we ourselves may never have considered that we grow as an artist and a teacher. Thus, it is important to be open to receiving these questions and to not let our egos get in the way of our own growth and development.
In the Western culture, weíve been taught that saying ďI donít knowĒ is a sign of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being able to admit what one does or does not know allows for the learning to begin.
All too often though, new instructors believe that if they admit they donít understand or know something, they lose creditability in the studentís eyes. Thus, the instructor attempts to make some response and could pass along information that changes the art which they are upholding. This is how deviations in forms occur and how knowledge is eventually diluted and lost in Martial Arts.
The better response is always to first admit, ďIím not certain but I will investigate and get back to you.Ē Then it is critical to follow-thru on the question and get a response from your head instructor or through your own investigation. Never try to make up an answer to maintain the illusion of being knowledgeable. It will only end up hurting your credibility and break down the trust you have with your students.
Love what youíre doing and what youíre teaching. Nothing comes out stronger to students than a true passion for what you are teaching. If you approach the training floor with dread, your students will feel that dread and in turn despise learning what you have to teach.
One of the many tips Iíve been given while developing as a teacher is to clear your mind before stepping onto the training floor. If youíve been having a bad day or are feeling angry or grumpy, donít step out onto the training floor. Instead, take a moment to clear your head. Meditation is a great way to help ease the tension and clear your mind. But even if you donít have the time to do that, just take a few moments to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
If you dread teaching others in general, then perhaps this is not for you. However, I would argue, one that does not take the time to teach will always only be a student and never progress. You need to find a way to kindle that passion and approach teaching with as much vigor as you might your training. This is, after all, a learning experience as well and a chance to gain a deeper understanding of your art.
Becoming a teacher is a natural progression for all Martial Artists. Having honesty, humility, and heart are key guidelines to becoming a great teacher and helping to preserve the art you love.