INB #08: The Demands of Teaching

gx_tedsepia1Your students are all healthy and in fact glowing. They’re having fun. They’re doing something that fascinates them. They’re gaining new confidence.

But what about you?

When you became a martial arts teacher—for real—you practiced a lot, were fit as a fiddle and exuded confidence. Now it’s not so easy.

Every time you do a form with anyone and start to gather speed they interrupt with a question or stop, lost again because they’d never seen it done “like that”. When your ongoing class begins to gain momentum and the interesting stuff is starting to appear on the horizon a newbie shows up and you have to take a few steps back to include him. Meanwhile there’s the phone, or clothing and equipment sales or a parent to dance with. Many distractions.

And certainly in a class of more-than-idle distractions, there are aspects of the art you could not have guessed. You understood from the relation to your own instructor that you might be a father or mother figure to some of the students. Though modern society is sketchy on the role of such people Ð Cultish? Politically correct? Litigious? In truth the human psyche needs its mother and father figures. On the other hand you hadn’t guessed so many people had so many problems and so much to confess. For me there is irony. As a child I had considered becoming a priest. No, with the present level of confidence in the Catholic Church, I may be fulfilling my confessional calling more than in black cloth.

Now, true, I live in California where women in grocery store lines loudly discuss in detail their periods with language that a Polish fishwife would find distressing. But the Martial Arts instructor gets a particular insight. “I’m from an abusive family and I’m in recovery but I have borderline issues about my physicality.” And that’s before we’ve reached the office for the set-up interview.

There is a sacrifice to the younger generation when you pass on martial arts. People used to believe that the penguin raised her children on her own blood. We certainly aren’t penguins. But, legally, the services you sell are known as “intangible” — those things which cannot be touched. And it’s true: what is passed on in Martial Arts cannot be touched. The drain can be worth it but it can also be constant. Here are a few suggestions.

Keep a place in the studio for yourself where you can get away from it all.

Get out of that studio for a break once in a while.

Clean the place, make it a nice area to live in because, at times, that’s what you’re doing.

Close the doors when you practice. And inculcate a healthy respect for your practice time.

Make students understand the difference between “on the floor” and “off the floor.”

And last but very important identify that student who will only “take” and those valuable ones who have something extra to “give” to the school.


Nowadays, there is a lot written about martial arts, probably more than any time in human history. But very little of this is at the instructor level dealing with the problems, goals and strategies of imparting the arts. This series, written by martial instructors, will be a frank and directed discussion of such topics. If you are a beginner and new to the martial arts, you may find some of these subjects a little distressing. And, indeed, this may be premature for you. The only thing we guarantee is a sincerehandling of informed viewpoints.

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