How students can inspire their instructors

martial arts 291049 1280 1024x768 How students can inspire their instructors

Many people go to a martial arts instructor wanting to learn a new skill, improve their fitness, and learn to defend themselves or simply to try something new. While the student learns the skills, movement and philosophy of that chosen art, what many don’t realise is that the instructor is also learning a whole lot from their students. So, as a result of that it’s time to flip thinking on its head and highlight a few ways students can teach and inspire their instructors.

1) They can teach different teaching methods

People learn in different ways and a common mistake for instructors can be that they teach every persona that walks into class the same way. People enter into the martial arts for different reasons, learn in different ways and pick up things at different paces. It can be difficult accommodating everyone in a class of 30 people, but every effort should be made to. Some learn from seeing a technique and analysing it, others learn from hearing how the technique or strike works, and some need to simply give it a go therefore learning by touch. Students can be a fantastic way of improving the teaching skills of the instructor, especially if there is a wide variation of learning methods within the class. A good instructor should be able to tell people’s preferred method of learning and adapt to it through observation, which is another key trait students can teach!

2) Observation skills

Observation and awareness skills are important aspects of the martial art or self defence. Being aware of your surroundings and aware of any potential issues are essential to self defence and even in a regular class, being aware of the people around you is a great habit to get in to. But how aware are we as instructors? Can you tell if someone is struggling or not picking up the material well? Do they feel uncomfortable with the person they’re training with? Can you spot the signs they’re ready to give up and has their attendance gone down? Being aware of every potential threat on the street is great but unless you sideline as a drug dealer, your instances of being placed in a violent situation are hopefully fairly few and far between. Far more important is your ability to be aware of the people you are around and in tune with their feelings, body language and mood, both in training and general life. Teaching your students can be a great way of developing this and if you have a high drop-out rate, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your own awareness skills!
In addition to this, students can be a great way to help you develop awareness about yourself and how you are interacting and transmitting your style. Awareness of your students is a must have skill, but awareness of yourself is also crucial, and students (especially kids) will be the first ones to let you know if you’re being inconsistent or chatting shit!

3) They can test your skill and knowledge

Students can sometimes ask some pretty tricky questions and call you out if they ever think you’re bullshitting. A beginner can sometimes ask the simplest question but it will leave you stumped! Your knowledge could be vast and have the Dalai Lama scratching his head, but if you can’t explain the reason for something as simple as your stance, it’s all irrelevant!
Your students can also test you physically. I’m around 5ft 6 and about 72kg, but some of my students are over 6ft and over 16 stone! Some have door work experience and so if something isn’t working for them, they’ll let you know! Demoing with different students not only helps them grasp the technique better, but also allows you to work with people of different sizes and weights to test your techniques.

4) They can be an example to you

Do you have that one student who is always early to class, always enthusiastic and always trying their best? That’s the inspiration. Instructor’s are human and will sometimes have a bad day and not be in the best mood to teach. We’re imperfect. It’s important not to let your day enter the class however and leave any trouble back at home for a few hours while you instruct. This is where we can find inspiration from our students who always turn up with a smile, willing to help and enthusiastic to help you pack away after class. These are the students who will eventually become instructors themselves and run their own classes and be inspired by their own students. Keep them!

So there we have it, 4 reasons why students can sometimes be the ones teaching the instructors a thing or two. As instructors we can sometimes become so focussed on transmitting knowledge that we forget to take information in ourselves. Your students can be a perfect way of doing this. So learn, enjoy, and instruct with passion!

The Myth of Black Belt

Old belt 225x300 The Myth of Black Belt

The Myth of Black Belt

Many achieve black belt….few achieve more

It’s a well known fact that many people quit martial arts after achieving their black belt.  I’ve always wondered why this is?! Do they think that once black belt is achieved, that that’s the end of the journey, there’s nothing more to learn? If they are studying martial arts for self defence, do they have the misguided belief that they are now indestructible and able to effectively protect themselves in all situations based on the skills they have acquired? If they are looking at martial arts for fitness or the acquisition of techniques, do they feel they have reached the peak with nothing more to learn? Or is it that the black belt as an image is so engrained in the martial arts, this is what people aim for, not the study of the martial arts itself?

Everyone who has looked at martial arts in any depth knows that there is a distinct difference between martial arts and effective, real world self defence. This was highlighted and emphasised recently in my three part interview with one of the leading figures in the self defence world – Geoff Thompson (Link to part one of interview can be found here). Geoff attained a high grade and skill set in the martial arts, but found through his real world experience that his training in the traditional martial arts had given him overall, a very poor impression of real world violence. We constantly see martial arts schools offering effective self defence training for those that join up, but you have to ask yourself, what is this based on? Does the instructor have any experience of real world violence, or has his self defence experience to date been based on techniques practiced with a partner in the comfort of the dojo or academy? An image is associated with martial arts, and with the idea of a black belt. You think martial arts, you think Karate Kid, you think Bruce Lee, able to defeat anyone with his bad-ass skills! Someone finds out you hold a black belt in a martial art and the usual response is either “Oh better not mess with you then”! or “Waaaaaayaaaaaaa show me some moves karate kid”! I like to think a very small minority of people sign up to the martial arts purely for training in self defence, as martial arts can offer so much more than this and to join for this reason is a very one dimensional view. I like to think an even smaller amount believe that once they achieve that somewhat illustrious rank of black belt, they are now able to handle themselves effectively in any given situation! Teachers or academies that promote this view are in my opinion dangerous, giving people false ideas that if you learn the techniques and achieve the grades, it will then make you effective in a real world situation.

martial arts healthcare simulation 300x184 The Myth of Black Belt

I hope the view above really is the tiny, minuscule, teeny weeny proportion of people who study martial arts, but it still begs the question as to why people seem to leave after achieving the rank of black belt? I was always told that achieving black belt means you have a solid understanding of the basics – that’s it! Now it’s time to really start getting into the technical detail and that for me was the driving force behind my training. I wanted to get more in depth information and try (and mostly fail) to understand the trickier concepts associated with the martial arts and this was due to my instructors. I wanted to do what they did, to throw with that amount of power, to be that quick and to have that knowledge. The fact that they had a black belt around their waist wasn’t nearly as important to me as the knowledge they transmitted. I’m fortunate, I’ve had good instructors, but I wonder if some schools or academies simply wish to get people to black belt as quickly as possible so that they can say they have “progressed 100 or more people to black belt status”. I’m all for martial arts becoming more recognised within the business community, the same as personal training or yoga has become, but quality still needs to be assured. On-line courses to achieve black belt, or quicker promotions to black belt done internally in order to set up more satellite schools are in my opinion a waste of time. The belt means nothing, the knowledge acquired on the road to the belt is what matters. Those rushed through a course, or promoted quicker than usual to become an instructor can easily miss the details needed to teach, leading to a dilution of the martial art, and frankly, people making it up as they go along. Have you ever trained with someone who had an instructor level status, but could barely perform basic movements and was unwilling to answer questions as to why we do the movements and the reasoning behind them? I know I have and it makes you question how these people became instructors. Maybe some people are rushed through these belt progressions, ultimately to gain a black belt, then when that belt is achieved, the realisation sets in that they are not a rarity as they have a black belt, and that their knowledge is not what they first thought it was. Some people may either rise to this challenge and want to achieve more, whereas others may simply go “well I’ve got my black belt, that’s the main thing, let’s start working on something else now”

Black Belt 300x229 The Myth of Black Belt

People may quit a martial art once they’ve reached black belt for a variety of reasons, but it’s interesting to analyse possible reasons so that instructors can set up safeguards to this happening. Black belt is the start of the fun in my opinion, where you get into the more technical aspects and start looking at the art in more depth. Instructors should acknowledge this from the get go, saying that black belt is only the first rung on a very large ladder! Courses that promise a black belt in 6 weeks, or 6 months are one-dimensional and will lead to more dilution of the martial arts! Try doing a 6 week on-line business course then going out and teaching it. I’m sure it would be exceptionally difficult as the underlying understanding and deeper knowledge simply isn’t there. Good instructors can draw from experience and knowledge to provide insight and effective transmission of learning. Poor instructors simply teach the syllabus as it was taught to them then make the rest up as they go along. Martial artists need to realise that black belt is only the first stage and that so much more learning is required. The image of a black belt is engrained within society through media, yet the reality is a very different image.