Sharing the Art—the Student/Teacher Relationship
An ancient Chinese proverb says that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Once the light of inspiration begins to glow in the heart of a pupil, the influence of a great teacher expands infinitely. Historically in Asia, a martial arts instructor’s status was similar to that of the clergy or great philosophy masters. They were recognized as very wise individuals and were highly respected in the community.
The Yin and Yang of Practice
The path of martial arts is one of personal growth and self-discovery. What is the student’s responsibility in the learning process? You will be learning new techniques and interesting concepts. Each class will be challenging, but fun.
May your practice always strengthen you in mind, body, and spirit.
Many students say that studying martial arts is one of the most exciting things they have ever done. Most of our students have wanted to study martial arts for a long time, but, for whatever reason, have put it off.
Having mixed feelings of excitement and frustration in the beginning of your practice is normal. You might even feel uncoordinated and clumsy. Within the first couple of months, through regular practice, you will gain greater command of your body and begin executing techniques much better. This cycle of excitement and frustration will continue throughout your practice. The cycles change as your understanding, techniques, and attitude transform. The key is to remain enthusiastic. See each frustration as an indication of what you need to practice. Having an open communication with your teacher is vital. Their guidance and the nurturing environment of the school, will keep you on track, focused, and moving towards your highest potential.
“What is the greatest thing a teacher can teach? This is what you must think about. What is the greatest thing a student can learn? This is what you must think about.”
Who is Responsible for the Learning Process?
People have different ideas of the true meaning of a student/teacher relationship. Basically, in the West, the student’s only duty is to show up. That is about it. The teacher bears most of the responsibility in the learning process, with little accountability on the student. The teacher searches for ways to effectively communicate, motivating and teaching the student, even if the student is not trying very hard. Should the student not succeed, the belief is that the teacher failed-he should work harder to teach. So, he repeatedly tries varying methods, until the student, despite his insincere attitude, eventually gets it. This method is not always effective, and rarely does a student internalize the real essence of the teaching. Only by direct personal experience do we really understand anything. We must have our own investment in the learning process.
The Value of Concentration and Discipline
Traditionally in Asia, not everyone was allowed to study martial arts. Great masters would accept only students who could prove they were motivated and willing to meet high expectations. The students held most of the responsibility for the learning process. Teachers were usually serious and rather gruff, demonstrating techniques silently, or with very few words. The students had to concentrate hard to follow and learn each technique, ands a result, awareness and sensitivity increased. Students worked very hard to keep their mind under control, because teachers did not repeat for wandering minds. In this environment, new students were almost sure to miss something, simply because their understanding had not evolved enough to grasp the complicated concepts. Classes were never adjusted for beginning students. As you can imagine, many people became frustrated and quit their practice. For those who continued, their beginner’s wisdom expanded slowly through trial and error and they moved down the path of growth and realization.
This model of teaching seems rather brutal, but some aspects are effective. Self-discovery is a very powerful way to learn. By exerting great effort to grasp the knowledge for yourself, you absorb the lesson completely, making it a part of your very being. You are not just mimicking or memorizing something that you will forget in a few months. You’ve discovered it on your own and it is important to you. When the teacher just spouts forth the information, repeating again and again, students really don’t have to listen carefully, and probably won’t comprehend how the lesson affects their life.
The difference between a master and a novice is that the master makes use of each opportunity in life as well as in practice.
A Powerful Way to Learn
The student/teacher relationship that we employ is somewhere in between these two examples. The learning process should be a partnership. The instructor’s job is to help students grow and learn. The students’ job is to work as hard as possible to absorb the lesson. The instructor motivates and explains concepts and techniques, but the student must exert maximum effort by paying close attention, concentrating in every moment. In class, if your mind begins to wander, banish those random thoughts, and bring attention back to the class. You will learn quicker and will increase your concentration in the process.
Everyone should learn the excitement of self discovery. A great teacher points the way down a path, but does not necessarily walk hand in hand with his student on the entire journey. Sometimes, an instructor might even set up obstacles in the path, instigating change and re-evaluation on the students’ part. He forces students to go around, over or through. After all, by facing challenges and dealing with change, we all develop a stronger will, and greater character.
Communicate With Your Instructor
Every student hits plateaus in practice. Even if you’ve made great progress so far, hitting a plateau can be quite frustrating. Sometimes students say, “Not only am I not getting any better, I think I’m going backwards.” When you feel this way, stay with your practice and discuss your concerns with your instructor. A student/teacher relationship is based on honesty, open communication, and loyalty. Your instructor has your best interest in mind. He’s been through his own struggles, and understands where you are. With his help and your continuous effort, you will soon feel yourself making progress again. But remember, the goal is to love the practice and not just the progress.
Honor Your Practice and Yourself
Originally in the East, the student/teacher relationship was one of great reverence. Respect and loyalty for the teacher was vital and the students sometimes even feared the wrath of the instructor. In the West, people mistakenly equate a martial arts instructor to a coach, a personal trainer, or a cheerleader. While teachers should never be feared, great respect should always be present. This balance is not easy to achieve. Your teacher may seem quite approachable and friendly. Do not confuse his friendliness and approachability. He should not be your buddy. You can find friends everywhere, but finding a great instructor is difficult. If you step over the line and try to make him a friend, you will compromise your ability to be a great student, as well as his ability to teach you. By holding your teacher in high regard, you honor your practice and yourself.
The Teacher Looks For Effort…Not Skill
Students sometimes ask, “How can I become one of my instructor’s favorites?” There are no favorites. The instructor helps and guides everyone based on his or her level of understanding. If he did have favorites, the regularly attending hard working students would be his choice. The teacher is not looking for skill…he is looking for effort. Sometimes, effort manifests as initiative, desire, focus and intensity. At other times, effort might be patience, persistence and an open willingness to learn. Be like a sponge, absorbing as much as you possibly can.
The best advice to a new beginner: cultivate and develop a great relationship with your instructor, and only take private classes.
A student who had not been practicing very long was warming up before class. A high-ranking black belt student approached the beginner and introduced himself, asking how his practice was going. This senior student possessed great skill and was known by all to be one of the best martial artists in the school. The beginner was excited to be speaking with him and took the opportunity to ask for advice.
“How did you get so good?” he asked.
The black belt student answered very seriously, “ I’ve practiced a long time, and I only take private classes-never group.”
The beginner thought, “Only private classes! That would be very expensive, but the price must be worth it. He is probably the best martial artist in the entire school.”
Before the beginner expressed his thought, the advanced student added, “No matter how many people are in the class, pretend that you and the instructor are alone in the room. Everything that he says, ‘Keep your hands up! Curl your toes back! Bend your knees!’ is intended for you. He is talking directly and specifically to you in each and every moment. Check and recheck yourself. From now on, only take private classes.” He bowed and walked away.
The best advice to a new beginner, “Cultivate and develop a great relationship with your instructor, and only take private classes.”