Sharing the Art—the Student/Teacher Relationship Pt.2

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.”