A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others. ~Author Unknown
As a martial arts instructor and as a student continuing to take very small steps along an increasingly expanding path, I wanted to share some observations I have made having been privileged to join in some classes recently, with some of the best instructors around.
Over the past few months, we have been blessed to have the likes of Terry Barnett, John B Will, Steve Sweetlove, Wayne Lakin and Michael Wright, to name but a few, come along and share their vast array of knowledge with my Complete Self Protection groups.
These are all martial artists of great experience and accomplishments and also instructors at the highest levels.
What is great about being a student in any of their classes, and the classes of others like them, is that you take away skills, not only in the physical elements that they have taught, but also in the way in which they have taught them.
You see, being a good martial arts instructor does not automatically happen when you get your black belt.
It’s not something that is miraculously there when you bow and receive your rice paper certificate.
Being a good instructor requires specific training in itself and not just knowledge of the subject matter.
There’s probably no-where better to illustrate this point than the world of Boxing.
Boxing has some of the most amazing coaches, whom have never been great boxers themselves, but have trained, honed and nurtured some of the best talents the world has ever seen.
For example, look at the record of the legendary Constantine “Cus” D’Amato, who trained greats such as Flloyd Patterson, José Torres and Mike Tyson, to name just a few.
It’s all too easy to work your way through the ranks in any style, attain 1st Dan status and assume you are ready to open up your own club and start teaching your “wealth” of knowledge to others.
And for sure, there are lots of students who have spent many years learning from great instructors who will have undoubtedly picked up teaching skills as well as technical skills, but I am certain there are a larger percentage of new instructors out there who haven’t and who are having to learn fast at how best to share their knowledge.
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. ~William A. Ward
So, I wanted to pick out just a few points that I found were mirrored by all of the great instructors I have met over the past months and years.
Teaching in chunks
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.— Albert Einstein
A few years ago, I trained on a British Combat Association seminar, which included a session taught by Shotokan Karate 7th Dan, Sensei Dave Hazard.
Apart from many elements of the seminar that made it stand out for me as a great learning experience, one point I remember particularly was how Dave explained teaching and learning techniques in Chunks.
He explained that a technique should be learned in stages, or steps, where each part of the technique is learned in isolation and then put together in steps, much like an imaginary staircase.
A front kick for example would be learned by starting in your basic stance. The first step is to pick up your knee. The next step is to extend your foot – pushing your hips forwards. The next step is to retract your foot. The final step is to place your foot down where you choose to.
Once each step is developed, the next mission is to slowly shave off the corners of the steps until you have all stages of the technique smoothly blending and flowing from one to the next.
When I explained this to the equally legendary John B Will, it completely paralleled his style and approach to teaching techniques. Breaking the technique or move down into manageable chunks, and then once honed, putting each chunk together as smoothly and efficiently as possible until all of the separate stages become one fluid movement.
John Will compares this to ‘joining the dots’. He recounts a story of his young son standing at the other end of his kitchen holding up a perfect picture of an airplane. John was amazed that his young child had been able to draw such an intricate and perfectly proportioned masterpiece. Then, on closer inspection he realised his son had carefully joined all of the dots on a pre-defined picture.
John suggests this is a great way for us all to learn new techniques and moves. Joining the dots of a move that the instructor has laid out, knowing if we follow each step perfectly, we will end up with the desired result. When we’ve done this enough, we will learn the skills needed to be able to create our own pictures without the need for any more dots.
NLP – The power of language
To teach is to learn twice.— Joseph Joubert
Of all the great instructors I’ve been blessed to meet and share mat time with, one thing which they have all had in abundance was a clever use of language to help illustrate and enforce their teachings. And by language, I don’t just mean verbal.
Albert Mehrabian’s research suggested that only 7% of our communication is the actual words we use, whereas 38% is the tone in which we say them and 55% is the body language we portray when we say them.
Therefore, how our instructors pass on their knowledge and how quickly we learn it is far more dependant on how they tell and show us and not just the words they use.
Of all the instructors I have met, John Will is one of the absolute best at putting the power of communication into his classes. Everyone who has trained with john will have experienced just how cleverly he orchestrates the classes so that we gather the stages of the move in a steady and detailed way, then gradually speed up as we start to ingrain those moves and hardwire the paths in our brains, until finally he is shouting short sharp concise commands to have the entire class moving in unison applying the fluid techniques.
And if the actual words we say have so little value on what the instructor actually wants to communicate, then John is great at acknowledging this and asking the whole class to watch what he is doing rather than just listen to what he is telling them to do.
This requires the instructor to be able to demonstrate the technique with the level of detail and precision required in order for a student to understand it at that same level of depth.
Rick Faye teaching with Mick at CSP-Coventry
John’s analogy is that, when we first learn a technique it is quite simplistic and basic. Over the years, we hone this technique and develop it, evolving it into something quite different from the initial teachings we received. However, when we then go on to teach to own students, we will often use the same words to describe the technique, forgetting to include all of the new found details we have mastered over time.
This is why it’s crucial for students to watch as well as listen.
A good instructor’s job isn’t to lead you down the path they traveled. A good instructor’s job is to hold up a light and let you find your own.
What was a real treat was on a recent seminar with Judo legend Steve Sweetlove, MBE, one of the things he said whilst demonstrating the next Greco reversal, we were about to attempt, was “watch what my head does here”.
Without realising it, Steve knew that he would be adding details in the move physically, that he perhaps wouldn’t describe well enough using words alone – so his simple instruction for us to watch allowed us to gain that extra 55% of the information we might otherwise have missed.
I have personally found that using some of the tools from the world of NLP in my instruction has helped my students to grasp things more quickly and embed them more firmly, and it’s something that all of these great instructors have mastered.
Teaching with compassion and authority
Give your students wings to fly on and a safe place to land
There’s a fine line between running a class that is fun and enjoyable and gives the students what they want, or rather think they want, and running a class that is strict, regimented and teaching with a machine-like precision.
Michael Wright teaching at CSP-Coventry
As an instructor, especially one who’s trying to make a living out of teaching, the balance becomes even more difficult as you want to appeal to the masses to ensure you have a full mat, but also teach what you believe and keep your integrity.
What I have seen from all of the great instructors I’ve trained with recently and over the years, is a steadfast belief in what they are teaching and the reasons they are teaching it and yet, at the same time, are able to add humour, fun and energy into their classes that highlights their passion for the arts.
A great instructor can keep the class fun but with a confidence that they do not worry about the class becoming bored when they are teaching repetitive drills and basics.
A great instructor has a compassion for their student’s progress to the point where they have the confidence to teach in a way that they know is best for their students, even if the students don’t fully appreciate it or it isn’t the fun, cool stuff the students are craving.
Having depth as well as breadth
What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.— Karl Menninger
As well as having a wide breadth of skill set and being able to impress their students in many areas, arts and ranges, a great instructor will also contain a lot of depth.
It’s always very easy to spot an instructor who’s winging it and teaching material they’ve only just been shown, when a student asks a question about the technique or the principles behind using the technique.
Being able to answer questions, break down and explain more detail of techniques, requires depth and understanding that can only be gained from years of practice.
On a seminar with the amazing Rick Faye, I recall him making a speech about teaching the arts. He said, lots of instructors have an ego that only allows them to teach aspects of the art that they can perform well and look good doing in front of a class. The kinds of techniques that makes their students gasp in awe.
And there’s nothing wrong with that as all instructors should have the skills and talents to inspire and give their students something to aim for and be enthused by.
However, Rick went on to explain that, if an instructor only teaches the aspects of the art that he/she is good at, then there will be a huge element of the arts that their students will not get taught. Some of which, their own students may actually be able to become great at as it fits their body type, their attributes and their own interests.
As the generations of instructor progress, if those students only go on to teach a percentage of what they have been taught, the arts will gradually diminish.
It is the instructors job to teach everything, without ego. Show all that they have, and encourage their students to seek instruction elsewhere on the areas that they cannot teach them. This way the arts grow and expand and become more with every passing generation of instructor.
Sometimes as a teacher you have to “get out of your own way” we end up teaching so much, we forget to let the student grow, try, fail, succeed, etc – Simon Squires
Every Lesson has a Journey
All of the best sessions I’ve trained in have been where we have had a clear journey in the class.
As someone who delivers a lot of presentations to corporate groups and clients, I know that a presentation should consist of the following 3 things.
Tell them what you’re going to tell them (intro), Tell them (presentation), Tell them what you told them (summary)
In my opinion, this is how a great martial arts class should also be structured.
To give the students the aims and goals for the class. What is expected of them and what they are going to be able to do by the end of it.
Teach the class, with a clear journey that makes sense and has plenty of “light bulb” moments for the students.
Then ensure during and at the end of the class there are opportunities for reflection and review of what has been learned.
Stretch your students but don’t break them – know their limits and know what they are capable of even when they don’t -– Al Peasland
These are just some of the teaching pointers I’ve taken away from the amazing seminars and workshops we’ve held recently under the CSP banner.
It’s one of the aspects I love about organising and training on events where we have genuine world class instructors sharing their knowledge. It’s as much about How they pass on their skills as it is What skills they actually pass on.
Each student is an individual – don’t train clones – train individuals –– Al Peasland
They cleverly structure a lesson to make it a journey rather than a collection of techniques; they bring everyone along and engage with each student; they structure the teachings to ensure it becomes hardwired; and they do all this with a fun and egoless element.
As Guro Dan Inosanto says,
A good instructor should create a class where knowledge reveals itself.
I just wanted to take a moment to thank all those friends who messaged me with comments, quotes and ideas on what they feel makes a great instructor. I have used some of their suggestions throughout this article and want to credit them for their help. Thank You.
Finally, I would like to leave you with a wonderful story sent to me from another equally great instructor, my friend, Mo Teague.
“Then said a teacher, speak to us of teaching. And he said: No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge. The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom, but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise, he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind. Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet”
Thank you for reading
Stay Safe and Have Fun
Personal Safety Expert