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Push Your Teacher!! Make sure they are worth your time

When looking for a martial arts school to join or even re-assessing if the current school you belong to suites your needs and wants it's important to evaluate two (2) primary aspects. The teacher and his or her relationship with his or her students. As a student there are three (3) non-replaceable things you give when you commit yourself to a style, system, school or instructor.  Those three non-replaceable things are your attention, time and trust. Of course you should already have sorted out what your main purpose for training in a particular martial art is. If your purpose is only recreation with little care of progress then these paragraphs may not be suited for you but, on the other hand, if you're looking for training that will change, challenge and enhance your life, health and self-preservation then what I'm going to be saying will need serious reflection. 

PictureG. Paul training on the beach in north Chicago

The first evaluation is about your teacher's ambition to the perfection of his or her own craft. Is this individual self-driven, motivated and inspired by the system itself to continue there own education by any means.

The teacher should be active in his or her classes. They should be teaching, training and validating the material in each class. A proper teacher will never give an excuse as to why they cannot train, they will not shy away from their students or outside observers watching them train with there students or with their own teachers and seniors. You can clearly see there motivation to perfect there craft and lead as a true professional.

A teacher should not only be able to explain to his or her students how to train on their own but, also demonstrate these solo training methods precisely and perfectly at all speeds and levels of progression. A high class teacher has a formula or ritual to their own solo training and never lacks in there movement. Each movement is precisely executed with authority and professionalism.

In class, you should always see the teacher actively participating in the forms, drills and sparring, making his or her rounds with each student and displaying the proper level of training, teaching and coaching with each individual. A true teacher works with his student to achieve their student's success. This means a teacher is willing to put themselves in controlled risk and vulnerable positions to pull out the best performance in their student. You should clearly be able to see that during this process the teacher has the complete control of the drill or sparring and at the same time lets the student venture into the game.  The teacher should be displaying mastery of both range and timing putting themselves in vulnerable positions trying to encourage their student to identify and capitalize on these opportunities while maintaining the safety of themselves and student. 

PicturePaul and Luigi working forms together

After observing carefully the teacher's behavior of both authority and professionalism it's time to glance over and evaluate the students.  The students will display the teacher's personality, ability and leadership towards training. Watch how the students and teacher interact with each other as well as how the students interact with other students. Also, pay attention to how the teacher and students when not with a partner are acting. Are they observing others, off on there own taking notes and working on a skill or are they just sitting around with no intent to better themselves in some way.

With a professional instructor no student gets left behind, even the ones who may have a harder time grasping the information or applying the lessons physically. There will be a display of patients in the teacher even when the student is frustrated.  A high class teacher understands this frustration, they've experienced it before, therefore should know exactly how to guide that student out of their current rut. A good teacher knows how to slow themselves down and think of the right way to explain and display lessons to each of his students properly so they can all understand the information presented.  Especially when the teacher gets frustrated. If the student does not eventually grasp the material it is the teacher's failure and not the student's.

The teacher doesn't ignore any individual. A proper teacher always accepts his student's questions and needs to train, drill and spar with them. Be sure you never witness a teacher giving a student any excuse not to get in the rounds and physically train and move with them. A proper and professional teacher has no excuses when it comes to his or her students or there own training, ever! 

PicturePaul training with his instructor Tim Waid

The teacher's skills are displayed in his or her students. Over a period of time you should identify each individual student's progress in training as well as seeing growth in the teacher's physical skills and ability to present the material. You should see the higher level students taking on the same self-demands the teacher has for himself.  Watch how the students interact with each other, train with each other with no ill-competition, helping and teaching each other to progress and grow. You should see the students supporting and encouraging each other's success. Witness a room of no excuses and a pure drive to succeed in lessons and over all skill for themselves and their classmates. Basically, you will see the exact same behavior in student to student as you will see in teacher to student.

Lastly, a teacher should never hide the ability of his advance students from others observing the classes or advance student to instructor flow rounds. You should witness the advance students really pushing out there best, especially when they are flowing and sparring with the teacher. You should never see a demonstration type of agreed play between them in flow rounds.  You should be witnessing the advance student actually attacking and doing there best to strike the teacher. Sometimes the student even gets a good shot in and when this happens you should see the teacher's eyes and face expression light up with complete joy for their student's success. You should witness the advance students pushing the instructors physical craftsmanship.

PictureRFA-Windy City PTK Advance students

If you are to walk into the middle of a class during a flow or sparring session, it should be some what difficult to spot the instructor. You should see everyone participating in the training, exchanging ideas and validations. You should be witnessing a sense of community between each individual.

Teachers who lecture without proper display, sit down during classes, don't work hard and sweat at each class and seem to have excuses not to move around, train, workout and lead by extreme example in my mind are not true and professional, high class instructors. It is not a piece of paper, ability to talk or how they make themselves appear that defines one's ability to perform, it is there attitude, character and drive to physical and intellectual mastery.

I leave you with this, question everything and always push those above you. Make any teacher have to earn your respect by proving their authority, professionalism and of course physical skill.

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Comment by terry joven on December 12, 2013 at 3:42pm

I really like.... "If the student does not eventually grasp the material it is the teacher's failure and not the student's. The apple should not fall to far from the tree!....nice blog Guro Paul!

Comment by melvin on December 18, 2013 at 12:59am

I like to share my two cents, "A great teacher is willing to make his student better than himself"

Comment by Paul Ingram - Kali Center on December 18, 2013 at 10:18am

Absolutely Melvin! Thanks for sharing.

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