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I heard it once said that there are teachers and there are fighters. Can a great fighter lack the ability to be a great teacher and can someone who lacks the skill of a great fighter be a great teacher of martial arts? I've met a few great fighters that all were great teachers but never the other way around. Has anyone ever known a great martial arts teacher who was never a great fighter?

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Going have to really put my thinking cap on this one.... I have known a few fighters that did not have great teaching abilities!


Two names come to mind, Freddy Roach and Angelo Dundee.  Freddy Roach was a good fighter - not necessarily great, but good enough to take a couple titles.  Angelo Dundee began his career as a corner man, not a fighter.  Both men have coached world champions.  Freddy has coached Manny to 8 different divisional titles.  Angelo...well..Ali.  It's safe to say they are both great teachers.

In my experience, I have learned from great fighters and great teachers.  I have had the privilege to train with some of the very best of both.  Some were great repositories of information, some challenged me physically with their abilities.  All of them were great teachers but for different reasons.  I have known poor fighters who gravitate to teaching because they are such lousy fighters.  The truth is, their teaching is just as bad; full of myths, untested techniques, half developed drills and missing the key element of understanding application.  I have also known really bad teachers who were great fighters.  Their teaching consisted of simply beating the crap out of their students physically, emotionally and mentally.  Their students are often ill informed, lacking in refinement and devoid of any deeper understanding or subtlety (or footwork).  The skill it takes to be a great fighter does not always translate into the skill to be a great teacher.  A great teacher has the ability to open the student's mind; to lead them into a new consciousness.  Having the insight and experience of using the techniques gives the teacher a clear understanding of the goal that is to be achieved by the student.  Without the insight to clearly identify and communicate what the student needs to learn along with the wisdom of how they are to learn it, no one can be a great teacher.  There are knowledge based teachers who posses this ability and there are fight based teachers who do as well.  My preference is to work with people who have tried to apply the techniques they are teaching but that does not prevent me from spending time with teachers who may not be great fighters.  So long a the teacher is able to communicate and help a student learn the truth, then they are a great teacher.  Just knowing is not enough.  Just being able to fight is not enough.

My opinion,


Hello Guro Lawrence,
You've made some very good points here. I'll have to re-read your comments after I finish teaching this evening.

I've got a little to say about this.
There is and never will be a better teacher than experience. A great teacher never did, does, or will teach anybody to be a great fighter. A great teacher will instead give you drills, concepts, strategies, and a frame of mind for the fight. Once those skills and concepts are ingrained, then a fighter is tempered by the fight over and over again. The best example are the coaches who trained any of the great boxers. Surely you couldn't say all great boxing coaches were great (then why haven't we heard of them as well), and you definitely couldn't say that those boxers were great all by themselves. So get some good knowledge, train hard, then be willing to take and give the hits. Only then could you call yourself a true fighter.

G. Trainum
Hello Garrett,
Thank you for your contribution to this discussion. Let's look at this topic in the context of martial art and not a sport. There are many great sport coaches that have never even played the sport they coach. The point I wanted to make was that a great fighter knows things that someone who was never been a great fighter will never know. If a teacher knows drills, concepts, and principles and teaches with very good organization but can't fight, what could he or she teach me about being a proficient fighter? Their teachings amount to theories that are unproven by that teacher. You're right, fighting is very complex and if I had a choice I'd choose someone who is what others claim to be.

Didn't Bruce Lee teach his five theories to the Late Joe Lewis? I believe Lewis said he was the first one to prove all five theories, in the ring.

Guro Dave

I remember doing maths at secondary school. The formula would instantly apply to the first 1 or 2 equations then less and less so to the following, our individual brains have to resort to creativity. I've never seen anyone spoon feed like I have western FMA teachers.

FMAs are live arts, serviceable and meant to be used unhindered by the bollix of a lot of other arts. This is where the fighter-teacher comes in. making the connection training between the gym and combat. Like my maths, untaught variables happen in combat or on the street.

At the other end of the scale we have teachers on the coat tails of their teacher's experience, their reputation. Fighters, warriors are very special people with something unfathomable that sets them apart from ordinary folk. In the Castaneda sense, they are free from concern for themselves, liberated to flow freely. If you look at the sad situation of kids in troubled areas, such as where gang banging goes on, they have given themselves to a 'higher' cause, the gang. Knowing a thousand angles and 500 drills won't help you when they psych you out with their lack of mortality. This, IMHO, is one of the things the fighter-teacher will impart.

(Yes, I know I fek'n rambled on :-) )

Garrett, Excellent input! Great fighting comes from great training. Great teaching comes from great presentation of education.

Don't get me wrong, I too much rather learn from a teacher who has had fight experience. If you don't have fear going to class or facing your peers in a match, you not going to be ready on the street when that desperate man jumps from around the corner with a knife. And the best way to achieve that is to surround yourself with actual fighters.
The only point I was trying to make was that just because your teacher has survived the onslaught of daily survival through hand to hand combat does not mean you are going to become a great fighter training under him unless you are willing to put yourself in fighting situations. And just because your teacher never had to fight, doesn't mean you can't be a great fighter; but once again you'd have to actually fight to be a fighter. Whether or not your teacher is a fighter a principal or philosophy is just that until YOU put it into practice and test it for YOURSELF. (Bold not indicating yelling, but emphasis). It reminds me of something one of my teachers told me. Your kung-fu is not my kung-fu. It is your journey I'm just pointing the way.

Thank you for the discussion. It has been very enjoyable. Hope to see other threads you start in the future.
Hello Garrett,
You're absolutely correct, there are many students of masters and grand masters that are mediocre fighters at best. The problem usually lies in the work ethic of the student and not necessarily the teaching ability of the teacher.

Very interesting topic Zach.

I'm always saying to my students and seminar attendees in both my martial arts and personal development to always push, test and validate your teachers. I think those with good ideas could teach and contribute a lot to our community however you need to believe in that persons authority. 

I relate it with marketing.  Somebody making say $20,000 probably can't teach me to make $100,000 a year over some one making $1,000,000 per year. I'm not saying the $20,000 a year has bad information, in fact they could be saying the exact same thing as the millionaire. The difference is that the millionaire makes $100,000 seem more attainable than the $20,000 a year guy.

My point is, it comes down to how much you believe in the teacher. This is why I say validate your teachers ability. They don't necessarily have to be the best fighter but I would say they needed to produce champion quality fighters already. Of course, it does help to be seen as an authority to have high quality fighting skills in the martial community.

Kind of relates to the whole "does a certificate indicate someone's level of mastery?" In my opinion it needs to be proven especially in our current day and age.

Excellent topic for discussion! A+

Hello Paul, I like your analogy. Varying viewpoints make for good discussions. No one has every right answer only opinion and whether we agree or disagree we respect each other's opinions and I appreciate everyone's input.



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