I don’t actually know what my first instructor did for a living, it didn’t seem an appropriate question to ask. I do remember he was a brown belt in Shotokan karate and seemed a very good martial artist.
I do however, remember that he was nearly always late for class and that very often we would be waiting for him to arrive. To this day he still irks me a little bit, I should point out that I don’t hold him personally responsible, it was more a case of he had to do his full-time job, teaching karate was a hobby and had to be treated as such.
One of my main influences, who when I trained with him, was a fifth Dan instructor was a gardener. After training with him for several years and feeling comfortable enough to ask the question, I recall that he did the job so he could finish work early enough to teach five nights a week and Saturday and Sunday.
In fact, in my opinion at that time almost all martial arts instructors had a primary job to afford them and income. This was just the way it was, and the thought or concept that anyone would be a full-time professional martial artist was completely alien to most of the people that I knew and trained with, I am in no way challenging the ability as a martial artist.
I tried to research my instructors as much as possible without fantastic tools that are available to today’s students such as Google etc. As I said previously, the best way to see if you had a fit with an instructor was to basically train in his class, this concept still holds true today as far as I am concerned.
Today there are many full-time instructors who have their own academies or gyms that they work out of, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are better instructors or better martial artists, that is probably a subjective question but what it does mean is that motivation and focus can be different for today’s martial arts instructor.
Firstly, we should consider what makes a good or great instructor. A recent research paper that I read indicates that the instructors personal style is more important than the quality or, for that matter, his style of martial art! Then of course there is his lineage, his instructor credentials, his training and instructing experience. It’s not how many years he’s trained, it is how many hours he’s trained and what he trained in those years. Has he repeated one years of training 20 times or as he evolved and grown as a martial artist in line with current martial arts practice.
If I think of my instructors then I am confident that apart from their exemplary martial arts it is their ability to connect with me or to resonate with me as their student. For the most part, they had different personalities, a different sense of humour and different teaching methodologies.
As a student I think you must learn to adapt to your instructor that surely has to be part of the student instructor relationship.
Over the years as I’ve seen my instructors become full-time martial artists and instructors as I have become a full time martial arts instructor and academy owner myself, I believe that for the most part it is has been a positive thing for me as a person and as a student and I hope it has become a positive thing for my students. I should add that I believe my instructors to be world class martial artists anyway, but over the years I have seen others where perhaps their focus or ability did not meet the standards that I was fortunate enough to have access to myself.
So what do I think is the difference? Well, firstly it has to be available time and a clear focus on being a full-time martial artist. If an average job is 40 hours a week plus travelling time and he mans the attention to fulfill the obligations are that job then simply put that time is not available to focus on, practice or study martial arts. If that same amount of time was available to practice and develop as a martial artists then that would amount to 1920 hours a year! When you consider that on average students practice less than 100 hours a year and dedicated students probably no more than 200 too 250 hours a year, then there is a lot more available time to develop as a martial artist and instructor.
Recent popular opinion has quoted 10,000 hours as being the time needed to master a skill, this is more recently been challenged and I have been told that between 2500 and 5000 hours practice is appropriate too. Again there is an element of subjectivity in the statements, the person’s ability to absorb new information and the skills, the instructors’ ability to deliver the lessons in an appropriate style to suit students learning modality, the complexity of the skill, structure of the material etc.
Another very important consideration is that the instructor’s livelihood is now dependent on his skills as a martial artist, an instructor and a businessman. In my opinion having to pay the mortgage out of what you earn as a martial arts instructor should focus your attention on being the best you can be and on making sure you are focused on helping your students achieve their potential.
To my mind this is a win-win situation, I win because I get to do what is my passion and to focus my time on reaching my potential which in turn has me deliver the best experience I can to the students that train in our academies. I certainly believe that the instructors that have taught me demonstrated that win-win for me personally.
Today as always there’re still good in bad instructors out there, just as there are in all walks of life. For me the philosophy and ethos that martial artists aspire to means we should all try to be the best we can, we should all work to be positive members of our communities, we should all work to use the strength training in the martial arts gives us to help those people that need our compassion and support. I believe that the job (if it is a job) gives us the opportunity to fulfill these possibilities.
I hope these thoughts resonate with you, please post your comments or ask any questions and I’ll do my best to respond.
Next time it’s about Global reach and Local awareness, what can that have to do with martial arts!?