Sharing the Art—the Student/Teacher Relationship Pt. 1

An ancient Chinese proverb says that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Once the light of inspiration begins to glow in the heart of a pupil, the influence of a great teacher expands infinitely. Historically in Asia, a martial arts instructor’s status was similar to that of the clergy or great philosophy masters. They were recognized as very wise individuals and were highly respected in the community.

The Yin and Yang of Practice

The path of martial arts is one of personal growth and self-discovery. What is the student’s responsibility in the learning process? You will be learning new techniques and interesting concepts. Each class will be challenging, but fun.

May your practice always strengthen you in mind, body, and spirit.        

Many students say that studying martial arts is one of the most exciting things they have ever done. Most of our students have wanted to study martial arts for a long time, but, for whatever reason, have put it off.

Having mixed feelings of excitement and frustration in the beginning of your practice is normal. You might even feel uncoordinated and clumsy. Within the first couple of months, through regular practice, you will gain greater command of your body and begin executing techniques much better. This cycle of excitement and frustration will continue throughout your practice. The cycles change as your understanding, techniques, and attitude transform. The key is to remain enthusiastic. See each frustration as an indication of what you need to practice. Having an open communication with your teacher is vital. Their guidance and the nurturing environment of the school, will keep you on track, focused, and moving towards your highest potential.

“What is the greatest thing a teacher can teach? This is what you must think about. What is the greatest thing a student can learn? This is what you must think about.”

Kensho Furuya

Who is Responsible for the Learning Process?

People have different ideas of the true meaning of a student/teacher relationship. Basically, in the West, the student’s only duty is to show up. That is about it. The teacher bears most of the responsibility in the learning process, with little accountability on the student. The teacher searches for ways to effectively communicate, motivating and teaching the student, even if the student is not trying very hard. Should the student not succeed, the belief is that the teacher failed-he should work harder to teach. So, he repeatedly tries varying methods, until the student, despite his insincere attitude, eventually gets it. This method is not always effective, and rarely does a student internalize the real essence of the teaching. Only by direct personal experience do we really understand anything. We must have our own investment in the learning process.

The Value of Concentration and Discipline

Traditionally in Asia, not everyone was allowed to study martial arts. Great masters would accept only students who could prove they were motivated and willing to meet high expectations. The students held most of the responsibility for the learning process. Teachers were usually serious and rather gruff, demonstrating techniques silently, or with very few words. The students had to concentrate hard to follow and learn each technique, ands a result, awareness and sensitivity increased. Students worked very hard to keep their mind under control, because teachers did not repeat for wandering minds. In this environment, new students were almost sure to miss something, simply because their understanding had not evolved enough to grasp the complicated concepts. Classes were never adjusted for beginning students. As you can imagine, many people became frustrated and quit their practice. For those who continued, their beginner’s wisdom expanded slowly through trial and error and they moved down the path of growth and realization.

This model of teaching seems rather brutal, but some aspects are effective. Self-discovery is a very powerful way to learn. By exerting great effort to grasp the knowledge for yourself, you absorb the lesson completely, making it a part of your very being. You are not just mimicking or memorizing something that you will forget in a few months. You’ve discovered it on your own and it is important to you. When the teacher just spouts forth the information, repeating again and again, students really don’t have to listen carefully, and probably won’t comprehend how the lesson affects their life.

The difference between a master and a novice is that the master makes use of each opportunity in life as well as in practice.

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