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Role of the Teacher
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(I wrote this a while ago, but it is a topic I often reflect on...)

In my martial training, I've been fortunate to have some skilled and extraordinary teachers. In training, the teacher represents the physical incarnation of a school of fighting principles. He or she is the confident guide who leads students along a trail of development. In one respect, the teacher is a model of our future selves.

I wouldn't want to study with someone who doesn't practice what he preaches. This is what separates the teacher from someone who simply offers you advice. Though your teacher offers advice, he or she should be a living example of what it is that you are trying to learn. (The Japanese word sensei has its root in this. Sensei, which we take to mean "teacher or instructor," has a literal meaning of "person that I wish to be like.")

How a teacher elects to teach is grounds for a lot of discussion. The determining factor is the lessons passed on and the teacher's preferred method of communication. Some lean toward kind words and subtle encouragements, others stick to the boot in the ass, "no-pain, no gain" method of incentive. There isn't a right way. There is only the correct match of student and master; an important pairing in some martial arts schools.The grandmaster of one discipline I studied said that the teacher-student relationship is more important than any other a person is likely to get involved in. While I know the man was very respectful of filial piety, I suspect that his statement relates to the image again of the teacher as our future self.

Still, we tend to learn from our teachers even after we've left them. The role of a teacher is archetypal for us. They are imposing figures who constantly hover just on the edge of our consciousness. Notable masters have praised those who guided them along. Some paint stories that impart a lesson that may rival any myth. I recently read a Greek myth concerning Hercules and a giant called Antaeus. Antaeus, the son of Gaia and Poseidon, used to coax people into wrestling with him. Once the match would begin he would promptly kill them with his immense strength. He had a little secret: he couldn't lose as long as he was in direct contact with his mother the Earth. Hercules knew this and when it came down to a match between them, he lifted Antaeus into the air and crushed him.

With that in mind, consider this story of T. Takamatsu, predecessor of the current grandmaster of the Bujinkan dojo. Once there was a giant bandit, somewhere in China, who demanded a "toll" from everyone who would get by him to journey along a roadway. Takamatsu heard about this and found himself in front of this man. Of course being such as he was, he refused to pay the brute anything. The bandit roared and swept Takamatsu up into his arms. Later, according to Takamatsu's retelling of the story, "Suddenly, the giant screamed in agony and let me go and to my surprise I saw one of his eyes clutched in my fingers." From that day on, travelers were unimpeded in their journeys.

The foremost point of this article is this: a teacher has the ability to help us spur our self development as human beings. They chide us to be strong, fierce, brave, but they also demand that we shun brutality and keep our aim on truth and self knowledge. If a teacher really cares about you, you will experience a wide range of lessons from him or her. Teachers can be ruthless predators in a sense and your shortcomings are their favorite dish. In biological terms, predators strengthen their prey. They pick off the sick and keep the healthy on their toes. Occasionally, you will look at your teacher and swear you see horns sprouting from his or her head. This person will punch you in the stomach, expect you to do the impossible, and put you through hell and back. With someone like this on your butt, you learn to get moving.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've had these same teachers deal with me in quite caring and hospitable ways: they've fed me, given me a place to sleep, and looked at me with genuine tears of pride in their eyes. The best of them have shown me how to pick myself up out of the mud and have shown me how to develop martial integrity. And that's quite a debt to pay back. The best way to do this is to practice what you know.

Learn. Learn. Learn.

Darryl Caldwell
riposte.org

Posted on: 2007/11/13 9:00
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Re: Role of the Teacher
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The role of the teacher.....probably a somersault, or maybe a French role...or even Dutch Crunch....seriously though, when you stated, "I wouldn't want to study with someone who doesn't practice what he preaches.".....what about the iceskating teacher who had an accident and has bad knees and can't skate anymore....or what if Soke accidentaly tragically became a paraplegic under some strange circumstances that I wont even venture to make up, would you not want to learn from him anymore?

!jz

Posted on: 2007/11/15 10:27
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Re: Role of the Teacher
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en Dutch Crunch....seriously though, when you stated, "I wouldn't want to study with someone who doesn't practice what he preaches.".....what about the iceskating teacher who had an accident and has bad knees and can't skate anymore...

To me that's the difference between a teacher and a coach. A coach doesn't necessarily need to be able to perform, but a coach has a different role than a teacher.

It's common for an athlete to have more real skill than his or her coach, but does it make sense for a student to have more real skill than his or her teacher? If the teacher doesn't practice, motivated and resourceful students will eventually catch up.


John

Posted on: 2007/11/15 13:49
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Re: Role of the Teacher
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Yes, if an instructor does not 'keep going' the student will catch up. That is why we must keep going and why so many of us continue to to to Japan each year. With that said maybe you should also consider this, it really is not important what the teacher can DO, it is important what the teacher can teach YOU to do. If he/she can levetate or fly, or walk on water, but can't teach you to do that, then what good is it to you?

Posted on: 2007/11/15 23:44
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Re: Role of the Teacher
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Quote:

bujincan wrote:

To me that's the difference between a teacher and a coach. A coach doesn't necessarily need to be able to perform, but a coach has a different role than a teacher.

It's common for an athlete to have more real skill than his or her coach, but does it make sense for a student to have more real skill than his or her teacher? If the teacher doesn't practice, motivated and resourceful students will eventually catch up.


John


To take a turn for the specific, one must differentiate between skill reffering to knowledgebase or ability to apply ones knowledgebase to the real world.
Heres a scenerio to consider. Computer helpdesk. The tech support isn't there to push the the buttons or move the mouse but they can certainly teach someone how to fix the problem over the phone.

jz

Posted on: 2007/11/16 11:16
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Re: Role of the Teacher
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Papa-san wrote:
Yes, if an instructor does not 'keep going' the student will catch up. That is why we must keep going and why so many of us continue to to to Japan each year. With that said maybe you should also consider this, it really is not important what the teacher can DO, it is important what the teacher can teach YOU to do. If he/she can levetate or fly, or walk on water, but can't teach you to do that, then what good is it to you?


Isn't also a sign of a good teacher if he/she can train a student that will surpass his/her skills?

I mean, if the teacher would alway keep the students below his/her level, wouldn't things get weaker and weaker by the generation?

Posted on: 2007/11/16 19:51
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Re: Role of the Teacher
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Heres a scenerio to consider. Computer helpdesk. The tech support isn't there to push the the buttons or move the mouse but they can certainly teach someone how to fix the problem over the phone.

Sure, but the helpdesk person has to actually be able to do what they're telling you to do and has to understand the reasons for pressing the buttons, the consequences of pressing the wrong buttons, the set of commonly made mistakes, the environment that is being changed by pressing the buttons, etc - even though they're not actually pressing the buttons themselves this time.

Sadly, what's more common, at least where I live, is for helpdesk managers to hire under-qualified staff who don't understand enough to help with much other than the most trivial problems, beyond which they use scripted lists of questions to help them arrive at the proper case in the database from which they can read you your solution. Often, the person calling the helpdesk knows more than the helpdesk person, which can be very frustrating.

I think this analogy is actually pretty good for showing why a teacher needs to keep practicing.

John

Posted on: 2007/11/17 3:57
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Re: Role of the Teacher
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Ôari wrote:

Isn't also a sign of a good teacher if he/she can train a student that will surpass his/her skills?

I mean, if the teacher would alway keep the students below his/her level, wouldn't things get weaker and weaker by the generation?


Yep. It is hard to accept that sometimes, someone who has had the soup of the soup will make better soup than those who had the soup.



-Daniel

Posted on: 2007/11/17 4:59
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Re: Role of the Teacher
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Quote:

TenChiJin Guy wrote:
Quote:

Ôari wrote:

Isn't also a sign of a good teacher if he/she can train a student that will surpass his/her skills?

I mean, if the teacher would alway keep the students below his/her level, wouldn't things get weaker and weaker by the generation?


Yep. It is hard to accept that sometimes, someone who has had the soup of the soup will make better soup than those who had the soup.



-Daniel


OK let me comment on that. This is just my opinion formed after about 30 years in various martial arts arts...
I am assuming that I understood the English that was used (I am not the native speaker) and that the "soup" referred to the Papa-san's anecdote.

I think that these are two different facets of growing in arts:
- if I understood correctly, the implication of what Ôari was referring to is more of the "bu fu" kind of thing. This relates to (but is much more than) correct passing of tradition including "kuden", respecting the fact that many generations before had many great experts and even geniuses. This is like "having the soup" and allowing to dynamically improve the recipe ONCE the idea of the current soup is internalized. I heard Soke mention several times that the tradition must be kept alive by adjusting to how the times are changing... this is why the secretive knowledge of some clans is now accessible to the gaijin, ne?

- "make better soup than those who had the soup" actually refers IMHO, to another way to grow the art: Starting a new one disregarding the need to focus on learning lessons from traditions. I read it that way because "better soup than those who had the soup" says that you actually did not have the soup but are genial enough to create something useful mostly out of yourself. This very well might be. This is typically done by somebody who is a martial art genius but even then it is done after knowing the soup VERY VERY WELL. All of the ryuha were somehow started as separate entities, right? In modern times, Ueshiba-sama did soemthing like that, Funakoshi-sama, Oyama-sama and so on. And of course Bruce Lee should be also included in that category. However, to assume that you can do this without actually having the soup sounds very cocky and looks to me like a very bold declaration.

Hence, after this lengthy epistole , what Daniel said (quoted above) I put into the category of overcommitted rhetorical figures... I hope

peace on Earth
Mariusz

Posted on: 2007/11/17 7:47
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Re: Role of the Teacher
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" Ôari wrote:

Isn't also a sign of a good teacher if he/she can train a student that will surpass his/her skills?

I mean, if the teacher would alway keep the students below his/her level, wouldn't things get weaker and weaker by the generation?"


Yes. And I don't think you would find Papa San disagreeing with you in this regard. I read Papa San's point as meaning that a good instructor will keep his/her standards set high so that their students will continue to recieve a high quality of instruction (which may lead to the student surpassing his instructor). I read another point too which was that we should avoid becoming the disciples of people with great skill sets who can't teach us anything.

Jonathan Bronson

Posted on: 2007/11/17 11:20
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