Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do Black Belts Have To Teach?

A month ago, I wrote a post which asked "Once a black belt...always a black belt?" The comments on this post were thought provoking and insightful. Becky from Fine Martial Fiber wrote:

I don't believe one should be required to teach to maintain his
(her) rank.

Her comment was a source of discussion in the dojo among the black belts. Are black belts required to teach? Does one have to teach to advance? When did you know that you wanted to be a teacher?

My Story

My husband started training three years before I did. He was a brown belt student when I walked on the dojo floor for the first time. He always wanted to teach and knew he wanted his own dojo. He would lead class as a brown belt and many of his peers would come to him to learn material. The fact he would become an instructor was obvious and inevitable.

I was the complete opposite. The thought of becoming a karate instructor never entered my mind. When I tested for Shodan, I was asked if I wanted to teach. I would always respond with....


I had absolutely no intention of teaching.

How did I become an instructor? I would like be able to pinpoint when it happened but I cannot. I did not wake up one day and decide I wanted to teach. It just happened. I knew I wanted to give back and share the information I was taught. I enjoyed guiding the students.

In regards to Becky's comment, I agree with her. I do not believe a black belt should be required to teach. If I was required to teach as a young black belt, I probably would not be training today. I wonder if the people who kept asking me if I was going to teach saw something that I did not.

Perhaps it was more inevitable than I realized...

Thank you to the readers and to those who comment on my blog.


Dan Prager said...

Why teach?
* You get to give something back
* It's creative, and often fun
* It's so rewarding to see your students progress
* You learn so much

On the other hand, it's a big responsibility and can be a fair bit of work, and typically takes time away from one's own training.

On balance, I would hope that every black-belt would want to teach, but should also get to take a break from teaching now and then.

Neal Martin said...

I agree with everything that Dan said. It's not mandatory for a black belt to teach but at the same time we will always need a new generation of teachers so somebody has to do it. I resisted it for along time before finally shouldering the responsibility. It does you good and makes you a better martial artist, I think. Teaching is the best way to learn, as they say.

Becky said...

I was required to teach as a young black belt. I was required to teach as a brown belt. I was required to teach as a purple belt. I was leading classes with supervision when I was a green belt. I am not a teacher. I don't like to teach. I'm not good at it. I began to dread going to class.

Not only that, all those classes I was teaching, I was not receiving instruction myself. When I was preparing for my shodan test, my instructions were, "Go over in the corner by yourself and figure out on your own what you will need to know for your test."

Perhaps had I been nurtured as a student more, I might still be actively training.

SueC said...

I'm not sure that teaching as a black belt should be compulsory but I think it should be encouraged - not to be a full instructor but to help out occasionally. In our club we have 2adult black belts (both 2nd dan) and 2 teenage black belts (both 1st dan). The adults will help out with parts of the class e.g do the warm up or teach a small group a new kata or take a group through some sparring techniques whilst sensei is preparing another group for grading. The rest of the time they just join in the class with the rest of us. The older teenager (16) often leads the warm up or demonstrates a kata to us but the younger one (12) is not expected to teach yet. In the sensei's absence the two adults will take the whole class. One of these adults has now been inspired to start his own club though he still trains with us as well. I don't think it is unreasonable to expect the black belts to help out with teaching in this ad hoc way. I, as a brown belt, help out in a similar way with the junior class (just up to orange belts).

I agree with Dan that it's important to give something back and I agree with Neal that teaching is the best way to learn.

However I think Becky's experience is terrible. I don't think anyone below brown belt should be teaching at all - I would not have thought my club was any good if I was regularly taught by someone only one grade ahead of me! You pay to be taught by an expert not a fellow student.

elizasmom said...

Hey — great minds, etc. I pondered another angle of the teaching question myself this week:

As you might surmise from my post, I'm in favor of teaching.
At my dojo we ask the brown belts to assist with kids' classes - they work, several to a class, under heavy supervision from senior black belts so that they get ample opportunity to learn.

I think encouraging, and even gently pushing, people to teach is not a bad thing — I was certainly skeptical that I had anything to offer when I started as an assistant, but I did it because I knew my sensei thought it would be good for me, and he was right.

That said, experiences like Becky's point up the need to a. not throw people in the deep end b. not start too early and c. give people the choice to step away from teaching when they find it's not working for them.

Dan Prager said...

I've gone further and referenced this post on my blog by asking Do black belts have to start their own class?

Narda said...

I'm assuming that by 'black belt' you are referring to what seems to be the standard...which is anywhere between 3-6 years of training.

If so, then I say, 'No.' I would not want to learn from someone with those few years of experience. What would I learn? A kata or two? What would they teach...mindless line drills?

No. I think someone should have trained a solid 10 years under that belt before leading a class. That's enough time to understand the principles in that. Even then, they are 'junior teachers'. Someone that has 15, 20 or more years of solid training is much better suited. They can watch you and have the experience to tell you what you are doing wrong. 'You need to adjust your weight, turn your foot out', etc.

I think forcing people to teach before 10 years deprives everyone in the school.

John Vesia said...

I think teaching on a small scale should be encouraged for intermediates (6th - 3rd kyu). Most shodan should possess the poise and knowhow to run a full class when needed. Not as a bona fide requirement, but it's good to have and be able to display some teaching and leadership skills at that level.

Ranks above nidan tend to be administrative in nature. All of the organizations I've been involved with would only advance someone to sandan or higher if they've taught consistently over a period of time.

Of course as you well know, teaching at times entails much that has little to do with the subject matter: dealing with parents, collecting dues, and other aspects of running a business.

In response to what Becky said, no matter how good or dedicated a practitioner may be, not everyone has a burning desire to teach and I don't think it should be forced on anyone who's uncomfortable with it.