Fellow martial artist and blogger Michele posted a question in her "Just a Thought" blog a few days ago about black belts teaching. Should it be required? Is there a responsibility to "give back" to help keep the art alive? What is it about becoming a yundansha (black belt) that makes a karate student magically eligible to teach?
The school I came through the ranks in has no strict rules about teaching. In fact, many of us had led class stretching/warmup/kihon more than a few times by the time we'd become second- or first-kyu brown belts. There's no real instruction on how to lead the class though; your sensei just calls your name and asks you to start the warmup or demonstrate X technique. Let's just say we learned fast that there's a world of difference between being told what to do/how to do it and telling everyone else the same.
Three of us tested for shodan this past May and within a few weeks, we were all leading groups of under belts through kata, self-defense and sparring techniques. Although I love teaching and enjoy helping other karateka, what I found was that once the teaching started, the learning sorta stopped. But if black belt is really the beginning of training, how do you continue on a path that has become a bit obscured by the lessons you now give instead of the ones you get? Understand, I personally have no problems with giving back, but learning more in order to have more to give would be a great, too. Unfortunately, I had to go elsewhere to learn more - which is how I ended up with Sensei S since June.
Think about the instruction you've gotten and it isn't hard to see that some instructors are simply better than others. Just because you know a thing does not necessarily mean you can effectively explain how or why that thing is to others. Sensei S and I had a conversation about why this is the case. He's a very thorough instructor and has a knack for explaining things in logical, practical ways. When I asked him how he got to be such an instructor, he said he was fortunate enough to have instructors who taught him how to teach. Hmmmm...
So, an open letter to my other senseis would probably read like this:
Onegaishiamasu - please teach me - how to teach before you toss me into the lion's den to fend for myself. Baptism by fire might not the best instructor make. And please help me help others by continuing to teach me more about this incredible art. Teaching and learning probably shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Domo arigato goziamasu.
Stepping off my soapbox now...