Articles, Uncategorized

Being A Good Student


We often talk about what makes a good Instructor and what makes a good club, but what happens when we turn that on it’s head and ask what makes a good student?

The one thing that I discovered was that if I knew how to be a good student I could get far more out of my Instructors than anybody else and that as an Instructor I am far more inclined to teach a good student thoroughly than a bad one.

The inescapable facts are that many Instructors don’t get to choose their students, sometimes they teach because they feel it’s wrong to favour students and therefore ‘stick it out’ with what they consider a bad one and sometimes the reasons are financial, but either way I quickly discovered that there are ways to get far more than anyone else was getting and I didn’t have to compromise my morals to achieve it!

You don’t have to like a person to teach them well, a student doesn’t have to like an Instructor to learn from them, all it takes is a bit of patience and tolerance on both sides to get there. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with many students in the past and I can understand that they hate me for being blunt with them and for making them do things that they didn’t want to, if you don’t push them beyond what they think are their limits, how are they going to improve? If they don’t have that basic faith and trust in me even if they don’t like me, or what I’m making them do they can never grow as a martial artist. I never worried about popularity, just results.

What can a student do to make the relationship work better? This is the magic formula that I used to get that extra tuition and information that the others never got.

Always pay your fees. Seems obvious but isn’t to many. Never barter on a price. Always pay for your lesson whether you turn up or not. If you want that regular spot, book it with money, then it’s always yours and a bond of trust is formed. There is nothing worse than a student that books an instructors time, cancels and doesn’t pay. If someone who does pay regularly comes along they will naturally give the time to them and you will forfeit yours. The Instructor will also not be inclined to teach an irregular person well because they will see them as untrustworthy and think that they are wasting their time. If you are a long term student, raise the fees yourself, it is unlikely that the Instructor will do it and when you show that you value their time and consider their well being it will be appreciated.

Always make notes. Learn a training shorthand of matchstick men, arrows and keywords so that when you get home you will remember what you’ve been taught. Ask the instructor to film you doing what you’ve just learned on your phone and if you’re lucky he will give advice whilst doing it. If he doesn’t want to do this get someone else to do it as soon as possible afterwards. Between lessons train continuously on what you’ve been taught and think about it all of the time. Every time a question arises, write it down to ask on your next lesson. There’s nothing more encouraging for an instructor than a student who pays attention, makes notes, trains hard between lessons and then asks questions on the next lesson.

Listen and pay attention to what you’re being taught. Don’t give your opinion. Don’t talk about what you’ve done or what you think because you’re paying the Instructor to give you the benefit of their experience. There’s nothing more boring than a student who pays the Instructor so they can talk to them for a couple of hours about what they think and have done. Every minute is important not just from a financial point of view but that instructor could be dead tomorrow and you’re wasting precious time with your own ego. If you’re asked, “what do you want to do?” the Instructor is being polite, answer “whatever you think I need to work on”. You are likely being taught a system and it’s best to learn it in the right sequence put together by the expert, not randomly by your own desires.

Develop respect and care. If the Instructor is doing their best for you and you are for them, mutual respect is earned naturally. If there’s anything you can do to help or support in their home life, club and association development do it, because it means that your teaching environment is less likely to be affected by outside influences and it’s good to care. I’ve represented my Instructors on Governing Body Committees, helped them to write books, shoot videos, buy houses, helped with legal problems, opened clubs for them, taught on their seminars and helped them bring over their Instructors to the UK.

Every time you reach a milestone in your training, like a grading, winning a tournament or opening your own club, always thank your instructor before doing anything else and always give them credit for what they’ve taught you. Nowadays that courtesy has all but disappeared and you can see students prancing around with their new grade or trophy and everyone patting them on their back whilst the Instructor sits quietly in the corner. It’s not inappropriate to buy them a small thank you gift or at least give a thank you before celebrating yourself.

It’s easy to teach just the surface of a system and the student would never know. Often that’s done as a test to see if they’re worthy or capable of receiving deeper instruction. Courtesy is a given, respect is earned both ways. When the student and instructors ‘chi is in agreement’, respect has been earned and they are capable of working through the hard times together; the ‘hidden levels’ can be taught. Nothing is being held back, it’s just that the environment has to be right. The surface teaching is known as ‘eating sweet’ and the deeper levels as ‘eating bitter’. ‘Eating sweet’ is full of flashy moves and certificates and ‘eating bitter’ is made of sweat, blood, pain and a system that gradually alters the body and mind.

By all means find the right club and instructor, but remember that they are also looking for the right student.
By Steve Rowe

Articles, Uncategorized

Teaching Older People



Many of us these days teach people in their 70’s and above and it’s important for us to understand that even if their memory and body is breaking down, they are still a senior citizen and should command respect.

Don’t talk to them like they are a child, don’t get frustrated with them, be courteous, polite and break technique down until you find that which they are comfortable with.

They deserve dignity, they have often served their country, bought up families and paid their dues. Don’t put your ambitions and expectations on them, often they only want to stay alive, keep moving and mix comfortably with people of all age groups instead of sitting in an old people’s home singing ‘if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’.

Have patience, kindness, tolerance, compassion, courtesy and respect. Inside that arthritic, aged body and forgetful mind is often a person still as sharp as a razor with more to teach you than you can teach them.


Responsibility Of An Instructor

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Responsibility Of An Instructor

When you’ve been in this game a few years and you’ve seen a few thousand people come and go you tend to be able to categorise people and their actions.  Having said that, after 40 years I am still surprised by people that the Martial Arts “alchemy” has worked with – those that suddenly “awake” and turn from being a waste of Dojo space into spirited, courteous and conscientious Martial Artists.

As a Coach we have to lay challenges out for the student in a trail of bite size chunks and see whether they are prepared to follow, chew, swallow and then digest….

It seems that those who make the most noise and would consume most of the instructors’ time are the least likely to stay.  Those that have “done a bit of this and that” in the Martial Arts and have opinions on the Arts and Instructors that they have barely skimmed the surface of in opinionated ignorance, are probably only going to repeat the errors of their past in your club.

Those with a lot to say at the beginning I liken to the old radio transmitter sets we used to have in the Fire and Security services, where you’d hold the “transmission” button down when you were talking and would have to release it to hear what the person at the other end was saying. They seem to have their finger jammed on the button and are constantly transmitting and unable to hear what anyone else is saying – particularly their instructor…..

I must admit I discourage these people from joining our club and guide them to toward similarly orientated Instructors – and there’s a lot of them around.  Instructors of all “grades” who never continued their education after learning the basics of their art.  My favourite adage concerning them is:

“30 years training can be 30 years of continuous, progressive education or the 3 years basic training repeated 10 times.”

The funny thing is, those that are guilty of repeating the 3 years basic training 10 times are the ones who manage to convince themselves that they have had progressive education!  They attend an odd one day course with various Instructors “on the seminar circuit” and the odd summer course (although in my experience they rarely complete the week – it’s usually “just a couple of days” in case they’re in danger of learning something!) and think that they’re “prepared to put their gi on and train with anyone”.

The one day courses are usually because they want something new to teach and you find that whatever “tricks” they’ve just learned, they are teaching as soon as they return to their club! “A lot of noise and a little knowledge” describes them perfectly!

I think that one of the problems with the American styled “billing” companies is that they take young inexperienced Black Belts and build their business with management, advertising and selling strategies, created through the study of statistics, making them successful (in a business sense) very quickly giving them a duty of care over too many people too early in their career.   They don’t encourage the Instructors continued long term education in the Martial Arts, advising them to “network” with other successful business school owners and use high profile Instructors on the seminar circuit, often destroying their necessary long term relationship with a good instructor in a proper system and reduce the development required to become a Martial Artist with depth.  They become shallow “business” Martial Arts instructors obsessed with statistics money and the “quick fix”.

Students aspire to be like their Instructor, if the quick fix mentality, statistics and financial aspects take precedence over immersion into long term study, skill learning and  alchemy of the character in a club then sure enough they will produce students that in turn will leave them to do the same thing.

The Instructor creates the next generation of Instructor….   What an awesome responsibility!  Imagine the Ancestors watching the principles that they studied all their life and passed on to deeply respectful students for generation after generation, being packaged and sold like a commercial product!  I’m reminded of Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple…

There’s no problem with using a billing company because good management technique can be conducive with good Martial Arts.  It’s important for your club to be financially solvent and well structured.  Direct Debit means commitment and long term planning, student care means that the Instructor respects and works WITH the student to alter and change their entire perspective of life.

Unfortunately the general public spend their life being convinced that they need “easy and quick” and are not prepared to see the conman in their midst offering just that in the Martial Arts, students then pass from club to club skimming that sparse knowledge and feel that if they can do the moves from the movies and “look good” that they are good…..  that is until they walk into a real fist.

The encyclopaedic technicians think that the more techniques you know the better you are… the endless complex drills shows how much they know, yet most successful warriors polish their mind and spirit and a handful of techniques… a la Musashi… I’m reminded of the way a lion moves in for the kill, finishing it’s prey often with just one technique…

Noisy and shallow just doesn’t have a place in the real world of Martial Arts, the deep satisfaction of living a worthwhile life comes only from long, deep, quiet study.  The friendships forged through hard assiduous training and blood sweat and tears as the magical alchemy of a good, ancient system takes place is worth it’s weight in gold.