- AN OPEN
- Part one
- In the more than twenty-six
years that I have been a student of Shotokan karate, I
have yet to meet a teacher that I was willing to follow,
who claimed to know it all.
- As my teacher, Shihan
Kenneth Funakoshi, 9th Dan, Chief Instructor of the
Funakoshi Shotokan Karate Association, has often said,
"in karate-do everyone is a student for life".
- I for one could not agree
- In all the years that I
have been teaching, and in every class that I have ever
taught, I like to think that at the end of each lesson I
had learnt just as much, if not more, from watching the
students, than they had learnt from watching, and
listening to me.
- The simple truth of the
matter is, that in karate, no matter what your rank, you
must never stop learning. The way I see it, the day you
even start to imagine that you have learnt just about all
there is to know on the subject of Shotokan Karate, thid
is the day you should probably consider handing the task
of teaching over to someone else.
- On the karate road above
all else, you must always be honest with yourself, and
more importantly, honest with your students. That is why
you must never, ever, be afraid of admitting as an
instructor that you don't know it all, or for that matter
- Besides, I for one don't
know many students who would willingly follow a "know
it all" for very long. Maybe it is because the
"know it all" often comes across as having a
very inflated ego, or maybe it is because they usually
give off an "I am better than you and I will prove
it to you" attitude, either way listening to someone
who claims to be an expert on absolutely everything there
is to know about Shotokan karate can get awfully boring,
- Are there expert Masters
the likes of, Funakoshi sensei, Kanazawa sensei,
Nishiyama sensei, Kagawa sensei, and the many others far
to numerous to list here, who have lifetime of knowledge,
and a true wealth of karate information, that all of us
should be willing to follow and to learn from?
- You bet there are.
- But, if we are going to tap
into what they know we all better do it quickly, because
that generation of Masters like the rest of us, is ageing
by the minute, and you can be sure that when they are
finally gone a great deal of their knowledge and
expertise will go with them, no matter how many students
of high Dan rank they leave behind.
- Yet even these great
Masters I am willing to venture, would tell you if you
are brave enough to ever ask them, that even they don't
know it all.
- After all "student for
life" means that learning is never ending, no matter
how old you are, or how high your rank.
- To me admitting that you
don't know it all is the first step towards success as an
instructor, because just as students who are egar to
learn usually make the best students, instructors who are
egar to continue learning usually make the best teachers.
- From past experience here
are six simple guidelines that I always try and follow in
order to help me walk this same path, since I learnt long
ago that you can not quench your thirst if you always try
and drink from an empty cup:
- 1. An open mind will help you to
overcome ego, without ego the truth is much easier to
- 2. An open mind will always
acknowledges a good opportunity and quickly seize upon
it, but always for the benefit of others, not just for
the benefit of the self.
- 3. An open mind must always gives
credit where credit is due, and accept honest and
accurate answers to any question from any truly
authoritative source, regardless of who or what that
source may be.
- 4. An open mind is rooted in
honesty, and as such does not judge individuals, or ideas
with pre-determined prejudice.
- 5. An open mind does not look for
validation from others, but instead gives validation to
others, even if their ideas and beliefs are contrary to
- 6. An open mind accepts the out
come of all things over which it has no control, while at
the same time acknowledging that all events are
- These days, as in the past,
"open mindedness" is not a trait found in
everyone, but in a Shotokan teacher I believe it is
essential. The sheer depth of the art of Shotokan karate
makes this a vital necessity.
- So as an instructor, teach
whenever you can, but always make a point of learning
while you teach.
- Practice your basics with
- Approach all your katas
with a beginners mind.
- Experiment with bunkai.
- Read, write, talk with your
students, and talk with your peers, but never, ever, stop
- Instill in yourself a
hunger for knowledge, for knowledge is the food of an
open mind, and an open mind is a sure sign of dedication
in any karate practitioner regardless of their style.
TIPS FOR JUNIOR INSTRUCTORS
- Part two
- As we all know instruction
within the dojo is not always limited to lessons taught
by the Chief Instructor of the dojo.
- Often Sempai's of various
ranks are given the privilege of assisting their Sensei
by teaching an occasional class, or perhaps just a small
groups of students within the class structure. Now
suddenly instead of simply being expected to follow along
in class like everyone else, these Sempai's now find that
they are expected to be a knowledgeable leader, not only
able to demonstrate all of the basic techniques and katas
as they should be performed, but to also pass on that
knowledge to those students now in their charge.
- A hearty task indeed for a
seasoned Ni Dan, let alone some newly decorated Sho Dan
with little or no wear and tear on their obi.
- With that in mind I long
ago compiled a short list of points that I expect all of
the Sempai's in our dojo to keep in mind when ever they
are practicing their teaching skills in class.
- I offer them to you in the
hope that they will be of some help to you on your own
journey through the tangled web of the art that we call
- 1. Teach
facing the class.
- Having the attention of all
of the students, all of the time, is extremely important.
Teaching facing the class will allow you to notice when a
students attention wanders in another directions, plus,
doing so will allow them to be able to better see and
understand what it is you are trying to convey. In
addition always be sure and demonstrate techniques
clearly, and slowly, since it is important that all of
the students, regardless of their rank, get your message.
- 2. Never
try and teach everything you know.
teaching a particular technique, combination of
techniques, or a kata, stick to the basics, and only
share as much information as the students in your group
can absorb based on their current rank and level of
expertise. No matter how knowledgeable or advanced your
group may be, do not try and prove to them how much you
know by trying to teach it all. Many basics kata
movements for example have more depth to them than might
first appear, and so focusing on good basics, and
constant correct repitions will be more than enough to
keep the students busy. There will always be another day
and another opportunity for you to expand their knowledge
with additional information.
- 3. Once you have made your point stop
- There is an old saying,
"silence is golden". When the time comes for
the students to practice what they have been
demonstrating allow them to practice for a short period
of time as a group, or on their own, and most importantly
without interruption including the sound of your voice.
In this way you allow them to focus on the task at hand
and give them the opportunity to test the limits of their
understanding. Yes, they will make mistakes, but by
allowing them to do so for a limited period of time you
can see what aspects of the lesson need additional
attention. Often you will discover that as the students
practice they will start to "feel" their
mistakes and in doing so they will learn to correct
themselves before you have to say anything. However,
corrections should of course always be made right away if
the student wanders to far off the desired path, but
knowledge both good and bad always comes from individual
- 4. In the
beginning ignore the bunkai.
- Kata is kata and it stands
alone as a means of improving a students skill and
understanding. A such it is not important to always teach
the associated bunkai for every movement or technique
found within a specific kata. For many reasons this type
of specific information is often better dispensed once
the kata has been practiced by the student for a
considerable length of time. In this way the student will
focus on learning the proper embussen, movements, and
techniques, instead of focusing on specific applications
for each movement found within the kata. Since there can
be many bunkai applications in a single kata movement
once you feel the student has attained the appropriate
level of skill as far as the basic technique is
concerned, then and only then should a bunkai
applications be added in order to further enhance their
- 6. Be
careful where you put your hands.
- At some point during a
lesson you may find it necessary to physically put your
hands on the students you are working with. While this is
often an excellent way to convey information so that it
can be more easily, and properly understood by the
student and their "body's memory", you must
always be sure that you are doing so because touching the
student is the best course of action. It is important to
remember than not everyone is use to being touched, and
as such always be sure and do so slowly so the student
can be prepared for it, and always be sure and do so in a
respectful, and non-offensive manner, regardless of
gender, age, or rank.
- 7. If you
are unsure of how, when, or
why, always ask.
- If you are ever in doubt as
to any particular aspects of a movement or a technique
that you are attempting to teach, or if you are unsure of
how a kata movement should be performed, then do not
attempt to teach those movements or techniques. Only
teach what you are "100% sure of" based on your
current level of knowledge and understanding. As
mentioned earlier do not try to impress the students in
your group with what you think you know, let alone with
what you do not know. Your task is to make sure the
students come away with correct technique, not an
inflated opinion of your abilities.
- 8. All
techniques must be focused.
- Whether kihon, kata, or
kumite, make sure that the students make a point of
"looking" in the direction that they are meant
to be going at all times. There is nothing worse than
watching a student moving in one direction in a kata,
while looking off into space in a completely different
direction at exactly the same time. Proper focus should
be a hallmark of every exercise you teach, and that
includes physical, mental, and spiritual focus as well.
From beginning to end, everything the students do during
class must have their full and undivided attention. Half
hearted effort is the foundation of poor karate, so make
sure you instill in the students in your care a desire to
give a 100% to everything they do.
- 9. Look to
the feet first, then work up from
- Whenever a student looses
their balance, or demonstrates poor stability as they
move across the dojo, it is most often due to a problem
originating with the lower portion of their body.
Consequently the feet are the place to start looking for
a solution, since Shotokan Karate is truly done from the
ground up, not the top down. A good foundation at the
start of any movement followed by proper balance, timing,
rhythm, and focus throughout the entire movement, will
inevitably result in a good stance at the end of the
movement. So look to the feet first, then the knees, then
the waist, then the torso and so on. In between the top
and the bottom lies the answer, the trick in finding it
is knowing what to look for, and where to start.
- 10. When
teaching remember that little things make a big
- In standing basics, in
moving combinations, in any kata, or for that matter
while practicing any series of movements, always pay
attention to the little things. Correct hand position,
proper weight distribution, elbows tucked in, shoulders
back, head up, eyes forward, low stance, hand on your
hip, and oh yes, remembering to breath. All of these
things and more must come together properly in order to
create a quality techniques and quality kata.
- 11. Do not
teach all the students the same way.
- Whenever you are working
with a group of students it is important to realize that
they will differ in many respects, even though they may
be of similar age, or rank. No two students are
completely alike. As a result no two students will learn
in exactly the same way. Often on the surface this fact
may not be clearly evident, but you must never the less
take it into consideration when you are teaching. So vary
how you teach from student to student if necessary, there
is nothing wrong with this. Always bearing in mind that
the ultimate goal is to successfully teach the lesson at
hand to everyone you are working with.
- 12. Learn
to observe from a distance.
- If you always remain in
close proximity to the students you are working with
their errors may not always be obvious to you. There is
an old saying, "you can't see the forest for the
trees". Distance creates perspective, and having a
good perspective will create plenty of opportunities for
you to observe the students entire range of technique and
movement, and to make adjustments where needed. Distance
will allow you to focus closely on all things.
- 13. Learn to identify physical limitations.
- Knowing the physical
limitations of each of the students you are working with
is often very difficult to determine, especially if none
of the students seem to have any visible injuries. Never
use age as a means of measuring what you think a student
can or can not do. No matter what limitations a student
may have they should always be encouraged to push
themselves within reason to the next level of performance.
- 14. When
you don't know the answer admit it.
- There is
nothing worse than watching someone who clearly does not
know what they are doing, trying to fake it. Trust me no
one knows it all, and so there is never anything wrong
with admitting when you don't know something and then
asking for assistance. Since a dojo is a hierarchal
society it is always best to address any questions you
may have to the highest ranking person in the room at the
time. This may be your Sensei, or perhaps in his or her
absence a senior Sempai. In the end trying to fake your
way out of a situation will only succeed in making you
look foolish, and ultimately decrease the level of
respect that others will have for you within the dojo
- 15. Reward
- And lastly,
always reward effort. While there are always exceptions
of course, most students work very hard during class and
as such it is always a good idea to rewarded each of them
at some point during your class. A simple "nice
stance", or "good kick, well done", will
not only be appreciated by the student as a recognition
of their effort, but it will also go along way towards
helping them to continue even further down the karate
- Life is a
journey, and so is karate.
- If we as
teachers can help students to stay involved with karate,
- and to make
karate an integral part of their every day lives,
- the better
off we will all be as "students for life".
- Part the
clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."