View Full Version : 078) The Teacher: February 2011

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Marc Abrams
02-01-2011, 08:20 AM
The role of the teacher is a complex and difficult role to fill.   Many different skill sets and personality characteristics help to shape the type of teacher that a person becomes.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about this topic over the last couple of weeks and would like to share my thoughts with you.
A teacher should be firmly anchored within an art/tradition.  The tangible anchor should be the teacher-student relationship that the teacher has with his/her teacher (s).  The transmission of martial arts almost always takes place within the context of a student-teacher relationship.  One would expect that the longer the direct relationship, the more extensive the transmission of information.  I emphasize direct relationship, because spending  ten hours a year learning from a shihan at seminars is vastly different than spending one-hundred hours learning from a shihan in a class setting during that year.  This is not to say that an exceptionally talented person cannot make significant gains from those ten hours a year, but that it becomes an onerous task for anyone to accomplish.  However, that teacher might have a substantial time spent as a student to another teacher with a greater degree of experience.  Obviously, the farther away from the “source” that one gets, the harder it is for a deep transmission of information to take place.  The time spent with a teacher should serve as a foundation for the majority of the personal work/practice that should be done to truly learn a martial arts tradition.  I believe that the harder one works on one’s self, the greater awareness you will have as to the depth of the teachings and traditions that you are learning.  This pattern establishes you within the living history of the art that you will now directly teach.   Every head of an art form that I have spoken to has talked about how he/she is constantly learning more about the art that they are representing.  This foundation of life-long learning should be a critical, continuous link down to the newest student in a particular art/tradition.
It should be important to know what traditions/arts a teacher is teaching and what relationships does that teacher have to his/her teacher(s).  I would be very wary of answers that lack the depth that a tradition and long-term, student-teacher relationship has.  The martial arts world is filled with self-proclaimed experts who have discovered “the secrets”, “have the answers”, “have put the best of different arts together”, etc.  The hubris that is typically observed from people who make those claims should be enough to raise some significant concerns.  I would certainly want to know why  a person has not been able to maintain a long-term, student-teacher relationship.  I would be wary and look to see if this person has any genuine humility that is fostered in long-term, student-teacher relationships.  I would be concerned about this person’s ability to maintain relationships with others when they are equals or of lessor status to others.  This concern would be even magnified to a greater degree if this person does not have his/her own school, let alone a tradition to pass on.  The specter of problems relating to others would be a huge hurdle for me to overcome in order to want to learn from a person like that.
The strength of a long-term, student-teacher relationship is typically revealed in a true openness toward learning.  This requires a deep and sincere degree of humility.  This teacher displays a passion about sharing where he/she is on the path to learning that art/tradition.  This position includes the awareness that what might be taught now is likely to be different to what will be taught in a couple of years as the teacher continues to evolve within the art/tradition.  The person who proclaims that they can tell all simply by looking, or by a brief “hands-on” with someone and then insists on controlling how something should be viewed, understood, taught or learned is displaying a degree of hubris that far exceeds what should be an honest teaching and learning experience.  A teacher can clearly state that this is what they perceive at a particular point in time, framed within the tangible limitations that are presented.  A teacher can clearly ask that you replicate what he/she is teaching. These assertive positions should be framed within the context of greater learning by all.  There should be nothing wrong with acknowledging one’s own personal limits.  There should be some honest acknowledgment that there is not simply one way, but a way that this person knows and uses at the present time.  I am reminded of a remarkable exchange between my teacher and his most senior student.  The senior student raised a concern that the way that Sensei was teaching something  that was substantially different than what he had taught many years ago.  Sensei said that everybody changes, including himself and that this person had changed as well.  At the end of last year’s holiday party, he openly acknowledged the importance of “Shu, Ha, Ri” and acknowledged the validity and worth of that senior student’s style of Aikido to be unique to that person.  The honesty and humility of my teacher, who was a direct student of O’Sensei, serves as an example of the kind of teacher that I seek to emulate in my teaching to my students.
The teacher should display a genuine passion toward the art/tradition and in the honest transmission to the students.  This is a critical aspect that I look for in the people whom I call my teachers.  These teachers’ passion for what they do is clearly evident.  Imaizumi Sensei’s life centers around teaching his classes.  It is not to building an organization, it is not geared toward how much income he can earn.  It simply revolves around passing on the art of Aikido, which reflects what he has learned from his teachers and from what he continues to learn from his daily practice.  My other teachers reflect their true passion for what they do in ways that are genuine reflections of who they are and what art/tradition they teach.  Imaizumi Sensei has had such a profoundly positive impact upon my life that I am now teaching Aikido myself.  I feel a deep obligation to pass on the gift that has given directly to me.  Jokingly, I describe this transition as my “mid-life crisis.”  Some men buy sports cars; some men take their 18 year-old secretaries to the Fountain-of-Youth Motel.  I dropped a large chunk of money to open my school!  I know my wife was certainly happier with this choice than others…..  I try hard to emulate my teachers.  I try and put as much of myself into the learning of and transmission of the Aikido that I have learned as I possibly can.  I constantly push myself forward, driven by an acknowledgment of how much more I want to know and teach.  I continually strive to find ways to be the best teacher than I can to my students.
The teacher should demonstrate respect and caring for their students.  This respect and caring should to be genuine, overt and consistent.  We simply need to reflect upon the sincerity, commitment,  sacrifices and gains that have come from our path in our chosen art/tradition.  There are so many possible directions that a person can make today.  There are typically more than one choice within a local community of martial arts teachers.  We should be thankful and truly humbled that other people have placed their trust in us that we can do a good job at teaching them the art/tradition that we represent.  We should work hard each and every day to earn that continued trust.  We should genuinely care about our students and their progress.  It is easy to  support and respect a student who learns well, but what about the least capable student in the class?  People learn at different paces and not all students benefit from a particular teaching style.  How much responsibility to we have when a student is not “getting it?”  Some students want to become teachers, others view the training as a past-time, while others are just “testing the waters” to learn about themselves.  Should our respect and caring be linked to the particular type of student that we would prefer?  I believe that my role as a teacher is to be consistent in my caring for and respecting of my students, regardless of why they are training at my school.  I can think of nothing worse that a student thinking that he/she has the respect of their teacher, only to find out later that the teacher has been speaking unkindly about them to others.  It is akin to going to a doctor for a physical.  The doctor sweet talks you about how they can find out about your health in the most gentle and non-evasive manners and the next thing you know, a sigmoidoscope has been unceremoniously placed where the sun does not shine!  We should be honest with our students in an atmosphere of respect and caring.  Obviously, the student has given us the respect, by virtue of his/her presence at our school.  We should have an obligation to respond in kind.
I am thankful to have a dojo that continues to grow in membership numbers, but more importantly in the depth of the learning that is taking place for all of us.  I do not pretend to have all of  the answers as a teacher.  I overtly acknowledge the limits of my knowledge base, expressing a true desire to be able to share a deeper understanding at a later point in time.   I am honest with my students about the positives and the negatives of my own progress.  I try my hardest to present myself as an honest and caring student who is learning through the process of teaching.  I take a genuine interest in the lives of all of my students.   I personally thank every student at the end of every class.  This thanks is a deep and sincere thanks for all that they have given to me to allow me that opportunity to teach and learn from the class that has just ended.  It is a tangible link to the teacher-student relationship that is the heart and soul of what we do with our art/tradition.
Marc Abrams Sensei

(Original blog post may be found here (http://aasbk.com/blog).)

Toby Threadgill
02-01-2011, 12:08 PM
Hi Mark,

A good essay everyone should read and take to heart.

Teaching budo is a complex subject and you touched on something I think is very important and frequently missed in this world of "instant gratification". A proper teacher/student relationship is extremely important but unfortunately all to uncommon today. Proper learning thru Shu Ha Ri cannot take place unless a healthy relationship is maintained between student and teacher. As a teacher of a koryu it is up to me to decide how and when anyone is given access to specific levels of knowledge. I have taken heat from some self-appointed budo "experts" because as a teacher of koryu, I'm unwilling to teach the deeper aspects of our art publicly. It makes me laugh. Who do these people think they are? What qualifies them to have access to knowledge seen as a sacred trust by generations of teachers before them? Have they taken an oath to be responsible with such knowledge.? Have they dedicated perhaps decades of study to maintaining the cultural fabric of a martial tradition? The obvious answer is, no. These "experts" have made a concerted effort to cherry pick bits and pieces from the overall compendium that makes up a martial tradition and then ignore what they've decided in their infinite wisdom is unimportant or frivolous.

It is illuminating that these same self appointed experts do not seem to be able to maintain a proper relationship with their teachers, and consequently do not grasp the fact that a person like me has a duty is to his teacher and the art passed to him, not to some narcissitic, self appointed prognosticator. It is my experience that this type of individual is only interested in "collecting" knowledge for their personal gratification. They care nothing for the legacy or history of martial traditions. They only care about what THEY can do with the knowledge they've collected. Sure, these individuals frequently wax eloquent about being open and giving, but if you look closely you'll realize this openness is always conditional. It is only offered when the individual offering up the knowledge is idolized and the the center of attention. He must be seen as the "arbiter" of the knowledge provided and will construct a carefully orchestrated marketing effort to promote himself and his expertise. It is inevitable that this type of individual will manifest a passive/aggressive intellectual dance of destruction that brings to mind the old maxim "Standing on the shoulders of giants". When individuals obtain knowledge without the benevolent guidance found in a proper teacher/student relationship the possibility that this knowledge will be used in an unhealthy manner is increased exponentially.

I admonish readers to be very wary of a teacher who cannot maintain a longterm and mutually respectful relationship with his own teacher. When you come across such an individual it is almost guaranteed that you will also find a very unhealthy ego residing there. Humility is one of the most important aspects of the teacher/student relationship, and without humility you will very quickly find yourself in a noxious and unsatisfying one sided relationship. It is reasons like this that koryu schools require very strong connections to tradition and legacy. It is why we take oaths to the ryu, not to other individuals. It is why I visit the founders grave and family in Japan. It is why I must see myself as a temporary custodian of something larger than myself and why I always credit what I've learned to the ryu, Takamura sensei and his perseverance in teaching me. You see, it's not about me, it's about the ryu, my relationship to the ryu thru my teacher, and the well being of my students as the future of the ryu. In a koryu no one is bigger than the ryu, consequently the relationship between student and teacher IS the ryu.


Tobin E Threadgill / TSYR

02-01-2011, 12:19 PM
Reading your thoughts I believe you sure are a good teacher, thanks for sharing:)

Marc Abrams
02-01-2011, 12:54 PM

Your comments add the real weight of responsibility that you have in carrying on the traditions and teachings of a ryu. Having had the real honor of meeting and training with you on several occasions, I consider any student of Shindo Yoshin Ryu to be very lucky indeed. I danced around the implications of deficits in interpersonal functioning that we both are talking about, because I try to keep a healthy degree of separation between my life as a psychologist and as an Aikidoka. The problems that result from trying to maintain relationships with the kind of people that we discussed are typically substantial and simply not worth a person's time, money and efforts.


Thank you for your kind words. All I can say is that I try to be a good teacher. I hope that I can succeed some of the time and am thankful to the people who serve as models and teachers to me so that I can always work on improving myself as a student and teacher.

Marc Abrams

Thomas Campbell
02-01-2011, 01:19 PM
Very nicely expressed, Marc and Toby. It's refreshing to see that kind of respect and sincerity given to life endeavors. Thank you.

02-01-2011, 01:46 PM
For the moment I think I am going to say Bravo!
You know I support you and think the world of your efforts, I get concerned when it appears I am being lumped in with certain other questionable characters. Perception is everything and there is not one thing in your post I disagree with, For that reason alone, I want to clarify that it doesn't apply to me. I know Marc did not include me in his post, we talked about it before hand.

For starters no man alive,on this earth has ever heard me call my self an "expert," and has only heard me tell teachers "I don't teach, making this stuff work in your art is your job!!" Then seeing me bow at teachers feet even when they are coming to learn from me. Then seeing the kind of support I offer them later. (more on that later).

Excellent points overall. A few points you missed.
Teachers and when it is wise-even admirable to leave.
1. Having a relationship with the teacher needs to be considered both ways. Don't have blinders on from your good efforts and then assume that all teachers have the vested interest of the students in mind. IOW, breaking from a teacher sometimes speaks volumes of the good character of a student and not the other way around. A mutual friend said leaving a particular organization was the smartest thing I ever did, they are so _____ up. I like to think my tolerance for some of the things I saw (even though I benefited) and my depature on good terms worked in my favour and preserved my good name as I didn't cause trouble even when wronged. That said, leaving with the knowledge gained over many years is no violation to anyone is it?

2. I would add to your point about looking for a teacher or a coach-lets say these "experts" you are on about. Do they have, and have they maintained any sort of long term relationship with students?
I have students going back 17 years. Some people do not consider the weight and meaning behind that statement. Who has stayed awake thinking of ways to fix a students problems who may be a putz and going nuts trying to fix it? What are the requirements to sustain that relationship. What strengths does it offer and build in each?

3. Since everyone knows who you are referring to I just wanted to be frank and point out that; Ark, and I have maintained a student base and have maintained relationships with teachers benefited students alike.I see nothing but support being offered.

So, Adding to your points...
4. Who among these "experts" is cultivating and truly helping teachers in others arts in a friendly and open manner without...to repeat...WITHOUT causing them harm, to include doing free seminars as fund raisers and setting aside teaching time for free?
Any takers?

5. Who among these experts is...in large public settings explaining to people the restrictions of a Koryu the oaths involved and the honor of keeping information given under oath/ Who among these experts is explaining that it contrary to what certain characters will tell you it is NOT about pecking order and cults
Who is cautioning people in a public setting that when they hear certain characters cutting that up and making fun of these things, that those same characters are actually asking these good men to break their word, and if they don't they are made fun of.
I am asking you a direct question. Who among these "experts" is doing that in an open room? We both knew the answer to that don't we?

Good Budo is done behind the scenes, I would hope you check in with certain people I have been working with before replying. I think my good work is deserving of that consideration. If not I think I can ask quite a few teachers to offer their opinion here.
All the best

Toby Threadgill
02-01-2011, 02:21 PM

Before the fur starts flying...LOL....I was not referring to any particular person who posts on Aikiweb but offering up a general observation about teachers who demonstrate certain personality traits I consider problematic.

As some of you know I have a rather grueling international seminar schedule and have come across some rather bizarre characters in my travels. Several in general and one in particular has never trained consistently with anyone but is a seminar butterfly who flits to and fro stealing whatever he can to add to his personal repertoire and budo marketing machine. He's now promoting himself as the founder of his own "modern" samurai art? This guy actually harrassed me once for not teaching any of our gokui in public accusing me of being a typical koryu elitist.

I took his accusation as a compliment! :)



Marc Abrams
02-01-2011, 02:24 PM
The last thing that I want are the wrong inferences being directed to the wrong person. I want to state on the record that Dan is someone whom I consider a worthy teacher. Dan's zeal for learning and his dedication to his students sets a high bar for people like myself to aspire to. I absolutely love the time that I spend training under Dan and speaking to him. He is an honest, supportive and caring person. Dan is both a student and teacher. Dan's support for our Aikido community speaks for itself.

Dan's point about knowing when to leave a teacher is relevant. Not everything that starts off well, ends well.... Ushiro Sensei made a profound statement when he said that you are better off spending three years looking for a good teacher, than spending three years training under just any teacher. The role of a teacher is so important that I felt the need to write this blog. Students should be able to look at their teachers with a critical eye, as teacher look at their students with a critical eye. This scrutiny is to help insure that we build strong teacher-student relationships to insure that we can pass along arts and traditions that we should be proud to represent.

Marc Abrams

Toby Threadgill
02-01-2011, 02:39 PM

A quick comment on something Dan H. said....

Yes, the relationship is obviously a two way street. For all the talk of respect and submitting oneself to study in something as culturally rigid as koryu, it must be remembered that a student of a koryu really submits himself to traditions of the ryu, not the teacher. In this way when leadership changes it should appear seamless as the new leader should likewise view himself as just another in a line of temporary custodians simply living up to his responsibilities like everyone else in the school.

When a teacher does not live up the responsibilities demanded in a proper student/teacher relationship, the student should obviously leave and find a new teacher worthy of his dedication whether its koryu, aikido or the generic karate school down the street.



02-01-2011, 04:03 PM
Toby, Marc
Thanks for the phone calls and follow up P.M.'s guys.
Where is the "Whew!" emotican (wiping forehead) when you need one.
All the best

George S. Ledyard
02-02-2011, 08:13 AM
Hi Everyone,

Although this thread is about "the teacher", it is really about what motivates a student. What is the motivating factor for ones training? Because that is the foundation upon which ones motivation for teaching eventually rests.

Now, I am not saying that ones motivations don't change over time... I don't think I no any senior Aikido teacher who is still in the art is here for precisely the same reasons he or she started. This is Budo, a Path with Heart, one might say, and as with any path, one should not be in the same place after twenty years as one was when one first started.

As I have said elsewhere, many, if not most, folks start martial arts training out of fear. This is not necessarily fear of attack or physical confrontation either. There are innumerable things which make us fearful. Training in martial arts is, first and foremost, about transforming that fear into something more positive. When fearful individuals train, they do so with the mistaken belief that, if they can just get strong enough, just fast enough, just powerful enough to defeat anyone they meet, they will cease to be afraid any more.

This, of course, is entirely false. First of all, there is always someone else... perhaps not at this instant, but down the line there will be. Confidence based on the ability to defeat others is a false confidence in the first place. Martial arts may give one a degree of confidence, but what they really should do is develop courage. Courage is the ability to acknowledge ones own mortality.

The instant we were born,we entered a battle for our lives which we are destined to lose. It's not about the winning, it's about 'fighting the good fight" so to speak. It's about living a life that , at the moment of ones death, one can have few regrets, and can honestly tell oneself that the world was a better place because one passed through it.

Ultimately training is about ones relationship with the world. Does one live in fear, acquiring more tools every day to defeat any perceived threats we imagine we might encounter? Many martial artists do that. Look at all the amazing, technically advanced fighters we see who socially cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.

So, Marc and Toby have talked about long term relationships. Toby, in particular, has a huge and constantly expanding network of relationships, and this is precisely because for him, relationships are two way affairs. Toby receives respect because he accords respect, He is special, not because of the great skill he has and the unique nature of what he knows. He is truly special, and stands apart, because he has accomplished what he has while being an extraordinary human being. Ikeda Sensei is much the same. Meeting these folks and counting them as friends truly makes ones life seem fuller. It is a privilege to know these folks.

Regardless of technical proficiency, and even more so, the ability to fight, the bottom line for the student or teacher is relationships. With ones teachers, with ones students and with ones peers. The narcissist, and there are a disproportionate number in martial arts, can't maintain a relationship with a teacher over the long run because he cannot really admit that anyone is above him. Typically they have few, if any, friends who are peers because, in their own minds, they have no peers. They can have students, as long as those students constantly act in such a way as to bolster the illusion of the teacher's superiority. There is no two way street with the narcissist. It's all about their skill, their ideas. They are the center of everything.

So, who is most impressive, the one who acquires a high degree of skill in a very narrowly defined set of parameters based on the ability to meet and defeat other people and inspires awe and even fear with those skills... or the one whose training has contributed to his ability to make friends, form strong relationships, and make people enhanced through his interactions? I certainly know which Path I'd take... one has "heart" and the other doesn't. One takes courage and the other is usually based on unresolved fear and false self confidence.

I like the concept of Karma. What you put out, will come back to you, one way or another. It's not about some short term validation, it's about ones reputation. It's not about instilling fear in an opponent, it's about being courageous enough that one can meet ones fellows with a an open heart and make them less fearful. Good training produces this trait and training for the wrong reasons fails to. Over time, any teacher will show what kind of training he has been doing. We don't have to do anything... it will simply become apparent to anyone looking.

So, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about those teachers who, regardless of technical attainment, can't relate to his or her fellow human beings very well. Their own dysfunctions will marginalize them in the long run. I often see this as tragic, actually, because these are often people who could actually teach one quite a bit. But it gets t the point at which their dysfunction outweighs any potential benefit one feels from training with them. I think if we all work our damnedest to be the best students and teachers we can be, the rest will take care of itself. "No reason to get excited" as Bob Dylan said.

Marc Abrams
02-02-2011, 09:11 AM

It is interesting that you looked at the other side of the proverbial coin. I actually wrote a blog on that area:


I believe that one of the unique contributions that proper Aikido training imbues in us, is a heightened degree of social awareness. Aikido is about connecting (Ai) with the other person. A good teacher should also (hopefully) be a good role model about connecting to others in a healthy, positive manner. This is a process that should contribute to a more connected and caring community (and thereby safer community).


marc abrams