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Peter Boylan
05-08-2014, 06:25 PM
Lately I've been both teacher and student. I have the chance to train judo a really good local dojo and just a be a student. At the same time, I'm teaching weapons classes because there is no one else in my area who can do it. If I want to train this stuff, I have to lead the classes. I've discovered that I much prefer being a student than being the teacher. I learn more as a student and the classes are much more relaxing and fun. Teaching has a whole list of stresses and challenged I hadn't thought of.
I wrote this blog post about my experience.


What have your experiences been like?

05-08-2014, 08:44 PM
Hi Peter, nice article.

I can sympathize with some of it, but I think my experience has been a little more enjoyable than yours.

At the start I was a reluctant teacher, and my classes start because I too wanted to train weapons and it was the only way it was going to happen with my sensei 1000km away. At first I would "organise practice sessions" with those in my Aikido dojo who wanted to train kobudo, obviously with the encouragent of our Aikido sensei. Very quickly I was leading the session because I was the one who people were looking to to know what was happening. At the time was only kyu ranked in both aikido and the kobudo art and was very resistant to being the "teacher". Our sensei would come several times a year for weekend seminars and we progressed. Eventually he had a word with me, "face it you're the kobudo teacher at this dojo, suck it up and call yourself it, everyone else does". Funny it was a bit of a relief, I shrugged off the shyness I felt about instructing and it was good for me and the students.

Interesting because I was learning as well as everyone else ( just keeping ahead :) ), having to structure thoughts and classes increased my understanding and helped me learn, and we would train with our sensei every 2 or 3 months and he'd make sure I wasn't leading them astray, he was spending most time on making sure I was understanding and getting things right, because I was the one who was then teaching the rest twice a week. For me becoming teacher was the best thing that could happen for me in the less than desirable situation being remote from sensei, but not one that seems unusual in the world of weapons training where there are few really interested in training and fewer quality instructors.

On the otherside, although it wasn't my dojo I was very conscious of making sure my kobu classes were a viable concern for the dojo, brining out our sensei several times a year, and keeping students enthused and interested. Yes this was stressful but had I full support of my Aikido sensei. And when I left for work reason it was quite stressful making sure the classes would carry on and leaving the two senior kobu students in the position I started in. I'm happy to say it is still going strong 2 years after I left it.

I now really enjoy teaching (weapons and aikido), although I have limited opportunity these days moving to the US, occasionally being asked to fill in or take a weapons class. Its also great just being a student in class again too. But as much as I enjoy teaching and get a lot out of it, its always been in someone else's dojo. it takes a lot of the pressures off. I'm always impressed by anyone who has the courage to open there own dojo, can't see myself doing it (my wife would kill me for a start)!

Carsten Möllering
05-09-2014, 02:18 AM
I'm not sensei, but sempai.
As sempai I don't teach, but share.
By sharing what I'm working on I learn a lot.
Being in charge, leading keiko give's me the privilege to be able to work on my own questions.
Working on my own questions and moving on on my own, instead of "consuming" the teachings of another person is a challenge. It is not easy at all.

But isn't it exactly this challenge, what budō keiko - and live in generall - is about?

G Sinclair
05-09-2014, 07:58 AM
I started out feeling the exact same way - wanted Tenshin Aikido, it did not exist in my area.

I never had any intention of becoming an instructor. Then suddenly one day I found myself in a training session with Steven Seagal Shihan. He drops this bomb on me:

“Let me know when you want to open a dojo.”

“Yes, Sensei…. Wait, what?!”

“I’ll teach you; you teach them.”


“You heard me.”

How do I say no to the man who was the reason I was in this art to begin with? To make things worse, at that point I suddenly had a group of great people looking to me for instruction.

When I began, I hated it. I just wanted to train. Everything was different, my own technique was not improving and the fun was gone. I had never planned to teach so I had no idea how to explain what I was doing. On top of all that I am dyslexic, so it made trying to instruct positioning and footwork about as easy as putting a wetsuit on an octopus. And if that was not bad enough, I would dump every ounce of knowledge on students until they were completely overwhelmed and donned blank stares. Students were frustrated and many did not return (understandably).

It was not until I began to really look at my own technique that things turned around. I started with basic taiso and broke it down into simple step by step instruction. Then moved on to deflections, hand movements, and techniques, one by one. Breaking them down added consistency and stability to my own technique while allowing me to explain step by step what I was doing at a level that could be very basic. As their understanding of the basic steps grew, more details could be added without the frustration and confusion. The deeper techniques got broken down, the deeper my own understanding became and the easier it was to teach.

Students began to get it. Suddenly they began to move and execute techniques looking like proper and powerful Aikidoka. The transformations are stunning to witness, and each one grows the craving for the next.

It can be rewarding and inspiring.

I hope it inspires you!

05-09-2014, 10:58 AM
I think for some of us it is bittersweet. We want to be the teacher and in some instances we would rather be student. For my own experience when I received my Shodan promotion, our sensei went out of the country to teach a couple seminars. I was left to teach classes until he returned and surprisingly found it to be a natural fit. My friend who also received Shodan was there to tag-team some of the classes. Our sensei returned and was pleased with what we went over and has been entrusting us with teaching when he wants us to. As I progress through the Dan ranks I will want more opportunities to teach.

05-11-2014, 01:32 PM
I strive to learn from the experience of teaching. I tell the students to "try to get two things out of each class, however small, but make sure you get at least one." I attempt to do likewise in my role as instructor, and always manage to pull something, however small, from a student's question, new way of looking at a technique or a new way of expressing something about a technique, whatever.

It's a good time being teacher, but it's hard work.

Robert Cowham
05-11-2014, 04:55 PM
I've spent rather too long at times (years) "teaching" and not advancing myself. More recently I've observed more carefully how some of my (Japanese) teachers push and train themselves while teaching and that is what I seek to emulate and challenge myself with.

Equally, the good classes are where I start with an idea, and then find that the interaction with the students present and my reacting to issues they are having leads me to new insights during the class, and better ways to explain things and teach them. Time flies by and we all have fun. This doesn't happen every class :( A great class gives the temptation to repeat it next time (usually students are slightly different) - and it never works well second time around - lacks the spontaneity and creativity.

I like the idea expressed by Richard Moon (6th dan and 40+ year student of Robert Nadeau) when one of his students said "But you are just learning out loud!" It has become one of my mantras...

Peter Boylan
05-12-2014, 09:05 AM
[QUOTE=Robert Cowham;336891

I like the idea expressed by Richard Moon (6th dan and 40+ year student of Robert Nadeau) when one of his students said "But you are just learning out loud!" It has become one of my mantras...[/QUOTE]

I love this! Describes much of what I do. Thanks.

05-12-2014, 05:43 PM

Your query hits a note with likely everyone who has been asked or volunteered to stand in front of a class. It is a tough job to take on no doubt. Even more so if you are "dojo cho."

The way it was first explained to me so long ago, was that we are all student and teacher at any given time. By virtue of being either more senior in experience or knowledge whenever we train with a partner we are teacher (guide). When we are in possession of less experience or knowledge training with a partner then we are student. To make the step of guiding a group of students is only natural and really nothing new.

I have not heard of the practice that my Sensei employed with his senior students being done by others, none the less I greatly benefited from the experience. He required everyone who was up for Udansha grading to spend a year in his shoes. By that I mean, he expected all candidates to provide class instruction once a week for a year. In addition, we would also attend at least one class being lead by another candidate during the week to support them in their endeavor, plus our regular training schedule. On my one day a week, I was 100% responsible for the dojo. That meant opening and closing the doors, tending to all paperwork, insuring that the facility was ready for the next class/day, greeting and answering any visitor or student inquiries etc. After the experience, I had a much greater appreciation for Sensei and burden that he undertook.

It also brought my own understanding of techniques up to a whole new level. By having to not only demonstrate techniques, I had to help others understand in terms that they could grasp. It was at times a frustrating and humbling experience. Like almost everything in life, there were days that I just threw my hands in the air and wanted nothing to do with "teaching." Then there were times when I walked out of the dojo with a huge smile on my face feeling like I made a difference! Today I look back and still place great value on the experience!

05-15-2014, 09:56 AM
You said in your other post about Budo, that techniques are only some part(may be not very big...) of Budo practice. So as a 'sensei' you can learn a lot from instructors with great reputation, but not necessarily practicing the same activity. If one is able to do it, you are never alone.

In the other hand, as instructor you teach not only techniques but many other things, consciously or not. You teach who you are, students will learn(or not!) your ‘good’ and ‘bad’ aspects. Nothing can be helped, it is like that. One must fully accept it, and then no pressure, just be yourself.
Some kind of guide is necessary however. I see it by following the principles of the art(as each instructor express it differently…) so again, if you understand the principles and the goal of you journey, you are never alone…

05-17-2014, 11:41 PM
When all of our encounters are opportunities to let another be the teacher, even for a moment, we become perpetual students and the lines blur.
I'm reminded of a favorite quote "Our quality of life is directly related to the number and kinds of teachers we are willing to have."

Mark Uttech
05-24-2014, 04:31 AM
Onegaishimasu, Peter, you said it well in your blog: "You're sensei, and you're all alone." In my experience I've come to see aikido as a mission. A mission that steeps in my life. The dojo I run is in a small town pop. 3,000 or so and classes are very small. When I attend seminars I like to watch how other Sensei teach and what they teach. I still keep an aikido notebook, a habit I started nearly 30 years ago. See, aikido is a vast art, with many different dojos, senseis, ideas, etc. I have found that it is better to focus on a few things and study them well. "one practice gains one wisdom", that type of thing. The only advice I've gotten from others has been in the form of two words: "Keep Going" and three words: "Let it Happen" and so I have and so I shall. Gambette!
In Gassho,