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BKimpel 09-28-2003 12:21 PM

Why do teachers stop learning?
A number of questions on this forum (cross training, drop out rates, not seeing progress, and many others) are identifying the same issues -- teachers that for whatever reason are not responding to the needs of the students.

Students are telling them that they need something different when they drop out, or when they switch to another teacher, or when the constantly seek seminars, or directly in comments such as "The classes are always the same, I don't feel I am progressing".

All teachers (not just martial art sensei) easily fall prey to a comfortable pattern. They create the curriculum (which takes a fair bit of work) and then they simply play and replay it through out the years. When students quit teachers attribute it to "other" issues, and while students can get bored for many reasons most are within the teacher's control.

If you are a teacher and you don't listen to what your students are saying (or notice it from their actions), then you are not progressing as a teacher.

We have all heard the comment, "teachers teach because they can't do". Teachers get angry when they hear this because they know that few people attract students if they didn't know what they were talking about -- but why do so many teachers stop "doing" once they become teachers? If their excuse is that they can't concentrate on training and teaching at the same time -- then at least they should be concentrating on becoming a better teacher -- no?

Why is it that students see more interesting Aikido when their sensei demonstrates at a seminar than in their own dojo that they pay to be in all year round!?!
Why do you think people are so interested in seminars in the first place, cause they get to see a level of Aikido that rarely gets shown to them on a daily basis -- why is that?
Teachers say that they concentrate on a subtle, different aspect each time they teach Ikkyo -- but only the advanced students will notice that, the rest will just think "is there any other technique besides Ikkyo in Aikido?"

If students say they don't feel they are progressing, then a teacher has to reevaluate his methods of testing and rank progression. Most students need clear outlines of progress, milestones and goals to work towards, and they need to see that they are progressing down that road to feel confident in themselves. Why do teachers say, "well that's the way we do it around these parts" when they hear the same student questions time and time again?

Why don't teachers try new things once and a while to shake things ups a bit?
What's the danger, if something doesn't work -- then you don't do it anymore (you learn from the experience and move on). Why are teachers so fearful of changing their curriculum? Do they live by the old "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" wisdom? That's called maintenance mode, and nobody progresses in maintenance mode.

Almost every student on the planet asks their sensei how to defend against kicks, and leg-takedowns, or judo throws, etc. and get the standard answer, "The same principles apply regardless of the attack". Why then do they never practice it in their dojo? In the old days (in Japan) they did it all the time. In every other martial art except Aikido sensei demonstrate practical application against common attacks. Why in Aikido do we feel compelled to do 50 versions of wrist grabs, and none against kicks?

By moving out of a comfort zone, and exploring new ways to teach Aikido we respond to our students needs and learn how to be better teachers.

Just some thoughts, and I welcome others to participate.


Ari Bolden 09-28-2003 01:43 PM


This post strikes at the heart of the matter. I agree 100%. Nice thread!



John Boswell 09-28-2003 01:46 PM

Well, let's think about this a little bit.

1) Do you really think there are NO teachers out there that know how to "change it up" or what have you? I know my instructor is in a constant state of flux with his frame by frame review of Doshu's and other Sensei's videos. No two classes are EVER the same.

2) Those instructors that DO fall into your catagory will find it difficult to either admit that they are like that or will not see that as their situation at all. It would take an objective and outside instructor, most likely of higher rank, to come in and give 'constructive criticism' and even then you don't know how it will be received.

Its kind of a Catch-22: Those who hear you are not the subject of this thread and those who are will not see that they are.

Lastly, what is your rank and Aikido experience? That also may have something to do with whether any instructors will respond to this thread of yours. /shrug

Just a thought.

DCP 09-28-2003 05:31 PM

I think I have to pause and be thankful for the instructors I have.

BKimpel 09-28-2003 06:48 PM

Thanks Mr.Bolden.


Of course I don't think every teacher is lacking these important tools to learn from their students. There are many wonderful teachers in Aikido. I was, however, recognizing a common theme among *many* questions/concerns on this forum from students of all levels and organizations…so obviously the issue touches more than one dojo -- no?

I don't think that any sensei have to stand up at "Aikidoholics Anonymous" and admit they have a problem in order to recognize that their teaching can use some spicing up. I did not outline areas of weakness, as much as opportunities for advancement. And I certainly don't expect teachers to respond to my post at all -- just maybe read it (or their students will read it and pass it on to their sensei) and give the issues 2 seconds worth of thought, that's all.

As for only accepting advice from their seniors, hmm, I suspect that is part of the issue that prevents growing as a teacher in the first place. Often we start out by emulating our teachers, because that is the example we know. Some teachers don't look any further; they stop learning and keep doing what they learned 50 years ago. Some teachers, however, keep searching and learning and some even surpass their own teachers. And some teachers do listen to what their students are saying (as exemplified in the cross-pollinization thread on this forum), and it shows in their organizations.

As for my rank, I am a student (and having studied Aikido for only 13 years now, I cannot consider myself anything but a student) and if you are a teacher you have an opportunity to learn from me and all the other students voicing their opinions ;)


aikidoc 09-28-2003 10:37 PM

Teaching is complicated. On the one hand you have students that constantly want learn new techniques without mastering the basics. Basics can be boring. Yet, poor basics make for ineffective and sloppy technique.

So how does one balance the two-get students to master the basics and yet keep them interested? It is quite a challenge.

There are some issues with instructors that stop training-they show up and teach. They never attend seminars, they never study videos, they never read, they don't try to move themselves forward. Burnout? Who knows. There are instructors like this out there. Their stasis can become yours. However, there are instructors out there that do constantly push themselves to progress. It is a training mindset.

Entering the mat with the mindset that you are going to learn something every time you step on the mat will prevent a lack of personal advancement even if you feel your instructor is boring you. When you approach your training with that mindframe, you will never feel stuck or bored no matter what. You will find that even the instructor who keeps doing ikkyo over and over will be able to help you grow.

PeterR 09-28-2003 11:06 PM

Call me lucky but I have yet to have one teacher that's stopped learning. The obvious level of progression might be less than their first year on the mat, and what they may be emphasizing is well beyond my ability to comprehend, but I would never say they were going through the motions.

I'm sure they exist but even those would deny it.

Bussho 09-29-2003 01:27 AM


I just wanted to point out that sometimes it isn't the teahcer that's the problem, but the student himself. The student thinks he knows the answer before he gets there. As I see it there are two ways of handling this. One is to continue showing the technique as it is, and "hope" that he'll get the point right. The other is showing him the point. The problem I see, is that by showing him the point is that the student really didn't learn it by himself.

And since Aikido has alot of "feel", the only way to be certain of the "correct" understanding is to get the student to understand (to get) the tehcnique. And if the student feels it's the same over and over again, mybe it's because his not willing to learn anymore?


philipsmith 09-29-2003 05:39 AM

As a teacher involved in teaching other Aikido teachers can I just say thank you for starting this thread.

I think there are two issues:

1) It may sound surprising but a lot of teachers aren't secure enough in their Aikido to experiment whilst teaching. This is the "If I can't do this (different) Ikkyo every body will think my Aikido is no good and so will stop coming to my class" syndrome.

2) I've made it and so I dont need to learn syndrome.

In my experience the former is the most prevalent and after a while it's difficult to get out of that mind set.

There is also sometimes a problem of perception. If the teacher is trying to perfect a technique he or she can sometimes lose the big picture. In other words the teacher may concentrate on one small aspect of the technique but the students wish to concentrate or need to develop a different aspect.

In essence this is a really difficult pitfall to avoid and if anyone has any suggestions how to avoid please let me know as I'm still trying to find an answer.

SeiserL 09-29-2003 08:13 AM

I was at the Aiki Expo and it was great to see so many top Senseis on mats in other people's workshops. They trained with us.

I have been to other seminars too with multiple Senseis, and they all joined in the training.

IMHO, when you stop learning, you stop teaching.

BKimpel 09-29-2003 08:45 AM

Excellent points from everyone, all true.

It is true that balancing "basics without boredom" (my next book…just kidding) is a difficult task. We do need a huge amount of basics to get anywhere in Aikido. That's why I suggested (on the drop-rate thread) mixing basics in with other fun stuff. Instead of just going through a routine of every month starting off with ikkyo and working your way up, try having some days where you only practice one technique all class -- no variations at all, just get it right. Then other days offer more variation to expand on the technique, other days do randori, other days do nothing but buki-waza (weapon take always). I am not saying that teachers never do these things -- I'm sure they all do, but I have seen the frequency very low: high volume kata, very little bukiwaza, very very little randori, etc. etc.

Interesting that Mr.Smith identifies 2 main causes of "teachers that stop learning": not confident enough in their ability to experiment, and I've made it syndrome. Look at how teacher's issues become the student's issues:

If sensei fears change, or lacks confidence in his/her ability students will sense it -- and then they will naturally question their own confidence since they are learning from you.

It seems to me that a common reason for 2nd and 1st kyu dropouts is that they come to a place in their training of "good enough", "I have enough now, so I'll move on". I wonder if that attitude comes from their teachers who seem to have stopped at "good-enough"?

So it seems that students are the Budo teacher's mirror, reflecting the good and the bad character so that sensei can grow and learn. I personally think it is wonderful to have such a rapid feedback system readily available.


DaveO 09-29-2003 09:10 AM


Peter Rehse (PeterR) wrote:
Call me lucky but I have yet to have one teacher that's stopped learning.

Man; I sure have, and given the talent of one of them; it's a real tragedy.

At the beginning of the thread; Bruce used the somewhat mangled ( :) ) line: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." As a teacher; I agree with this in many fields. Example: a trades teacher in a college may teach what he knows, and teach it well; but without the day-to-day work in that particular field; he'll fall behind in experience with his peers; sooner or later becoming hopelessly out-of-date in his knowledge - it's a difficulty we all have to deal with.

In dynamic fields like U/C or MA training however; it's different, or at least it's supposed to be. The teacher is teaching and learning right alongside his students, IOW both practicing and teaching within the field. Ideally; he'll improve himself while improving his students.

Unfortunately; the ideal doesn't always work for two prime reasons: 1) the instructor's teaching skills are less than they could be, or 2) the instructor's ego is greater than it should be. If 1) is the case; it may be because the instructor doesn't have the skill to balance both teaching and learning - a universal problem easily solved through identification and practice. If 2) is the case; the instructor may have the "I know more than you" mindset, and refuse the chance to learn in the mistaken belief he doesn't need to know more. As Lynn pointed out (in a sideways sort of fashion :) ), the best teachers are those who consider themselves students, and quite happily join in the training with the group. This does far more than keep the insructor's skills up; it brings them down to a human level for the students; gives the students something to respect far greater than mere rank.

For myself; as an instructor I've always looked upon myself as a servant to my students - everything I do in relation to them is for them; not for me. Admittedly; it's cool being a teacher, and I always get the ego-rush stepping to the front of the classroom. But my greatest rush is seeing my students excel - that's after all what I'm there for. Down the line when I start teaching Aikido; I'll approach it with the same attitude - my students' success will determine my skill as a teacher. :)


kironin 09-29-2003 10:16 AM

Re: reply

John Riggs wrote:
There are some issues with instructors that stop training-they show up and teach. They never attend seminars, they never study videos, they never read, they don't try to move themselves forward. Burnout? Who knows. There are instructors like this out there. Their stasis can become yours. However, there are instructors out there that do constantly push themselves to progress. It is a training mindset.

Entering the mat with the mindset that you are going to learn something every time you step on the mat will prevent a lack of personal advancement even if you feel your instructor is boring you. When you approach your training with that mindframe, you will never feel stuck or bored no matter what. You will find that even the instructor who keeps doing ikkyo over and over will be able to help you grow.

Nice reply. I think I might add that a teacher should step on the mat every class they teach with the expectation that they are going to learn something. That for example even if I am teaching ikkyo, I be very open to what is occuring at the moment of showing or teaching ikkyo. I might notice something that takes the class in a direction I didn't expect. I have taught ikkyo several classes in a row, but I would bet my students didn't realize it at the time that they were being taught the same basics in each class because the apparent variation.

The first couple of years I taught a weekly class, I had pretty specific lesson plans and wrote down notes and shared them with another assistant instructor teaching a weekly class. It was some work but also a good exercise while we were getting confident about teaching. I think we eventually stopped doing it as we felt more and more confident of walking into a class and just teaching based on our intuition. We were both teachers professionally outside of aikido.

My shihan had a rule. If he taught three classes in a row without learning something himself, he would quit Aikido. That apparently never happened in 30 years.


BKimpel 09-29-2003 11:12 AM

I'd like to relate my experience as a computer programming teacher (I'll make it as brief as possible to prevent pure boredom ;))

I became a computer-programming teacher (my first job) because I had such a good teacher, so much so I utilized the same teaching techniques he used on me with my students. But I found, within a short time, I was lacking in some areas and I rigorously sought to fill those gaps with additional training. After a year of teaching, our college hosted a teaching seminar and teachers from a number of schools came (including my old teacher). In the course of that seminar, my image of him being my mentor was shattered -- not because he had become a bad teacher, but because he had remained completely static and I had far surpassed him in such a short time. I asked him about it after, and he said point blank that he was tired of retraining himself all the time and wanted to just coast for a while.

I saw this as a real problem, and when my students began complaining that our curriculum was too outdated (computer knowledge gets outdated every 6 months unfortunately), I took it upon myself to seek the knowledge I needed, dumped some outdated courses and created new ones to better suite the current needs (as they directly correlated to students get jobs). Well, although the students were really happy our college administrator pulled me into the office and told me that I needed to settle down and lay off "radical" course changes since the other instructors couldn't keep up. I agreed, not wanting to make my coworkers look bad, but soon I realized how hypocritical this whole exercise was…even with all my studying to understand the needs of the students I had never even worked in the field I was preparing them for. I needed to get out there and KNOW what they needed.

So I did, and although I mentor and train people today I do not do it as my vocation. My primary concern is to DO; my secondary concern is to teach.

I think many of you will see parallels in Aikido teachers, and I don't need to explicitly identify them. Everyone sleeping yet? :)


aikidoc 09-29-2003 12:02 PM


Thanks for the compliment. I step on the mat with the student mind even though I primarily teach. And I have never yet stepped off the mat without learning something new-every class-it may be a subtlety or something real simple but my mind expects to learn something new and I do.

To avoid the teaching the same old thing every day, week, etc. I try to avoid that by not having any idea what I am going to teach when I step on the mat. I basically don't have a pre mindset for the days lession. I may do something based on a comment I hear before class or an observation of another instructors class before mine. I also periodically ask students what they want to work on. The only time I focus on teaching specific material repetitively is when we approach test time. So far, I've been lucky and have not been at a loss as to what to teach.

The ideas of mixing things up is good. I sometimes take a beginners group and teach them oyo waza. It actually helps their basics when they go back to them.

arderljohn 05-11-2004 12:18 AM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
Hi Bruce, I agree on that in some matters. but, I disagree in some non-related cause. 1st of all "not all teachers" I myself being a teacher. all I wanted is to learn more. so that, I could share my knowledge and belief in my community and to my students. 2nd, maybe you've been experienced to some teachers a not so good. or, shoul I say, "dont want to grow"... you know, you dont have to judge is you to accept those teaching method ;). I, once have experinced a teacher like that. to old, and to tired to gain.he stuck to what he learned from the past. we accept those attitude and belief because his only human being like us, have a right to do what he learned from his teachers...for me let him be..don't judge him, do it the other way, find the solution by your self look around. maybe by in other dojo or other school you will find thats fits to your least you will not stuck and get older like he did..

Have a Nice day and start looking :)

Largo 05-11-2004 12:54 AM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
Ideally, teachers shouldn't stop learning. My aikido teacher is always researching and changing what we do due to what he feels we currently lack (it ends up being about every 3 or 4 months :freaky: )

Certain basics do need to be learned first though, or changing things around won't really help much.

shihonage 05-11-2004 01:35 AM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
I think a lot of teachers do shake up things a bit, but they do it during black belt seminars, where they know that all participating have mastered the basics and can go farther without seriously damaging themselves.

ian 05-11-2004 06:10 AM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
Hi Bruce - sounds like you got a rough deal somewhere along the line. There are good teachers and bad teachers. I think any 'format' for teaching is bad since the instructor should respond to the needs of the students. However she/he is not their to teach what the students 'want to know' they are there to teach aikido. Each instructor will have a different view of what this is, and thus what the gaps he/she feels need filling in the students.

One thing I learnt several years ago as well, was that sometimes you really have to know a technique to fully understand the finer points. That is why repetitive practise is necessary.


MaryKaye 05-11-2004 08:44 AM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
One of my instructors, a fourth dan, has been working with me a lot lately on kokyu dosa. If my entry is not correct, she will mysteriously turn into a boulder which I can't move. It's a compliment, I guess--I'm improving so she makes it more difficult.

It was fascinating to see her at a recent seminar practicing kokyu dosa with the seminar instructor, a look of intense concentration on her face--because if she didn't get the entry correct (on a level I can't begin to appreciate yet) he was turning into a boulder and she wasn't moving him. A lot of the junior people silently stopped training to watch, because it was fascinating to see one of our very best challenged that way.

It's far from inevitable that teachers stop learning.

Mary Kaye

George S. Ledyard 05-11-2004 10:31 AM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
One Word: Status
People like being the guy that "knows". It's great to stand up there and have everybody all wide eyed and adoring. If you can create some sense of yourself as posessed of "special knowledge" to which they may aspire at some later time you can really go to town.

But it's very difficult to maintain that lofty position but train at the same time. If you try new things your students might actually see that there are things you don't know or that there are people out there that are better than you are. It's difficult to get your students believing that you are the Big Kahuna if you go off and look to others for training. That would mean you are only a medium or even small Kahuna.

I remember reading a comment that Fredrick Lovret Sensei (controversial Aikijujutsu instructor) made. He said that if a student asked a question, the teacher had to have an answer, even if he made one up. Now that is a perfect example of someone who cannot afford to be seen learning anything from anyone else because it would diminish his status. He has to spend all his time making sure that his students are doing exectly what he is teaching, exactly how he is teaching it. If he can do that then he automaticaly stays at the top of the pack. "Right" is defined as his way, and he will always be able to do his way better than anyone else.

AsimHanif 05-11-2004 12:11 PM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
this was/is a concern of mine also. I think part of the issue has to do with in many dojo's, the head instructor may may not have the expertise. Although there are many very good nidans and shodans, they may not have the experience yet to coach that student who is ready for something extra. I don't mean this as a negative. People can only teach what they know and we are all learning. But that's where having access to Shihans is extremely helpful. A good Shihan is able to give you just that little nugget, that not only gives you something to work on during the course of your training but keeps you motivated.
I really do agree with the point that some instructors become intimidated. If the student feels that is the case, then probably the best thing to do is find an instructor who is not intimidated. In some cases the difference in ability between some nikkyu's and nidans is very small. So it is understandable that the nikkyu may not be developing at a rate he or she is capable of. So as Bruce said, the teacher needs to DO. If instructors only look to instruct, it will eventually lead to stagnation and it's repercussions in the dojo.
I feel extremely fortunate to live in area where I have access to many great Shihan. My main concern now is gas money:-)
Ledyard Sensei, your post reminded me of the Michael Jordan commercial where they said he took the last shot so many times and failed. That's why he is great now. Obviously he wasn't afraid to fail or struggle. It eventually made him that much stronger.
Good post DaveO.

Tadhg Bird 05-17-2004 06:48 PM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
One of the reasons I have encountered for the non-learning/progressing teacher is this: Teaching feels like training, but it is not.

When I am teaching, I have to make a special effort to do some training as well. Demonstrating technique and taking ukemi for students sure feels like training, but its not. It has been my experience that when others are calling me "Sensei", my technique does not get criticized (to my face). This is of course proper, if people nit-picked their instructor, the class would go nowhere. But I need criticism, even from a peer if I am to continue to improve.

Rocky Izumi 03-03-2006 11:52 AM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
Learning requires research. Doing research requires good understanding and ability to do the basics. Thus, to be able to continue to learn in Aikido requires better understanding of the basic principles so that experimentation and research can be done. Without the good fundamentals, research cannot be done and learning cannot take place.

One of the best ways to experiment is to teach and use the students as guinea pigs to see what improves their techniques, as well as practicing those things yourself to see how it works on your students. To be able to practice with your students, they must challenge you by making sure they never "give" you a technique. That is where newbies come in so handy because they have a tendency to try and challenge the instructor. It bothers me when people say they would just change the technique if something doesn't work. Research is what is required here, not adaptation. Just because someone stops you from entering into a Shihonage by locking down their arm, it is not a time to use atemi or to just use power to break the lockdown. It is then time to experiment and find out how you really should be doing the technique to make it work better. You do this by going back to the fundamental principles of Aikido and finding out which one you are missing.

Shihonage is a good example. I now get my students to lock down their arms every time I do a Shihonage demonstration to make sure that I am incorporating all the principles that I need to in order to be able to do the technique. In this way, I have researched and found out what principles of Aikido I was missing in doing my Shihonage and have improved it tremendously. The same applied when I asked my students to make sure that I couldn't bend their elbow when I was doing Ikkyo.


Lyle Bogin 03-03-2006 01:27 PM

Re: Why do teachers stop learning?
Didn't O'Sensei train himself mostly by teaching and working with his own students while creating this stuff we all try to do?

We must we seek more and more teachers when we can create something of our own?

After a while, I think you need equals and students. Teachers can only take you so far.

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