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Old 06-07-2007, 01:33 PM   #1
G DiPierro
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Things to look for in a teacher

I recently found the following post regarding things to look for in a teacher on another forum. The author, Adrian Lee, gave me permission to repost it here. I think it is relevant reading for aikido students and prospective aikido students.

-G DiPierro

1. He's hands-on. i.e. he not only corrects you physically, but he feeds you the correct feel through touch. He also does this by coming down to just above your level, and doesn't just completely throw you around. This is especially important in the internal arts. If a teacher isn't willing to touch hands with you, it could mean a much longer path to attaining the right energy and feel.

2. He is able to explain, in plain language, the concepts and principles behind the art. A teacher should be able to clearly explain what the qualities are that you are trying to achieve, and be able to explain what to do in order to obtain them.

3. He has a training methodology that is systematic and where the art is dissected into small pieces that form the overall whole. These pieces are building blocks that eventually come together as a unified quality. Some teachers may have high levels of skill but do not possess methods that can systematically pass on those same qualities to a student, or they may not be able to explain clearly what is going on.

4. He has the goods. He has a very high level of martial art skill, can demonstrate it, and is generous with his knowledge and is willing to share. This may be an obvious point, but there are many teachers out there who build up an image of invincibility and in order to protect it, never touch hands with anyone. A teacher doesn't have to be invincible, only that his skill level is higher than yours, and you can learn something from him.

5. He takes an active interest in our development of martial art skill. He watches closely, touches hands, and feeds us the proper energies. He corrects, and individually guides each of us along, according to where we are at, and what our weaknesses are.

Be cautious of teachers who sit up on a pedestal, emanating a god-like attitude. Be cautious of the teacher who never touches you, who tells you not to question, and to practice something so that you'll get it in ten years time. While it is true that especially in the internal martial arts, a student has to have enough faith in his teacher and the system in order to train something until he is able to "feel" it, a good teacher should be able to break down the art into pieces that can be absorbed, and not just have you do a form for fifteen years, and maybe you'll automatically become an awesome fighter spontaneously. That just doesn't happen. Much of whether you develop a decent level of skill in five, ten, or twenty years will depend on you - the student, on your aptitude, your willingness to train hard, and your mindset in training. But a good teacher will make all the difference how quickly you develop. It is sheer nonsense that you have to spend ten years training in order to develop a "decent" level of skill. Of course, a "decent" level of skill is completely subjective, but you should be able to use your art within a few years of training, if the the teacher and the method is any good.
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Old 06-07-2007, 09:11 PM   #2
Mark Uttech
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Re: Things to look for in a teacher

Ten years is not nonsense. Completely mastering reading and writing and math in ten years is nonsense. A good instructor will teach you things that will help you 'today' , but because it is an art, you should spend ten years polishing it.

In gassho,

Mark
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Old 06-07-2007, 10:54 PM   #3
ChrisHein
 
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Re: Things to look for in a teacher

I would add something to this list.

Make sure your teacher teaches the way he lives his life.

If your teacher tells you about breaking bones, and fighting 20 gangsters, yet he is meek, hiding when something frightens him, he's not for you.

Or if he talks of heavenly glory, and the path of self discovery and openness of character Yet he is rude, has his feelings easily hurt, and talks about others behind their back. Leave him.

It's important that a teacher speak from his own life and experiences.

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Old 06-08-2007, 03:15 AM   #4
happysod
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Re: Things to look for in a teacher

I generally look for a nice healthy coat and strong teeth - an uneven gait can be a pointer to hidden flaws in the breed and you should consult your vet if you have any queries...

Sorry, but I find generalizations about "what to look for" are about as useful as they are specific and are normally written by someone who already has a reasonable idea of the art and knows what to look for.

While I agreed with the general thrust of the list (and the addendums) many of them relied on a level of expertise and discrimination which I don't think a true beginner has.
Quote:
Be cautious of teachers who sit up on a pedestal, emanating a god-like attitude. Be cautious of the teacher who never touches you, who tells you not to question, and to practice something so that you'll get it in ten years time
This one almost hit the spot, but I'd say "leave" rather than be cautious of. Character and flavour of the teacher/dojo are the areas where I believe a beginner has necessary knowledge to judge.
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Old 06-08-2007, 03:23 AM   #5
grondahl
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Re: Things to look for in a teacher

Personally I would look as much at ability of the teachers senior students as the teacher her/himself.
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Old 06-08-2007, 04:52 AM   #6
G DiPierro
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Re: Things to look for in a teacher

I don't see why any of these things would be difficult for a beginner to judge. The main things that Adrain is saying are important is that the teacher should be hands-on and have a systematic method of teaching. Obviously the part about having a "high level of skill" is relative, but even beginners should be able decide if someone can move in way that looks and feels impressive to them. On that point I would add that it's always good to see and feel a lot of different people and arts to get a sense of what else is out there and how good a given teacher is relative to other alternatives.

What I see from a lot of aikido teachers, including some of the most well-known names, is a very hands-off teaching style where only a select group of carefully trained students will ever touch the teacher. These teachers want to ensure that they will always get a certain kind of ukemi that is designed to make them look good so that they can cultivate an air of great martial skill that might not be grounded in reality. This is particularly true of seminars, where people are expected to pay $100+ to attend while most of them will not even get to work directly with the teacher at all during the seminar. For that kind of money, I think every participant should at least get to touch hands with the teacher once.

A lot of teachers also take a very non-systematic approach to teaching, believing for various reasons that students should figure things out on their own with little or no explicit instruction. This approach might have worked in traditional Eastern cultures where there were few other options, but in today's modern Western(ized) world we have access to so much more information and skilled teachers in various arts that those who do not take maximum advantage of this knowledge base will be left behind by those who do. I think this is already happening in aikido right now.

-G DiPierro
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Old 06-08-2007, 05:12 AM   #7
Ecosamurai
 
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Re: Things to look for in a teacher

I think some of the original post at least needs a bit of changing, specifically the 'hands on' stuff. As an instructor I certainly don't put myself on a pedestal etc etc but having said that there is no guarantee that I'll be practicing with you hands on if you're a beginner with us. Not because I wouldn't like to but because lessons vary and change depending on who is in attendance and who has certain needs.

For me, I try to teach the beginners as much as possible and pay them the most attention. This sometimes involves me being their uke, but more often than not involves me demonstrating a technique with one of my more senior students and helping the new guys to interpret and understand it as they themselves practice it. Occasionally they get me as uke if there are odd numbers of beginners or if I feel that the easiest way for them to quickly understand a technique is for me to be the uke and fix them as they throw me.

Other times my senior students need help because they've got a test coming up and I'll try as much as possible to be their uke and help them with their stuff. So, in reality you're more likely to get hands on practice with me once you've been training for a while. A lot of the time the most efficient way for me to teach is to demonstrate a throw or technique and wander the dojo making corrections, often by simply demonstrating it again or being uke for a student. This could give the impression of being a bad teacher according to the original post. I'd like to think that wasn't the case to be honest.

That doesn't mean that what was said in the original post wasn't a good point, just that it makes sense to consider circumstances too. You might walk into your first session and everyone is desperately preparing for an upcoming grading so it's not a regular session for example.

I don't think you should walk into a dojo and expect to have one to one training with the senior instructor and then if that doesn't happen walk away saying he's a bad teacher. It's not a reasonable position to take IMO.

Regards

Mike

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."
-Martin Luther King Jr
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Old 06-08-2007, 06:09 AM   #8
G DiPierro
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Re: Things to look for in a teacher

I don't think the point was that if, as beginner, you don't get hands-on time with the instructor every class then he is a bad teacher. Keep in mind that this post was written for a forum focusing mostly on Chinese arts based on solo forms. The nature of aikido is that you will work with other students for most of the class, so for beginners the opportunity to work with senior students who are much more skilled and perhaps even instructor-level themselves might be enough at first. At a certain point, though, direct hands-on access to the teacher becomes essential. I think the original post was addressing the larger issue of whether a teacher takes an active and ongoing role in each student's development via regular hands-on contact, not whether a teacher touches hands with one particular student during one particular class.
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Old 06-08-2007, 06:49 AM   #9
Ecosamurai
 
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Re: Things to look for in a teacher

Quote:
Giancarlo DiPierro wrote: View Post
I don't think the point was that if, as beginner, you don't get hands-on time with the instructor every class then he is a bad teacher. Keep in mind that this post was written for a forum focusing mostly on Chinese arts based on solo forms. The nature of aikido is that you will work with other students for most of the class, so for beginners the opportunity to work with senior students who are much more skilled and perhaps even instructor-level themselves might be enough at first. At a certain point, though, direct hands-on access to the teacher becomes essential. I think the original post was addressing the larger issue of whether a teacher takes an active and ongoing role in each student's development via regular hands-on contact, not whether a teacher touches hands with one particular student during one particular class.
I thought so too, but it wasn't very clear, hence my post

Cheers

Mike

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."
-Martin Luther King Jr
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Old 06-08-2007, 08:21 AM   #10
Erick Mead
 
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Re: Things to look for in a teacher

Quote:
Giancarlo DiPierro wrote: View Post
I don't think the point was that if, as beginner, you don't get hands-on time with the instructor every class then he is a bad teacher. ... At a certain point, though, direct hands-on access to the teacher becomes essential. I think the original post was addressing the larger issue of whether a teacher takes an active and ongoing role in each student's development via regular hands-on contact, not whether a teacher touches hands with one particular student during one particular class.
I do not disagree. The best instructors I have had see a problem, step in to verify they feel the problem that they see, and then replay the problem and the solution(s) back, physically, for either or both sides of the training. That what I have copied as my model, anyway.

I would say that the ideal instructor has perception, patience and puissance. "Puissance" (even though it may be considered hi-falutin') is a better word than "Power." Even though they come from the same root "pouvoir" -- "to be able" -- puissance just implies capability to perform in a highly effective way, but without the connotation of force or physical strength involved in "power."

That said: this should be borne in mind:

"The instructor can only impart a small portion of the teaching. Only through ceaseless training can you obtain the necessary experience to bring these mysteries alive." Morihei Ueshiba, Precautions for Aikido Training.

Cordially,

Erick Mead
一隻狗可久里馬房但他也不是馬的.
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