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Home > Teaching > Senior Students and Teaching
by Rocky Izumi <Send E-mail to Author> - 16. Oct, 1996

Someone on Aikido-L wrote:
I will agree here that more rank = more responsibility, but that does not mean you need to teach. A person can help out the dojo just fine without teaching. Mandatory teaching? Does that mean if Sensei starts a new dojo I might HAVE to teach there if he is "Promoting The Style".

Perhaps it does not mean teaching a formal class, but we are all teachers as well as students. When we are uke, we are helping in the instructing of nage as long as we attack honestly. When we are nage, we are helping in the instructing of uke as long as we defend honestly. If we agree to practice Aikido at all, we are agreeing to teach as well as learn for we have accepted some responsibility for our partner's well-being.

That's how dojos and the sempai/kohai relationship also work. Dojos are built up on a hierarchy of responsibility (NOT authority) wherein we are accepting the responsibility for newer people just as our sempai accepted responsibility for us. We have a debt that must be paid back to our sempai who helped us. We do not pay it back to our sempai by doing things for them anymore (at least in most Western dojos), However, we must pay it back through our kohai by helping them to advance.

Without such a system of responsibility and duty, the dojo will fail to remain vibrant, alive, and growing. A dojo that does not grow and stabilize out will soon begin to die a slow death as competitors for student's time, such as T.V., other friends, family, other interests, and other dojos take them away. If you want to keep your place of practice, you have to teach your kohai as you have been taught before.

Someone on Aikido-L wrote:

What about the students who don't have any intention of teaching? I can give back to my Sensei, and my dojo just fine without teaching. Who says being technically proficient without becoming a good teacher is a bad thing? I think it's great that some students don't want to become teacheres! Maybe they will be able to keep their minds open and learn, instead of getting inflated fathead egos.

I would argue that students who refuse to teach are actually the ones with "inflated fathead egos." They are saying to everyone that they don't have to help others since they themselves don't need any help. They are also saying that they have the right to take from everyone and not give back but that the same does not hold for everyone else who must participate in the social learning experience. If that permanent student person refuses to help me learn, why should I bow to such a selfish person?

I actually doubt that any such person even exists. Someone may say that they don't want to teach formal classes, that they only want to practice, but I notice that most of those people make the best one-on-one instructors of beginners and the kohai. They either just don't have the time they can commit, are unsure of their technique so they don't want to screw up everyone else, or feel that there are better formal instructors around so they decide that it is better that the best instructor take the formal class.

However, these same people are the ones that tend to come in the off hours to help their kohai deal with an upcoming test, or help teach kohai about etiquette, or help teach kohai about dojo responsibilities by providing a good behavioural model in cleaning, donating materials, and working on committees to upgrade the dojo. Aikido learning and teaching do not occur only on the mat but all around it.

If your Aikido stops when you get off the mat, then you would need to look at your motivation in learning Aikido because you will never be able to take it into the street--Aikido will forever just remain an exercise for you.

Someone on Aikido-L wrote:

Sensei is Sensei cause he wants to be. Students are students cause they want to be. If a student is forced to be something they don't want to be, you are asking them to quit.

I don't think I know of one sensei who really wants to be the chief instructor.

They don't do it because it is going to make them lots of money (it never will). They don't do it because it boosts their ego--someone is going to come around to deflate it or the person will not be able to keep students.

You do it because you have an obligation to your own sempai who helped you along the way. You have a life-long debt to them that can't be repaid directly so you will have to repay it by helping your kohai along the same path as you are taking, clearing the way a bit for them.

Someone on Aikido-L wrote:

Having a senior help out a beginner is one thing, but if an instructor insist that his students teach his classes he is abusing the loyalty of his students.

Therefore, if the students haven't learned that lesson that they owe their sempai to become teachers, either of individuals or of formal classes, then the instructor must insist that the students teach classes. The students, on the other hand, shouldn't be teaching the classes out of loyalty to the chief instructor. They should be doing it out of loyalty to their kohai for whom they have responsibility.

It is like being parents. Yes, there may be some responsibility and loyalty to your ancestors to be good parents. But, that is greatly overshadowed by the need for responsibility and loyalty to your children and their progeny. If you want to maintain family honour, it is not to respect your ancestors so much as to bequeath a good family reputation to your progeny so that they can continue to live well in the community--that people will trust them as members of a good family and continue to do business with them or associate with them.

It is a teacher's duty to teach his/her students. Part of that lesson in Aikido is the matrix of responsibilities and social duties. Part of that lesson is the sempai/kohai relationship that is most strongly defined in the teaching/learning relationship. Part of that lesson is the difficulty of being an instructor and the need to develop the spirit that will allow you to teach 12 lessons a week as a dojo gets off the ground.

Only by teaching and getting feedback from the chief instructor will you learn enough to ensure that the first place you go with no place to practice, the first place you go where you have no choice but to be the chief instructor, you will not make such a bad go of it that people, Aikido itself, and yourself get hurt.

The world changes so much and so often that it is difficult to predict when someone will have to move on for one reason or another. I might have to change jobs tomorrow or get killed in an accident tomorrow. If I do not have enough backups -- If I haven't trained about seven or eight people to take over from me -- If I haven't ensured that about seven or eight people know how to run the dojo, seminars, scheduling, dojo finances, and introduced them the "right" people -- If I haven't had some sort of kenshusei program where some of the students are learning to become chief instructors -- I am abrogating my responsibilities to the dojo and the people who support it, my students.


(Rocky Izumi is the head of the Barbados Aikido Federation in Barbados, West Indies.)

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