What’s My Teacher Thinking? – August 2017 Premium Subscribers



What Is My Instructor Thinking?

When I look at a class of beginners, I really don’t have a way to tell which student is going to achieve a particular rank. I would do an introductory lesson with new students, sometimes a semi-private, and make an assessment. It was enough for them to see who they would get as an instructor and for me to see what I was working with.[private_Premium Newsletter]

I could tell what their strong and weak points were, how they took instruction and if they seemed to be a good fit for the school. Once in a while we got one who would be better suited to another system or school and would recommend that. That’s because everyone is different and we might find someone was better suited for a school with a different art, or maybe the same art with a different teacher. A student might enroll thinking all karate was the same and when we got a sense of what they might be looking for, we might send them down the street to the school that emphasized kicking or tournament competition. We just didn’t take everyone.

So now they are in class and I can’t tell who will make black or not. You’d get a smart, coordinated, fast- learning  individual you night think would go all the way and they quit well before black. That happens frequently, from what I’ve gathered from instructors of many systems. Then there’s the one who struggles. They try hard. They get frustrated. They might say they want to quit, or even do so. And they come back. They eventually make it to black, despite what you might have thought. You just can’t tell most times.

What do you do? Basically, you treat them all like they are candidates for black. You tailor the art and instruction. You give them the pep talks. You push or pull them through the program. I liked to tell them I was not going to push them – I would pull them along with me. “I’m going that way, so you can come along.”

It’s not a matter of pumping out black belts. I rather pride myself on having less black belts promoted than more. But I wanted to treat everyone as if they were going to be a black belt someday.

You came to me and enrolled in the program. That says you want to do it. It says you trust my judgment in teaching you and that you trust me to move you up in rank when it’s time. Funny how people like to argue about that with their teachers. You tell them it’s time to test and you get “I don’t think I’m ready.” If the teacher has been thorough in the instruction, review and considered all the related requirements and makes the decision, it’s based on having done it many times before. We have a baseline to judge by.
Yes, nobody knows you like you. But this is our field of expertise, so accept the recommendation to test.

This is not to say you can’t negotiate. You might know something the teacher doesn’t that could well affect your performance. Physical condition, mental upset, stress and more can be factors. Tell your teacher, even if it’s “It’s a personal matter and I’d rather not take the exam just yet.”

This assumes a seasoned instructor, of course. Newer instructors need to cultivate their “eye” for when a student is ready, which is why a higher ranked, more seasoned teacher should always be on hand to help with decisions.

When it comes to promotions, I am thinking about your next one the day I promote you. This is especially true with black belt degrees. I have seen many a person promoted apparently for the sake of promotion, with no consideration for time-in-grade. I’ve have people tell me they were to be promoted even though they had learned nothing new and they felt the promotion would not be worth much. They refused the kick up. I applaud them. I have refused promotion on a few occasions myself. I understand where these people are coming from.

I spend time, as most responsible instructors do, tracking student progress. I have student scattered across the globe, so I don’t see them in class every week. But I still track them and my people can tell you that I send kick-in-the-behind notes to them when they have slacked off. I don’t want my students to think I forgot about them. I have spoken with black belts in other lineages who have been told they been overlooked because their teacher forgot about them. That makes me feel bad. It’s no surprise they go find another teacher. The downside to this is that they may get that overlooked promotion even though they haven’t done a lick of work to earn it, other than breathe for the requisite number of years.

The martial arts industry has gotten a lot better in terms of curriculum development and tracking student progress. The pendulum swung from promotions taking years even at the lower ranks to getting “promoted” every time they came to class by having another stripe drawn on their belt with a marker pen. Americans like things “right now” and that appeals, as does a faster move up the rank chart. But there is no substitute for time and proficiency.

That’s what your instructor is thinking.[/private_Premium Newsletter]