You and Your Teacher


I was reading a book entitled Peak. Secrets from the new science of expertise by Anders Ericsson.

Well into the book there’s a section on choosing an instructor and he makes some points I think are worth considering.

He writes about finding a teacher, saying of you’re a newbie, just about any reasonably skilled teacher will do. If you’re advanced you need someone with experience eaching in that field. He specifically says that because some good performers are not good teachers.

One of his recommendations is that when you are researching that person, you contact their students. Among the questions you ask should be this one. “Has your performance improved by working with this person?” You’d want to know how they speak of their teacher, too.

Disregard comments about how much fun the classes are. It tends to mask effectiveness with enjoyment. Look for specific comments on improvement and overcoming obstacles.

Performance, for our purposes, is not just how well you do the art. As an instructor it should include improvement of your understanding and tranmission of the art. Too often it seems, we stick with a person even when progress has stopped. With what we do, lineage and loyalty is important; maybe more so than if you were playing an instrument or hitting a ball. Staying with a teacher in the arts makes a difference. However, that’s no reason alone to stick with them. We should all be progressing and your teacher should, too.

His chapter on the subject actually describes, to me, how Mr. Parker taught me. Andersson says the teacher should not only tell you what to practice but what to really pay attention to, what errors you made and how to recognize good performance. The teacher should help you get a mental model to monitor and correct yourself.

He mentions one case in which a man recognzied he’d gone as far as he could with one teacher and needed a new one to get to the next level. His message is don’t be afraid to get a new coach to move forward. After all, Ed Parker’s own story included being taught by Frank Chow, Professor’s younger brother, to a point where Frank said he needed him to go with his older brother. Some teachers seem to be afraid to admit they can’t take a student any further. Luckily, Frank Chow was not.

I recommend you get the book. There’s a story about a karate student in there that I think we can all relate to.