View Full Version : Traits of a good teacher

John Lindsey
29th May 2000, 02:06
I would like to here from Students only on this question.

What do you find to be the qualities of a good martial arts teacher? What do teachers do to turn you off, or even worse, make you loose interest in your art or quit all together?

I am not talking so much about the Teacher's martial art skills, but rather how they teach it or run the dojo.

Also, as a student, do you aspire to teach martial arts, or dread the idea Do you welcome to opportunity to help your teacher teach, or would you prefer to stay back and just train?

John Lindsey

Jason Chambers
30th May 2000, 10:31
Now that I am a student again, I guess I can comment on this one, then again, we're all students to some degree aren't we?

Anyway, EGOTISM. That is the "kiss of death" for a martial arts teacher.

As far as becoming a teacher goes. I think all students aspire to do that at one point or another, I know I would like to have a dojo OF MY OWN one day, but for now I wish to just be among the ranks of "the Privates" and train for a while.

Jason Chambers
"The Journey Begins."

Daniel Pokorny
30th May 2000, 20:23
I checked myself on the mat the other day, (much to the amusement of others), and discovered I am indeed a student.... so I'll take a stab at this.

Personally I feel extremely lucky to have, what I consider, really great instructors to learn from. What makes them great to me is their obvious respect for their students both in and out of the dojo. Respect in this case is acknowledging that the students, as uke, are giving their bodies to you to both learn and teach with. That same student's arm you are using to teach technique with, has to also be used by the student to earn a living and feed the family, or perhaps be placed around their child for comfort and support.

Realizing and acknowledging things of this nature is, to me , what separates the great teachers from the good ones.

Fortunately I have yet to experience a bad teacher, but again my travels have been limited.......

two pennies in the pot.

-Daniel C. Pokorny

"One sees great things from the valleys, only small things from the peaks"

Gil Gillespie
31st May 2000, 06:49
I am fortunate to train with Dan so I know the teachers he respects because they are my teachers as well. I echo his perspective that I have never had a bad sensei. Under Saotome Sensei the central Florida Aikido community is exemplary and my Iaido experience through three affiliations has been inspiring.

Coming to MA as physically damaged goods at 40 I knew I could never aspire to the technical excellence of my instructors. So I aspired to emulate other strong points in their presentation. The compassion Dan mentioned was one, as manifested through a reciprocal respect that was one of my great surprises. These men all possess the ability to snap me like a dry twig. That is not why they are budoka. They have imparted to us over the years that that is not why we train. Our dojo is called Shindai (great trust) for that reason.

I drive an hour to train with my senseis, sempais, and kohais. My instructor approached me some years ago about opening a dojo out here where I live. I felt unqualified to represent him. Over the years I have been approached 4 or 5 times to teach people Iaido. As a student with no credentials I declined. My image of myself is of a student, in life as well as budo.

Over the past couple years I have occasionally found myself as the ranking sempai when class began. Staying within myself I emphasized kihon with exploration & the classes I taught were well received. I now feel somewhat differently about my abilities & am beginning to see myself in the progression of serious students who bring an art forward.

My instructor has always emphasized the classic progression of shu/ ha/ rei. It is explained beautifully in Shimabukuro Sensei's MJERI manual "Flashing Steel." At the risk of some inaccuracy it embodies the stages of emulating your instructor & internalizing his art, then exploring your own realities within that art, then finally separating to carry your own interpretation onward.

I don't think I will ever pay my instructors back by surpassing them (in the old addage), but as I move into the ha phase of my training the truth of that teaching becomes increasingly clear. The progression is natural & I find it happening to me in spite of myself.

Gil Gillespie

Cameron Wheeler
2nd June 2000, 08:39
well I find that an instructor needs a passion for the martial art, and not for the occasional money. my instructor is like that but he is also very social, by that I meen he has been known to talk the leg off a chair. dispite his gift of the gab his passion and knowledge does shine through to make him a good instructor.

Erik Tracy
2nd June 2000, 20:10
Thanks for the kind comments about my instructor, Shimabukuro Sensei, and his book "Flashing Steel" - it does have some really good passages to ponder and chew on.

There are times, though, in our dojo where Sensei will expound on an idea or technique - usually when we are in an uncomfortable posture, such as tatehiza. Taking his time to fully explore the topic - making sure we understand all facets, patiently explaining for oh....upwards of 5 minutes or more.

Our eager faces watching his intently, hanging on to every word, absorbing every nuance of meaning...waiting...waiting...for the clear signal to start our technique (and so get the blood flowing back thru our legs and feet! ;-)

Those tricky instructors - working at all levels for a "lesson"!

7th June 2000, 21:18
Well, first off all the teacher must know what he is talking about. It gets VERY annoying when a teacher forgets how to do a move or something. But, they also need to be able to make you sweat, but not kill you. My Sensei is very good at realizing people's strenghts and weaknesses and knows what to do and what not to do. If it got extremely difficult to the point where my health was regularly in danger for no reason (tests are different though) I would consider leaving. A personality and sense of humor help as well, it's better than being taught by a computer. One more thing: variety. Most people don't want to spend years every class doing ten of a certain kick, ten of a certain punch, repeat...repeat...repeat. Mix it up with sparring, rolls, reaction drills, and (my favorite) drills with your eyes closed. Trying "feel" where your teacher is by his sound clues, which start off obvious and become harder; or catching balls and eventually blocking punches. It is very challenging and fun.

So I'd say knowledge of the art and variety are the two things I like about my Sensei.

As for teaching...yes, very much so. Since I'm still a teenager I will be teaching juniors (up to about 9 or 10 years old) in a while. It should be fun. I think most people would enjoy teaching.

Hope this helped,
Kevin Anderson

[This message has been edited by Krio88 (edited 06-07-2000).]

8th June 2000, 12:03
I know this is just for students so I will be brief. I just wanted to say that a good game of "blind man's bluff" is great in any MA. Also, a game of tag wouldn't hurt.

Mark F. Feigenbaum

Gil Gillespie
13th June 2000, 06:16
This thread should not languish like this. Lindsey Sensei has raised a fine thought & y'all should get up off it!

I had a great Aikido class tonight & my sensei of over 35 years experience was emphasizing 2 classic points. One was the dichotomy between "polishing the mirror"and "grinding the stone." (Introspective vs crash-n-burn training). Both work.Both fit> Know what is when.

The other was recognizing that if you're struggling, it's not Aikido. If you're confronting your attacker's power and feeling strength resistance you're doing something wrong. Feel it. Musubi (blend and control). Hard as hell & that's why it takes years.

Tonight was what makes a great teacher. Can I use his name? It's Dennis Hooker of Orlando FL. Edit this if you must.


14th June 2000, 19:12
Great post, PJ!

I am both a teacher and a student. I am blessed with two wonderful teachers, both with over 30 years in the arts. They are humble, humorous, and technically proficient. I try to emulate this as a teacher.

11th September 2000, 18:36
What makes a good sensei? Well for some of us, technical ability.

First off I'll admit to cross-training. I've worked hard in the martial arts for seven years to be the best person morally and technically, that is possible for me to become. Even after all this time I'm still a student, I don't hold any Dan rankings. I have on occasion taught classes and those rare occurances have helped me grow immeasurably.

But for some of us who push ourselves as hard as we can, technical ability is the prerequisite. One of my sensei, (non-profit dojo) is a few years short of thirty. (26 y.o.) He has actually spent less time in the MA then I have. The trade off is he's japanese. The calibur of teaching that he received from day one across the pond was more than I could ever imagine coming from a north american style school. As such his technical and historical knowledge at this stage in his life far surpass what I'll likely be able to acheive in twenty years of dedication. This is the reason that I choose to call him teacher. He's japanese and as such never refers to himself as Sensei or Sempai, but I choose to regard him as Sensei because I have so much to learn from him.

That's not to say that he hasn't become a good friend and isn't the life of the party, but don't disregard technical ability.

P.S.: The only people that I see posting here are all of E-budo's big-timers. All of you lurking students out there, post dammit! Mr. Lindsey has come up with a good topic and wants your opinions, speak out! Sometimes the only way to learn is to risk your health on a regular basis. Besides, shoe leather tastes good.:)

Rolling Elbow
12th September 2000, 13:20
Let's see.., what exactly does make a good instructor? For one, someone who you KNOW would have no problems defending himself in a real confrontation. Forms and endless techniques mean little if the individual does not demonstrate the capability to flow in and out of his style naturally. As I am beginner in taijutsu and have had the luck of finding an incredible instructor , I won't bore you with the "life long student" comment so often repeated by people of high rank already. Instead, I'll focus on what I perceive to be essential qualities in a teacher and what I have seen soo far in my own teacher.

1. Experience and an open mind. Someone who has studied other art forms and realizes and understands the merit of proper movement, despite the style.

2. An instructor who can impart knowledge with regard to practical fighting applications from classical forms. An example would be to take a classical kata of some sort and apply it to a "western" fighting scenario. Let's face it, it is the feel and concept behind many techniques that you want, not an exact technique to counter an exact attack.

3. The ability to listen to concerns that a student may have and turn them into drills or the focus of a class so that new grappling, evasion, or hand skills are always being learned.

4. Keeping things fresh and in perspective with flow drills and evasion drills.

5. Someone who does not let their ego get in the way of actually TRAINING with his students. A good instructor will apply techniques on you and let them be applied on him in return so that he can feel his students progress. A good instructor is definitely not someone who sits in his office counting his money or polishing his trophies.

6. Someone who is patient yet increasingly more serious with students that train with him over a long time. As combat is the goal, learning to hit and BE HIT becomes more important. Taking increased hits from each other and from the instructor in a controlled environment is essential to any serious mA's training. If you aren't getting hit and pain is never aplied, then you might as well be dancing.

12th September 2000, 18:50
A good teacher inspires students to learn.
A great teacher inspires students to teach.

13th September 2000, 01:51
A good martial arts instructor (mentor) should possess the following traits:
Respect – Respect for the student, fellow instructors, the dojo, the art, but most of all respect ones self.
Character – Must possess and demonstrate a strong moral character and be able to walk the talk.
Compassion – Ability to show compassion towards his students and have an understanding of each student’s limitations and abilities.
Confidence - (not arrogance). Must possess a high level of
confidence in his/her skills and the ability to effectively communicate that confidence to the student.
Enthusiasm – High level of enthusiasm and energy in training approach.
Skill - A high level of proficiency in execution of techniques and in the ability to demonstrate that skill to the student.
Practicality – The ability to apply learned techniques to real-life situations and the ability to communicate that practicality to his/her students.
Motivation – Ability to inspire and motivate a student to become a better, more complete individual, spiritually as well as physically.
Efficiency – A high level of efficiency in training aproach. Ability to effectively exchange teach) a great deal of information in a small amount of time without exceeding the students'ability to learn and apply the information.
Discipline – A strong degree of self-discipline in the
study, and teaching, of the art. He/she should have the ability to express to the student the importance of self-discipline both in and outside the dojo.
Consistency – Consistency and continuity in teaching methodology.
Adaptability – Acknowledgment that there is no perfect
martial art system and the ability willingness to incorporate and adapt techniques from different styles into a single,useable practical art form based on the individual student’s abilities.

For me, these are the traits of a good martial arts instructor because these are the personality traits I strive to achieve for myself every day of my life: Strong in character, self-confident, enthusiastic, proficient, practical, motivated, efficient, disciplined, consistent, adaptable, and above all respectful.

[Edited by jimrod99 on 09-12-2000 at 08:01 PM]

17th September 2000, 22:44
A good teacher recognizes the fact that he or she is still learning, and thereby encourages their students to seek out other information (everyone has holes in their skill, unless you're the grandmaster). This way, the students can bring back something of their own to the group, share it, and make the training group one of an intimate, equal feeling. A good teacher is one who, to a degree, pushes students away, and doesn't expect his/her students to follow the example of only one person.

" 'Come to the edge' he said. They said : 'We are afraid.'
'Come to the edge,' he said. They came. He pushed them.... and they flew." --Guillaume Apollinaire

Maureen O'Donnell :)

Pat K.
20th September 2000, 04:06
One thing that always amazes me is that my instructor will willingly, graciously, and honsestly go to seminars and classes offered by lower level dans TO LEARN. She regularly invites them to her dojo to teach her students. No matter that she outranks you, you may have been exposed to something that she hasn't been. Even if she has seen it, she will let them teach, without interruption, unless asked. Then she will share her thought, and return the floor to the person instructing.

She also has little ego. It is like pulling teeth to get her to discuss her grade, but people from all over the world hold her in very high reguard. Addressing her by her rank or proper title tends to make her shy away. Don't get me wrong, she commands respect, but from her knowlege, attitude, and humility.

One way to read "sensei" (I have been told) is that of a role model. I love this woman, and hope to someday be nearly as technically skilled, open minded, and humble as she is. I have named my daughter after her.

pat klaurens

[Edited by Pat K. on 09-27-2000 at 09:29 AM]

27th September 2000, 04:38
What do I think is a good teacher?

The kinds of qualities I would equate with a good teacher would be:

a knowledge of the arts being taught, good technique, respect for him/self & his/her students, promotion of learning (i.e. attending seminars, reading, having out of dojo discussions over a meal or drinks * hence building comradery), the ability to answer questions, the ability to admit when they do not know, to be able to differentiate between authoritative & authoritarian, & teaching the arts out of passion rather than 'strictly' profit (although there is nothing wrong with making money while teaching, you know what I'm talking about).

So in other words a good teacher is NOT the kind of person who has:

no or (worse) false knowledge of the arts being taught, poor technique, no self-respect or respect for their students(i.e. being abusive physically, verbally, or emotionally), forbidding any outside learning (i.e. "you can only learn from ME because I possess the secret scrolls!"), anger from being questioned ("how dare thou question thy intellect! I am the grand master!), lied to save face from not having the answer to a question, & teaching STRICTLY for the sole reason of profit & with No passion for the arts.

I have been studying for only a few years & have been fortuante to have began my time in Budo with a great teacher who possesses all of the first mentioned qualities. I have also had the oppurtunity to travel & study with amazing teachers from both the U.S. & Japan. In such a short time I feel I have had a very rich experience with Budo & although a lot of that is from my own choosing, my teacher has been my inspiration. So far I have not met one of these 'Jonestown-touch of death-grandmasters', but I have heard the stories from both peers & you all! So I'm counting my blessings.

We will keep it rolling!

Bradford Pomeroy

27th September 2000, 08:55
Hi, Pat,
Welcome to E-budo! If you have all ready done so, disregard this, but it is policy at E-budo to sign your posts with your full name. The easy way is to configure your signature box to do this. Thanks!:wave:

Hi, Bradford,
It seems we have something in common concerning your taste in music.:)

A good teacher is one who teaches so well that h/her students become better than the teacher. This should be an open admission, and good students will also strive to do this.

As for "grandmasters," most might learn from the student, as they are the true teachers. Any "master" who claims this is not true, or possible, is one to avoid.


Mike Collins
12th October 2000, 01:37
I've been really blessed with some incredibly good and talented teachers. To a one, the single thing that makes them great is that they are students of people who they regard as much better than they. One of them has a teacher who is now dead, but he says he still trains as if Osensei were watching, and his greatest fear is that Osensei will catch him teaching and scold him.

The hallmark of what I feel makes a teacher great was explained to me by this same man: "A teacher must be very severe- with himself. It is his responsibility to be his own personal best, and continuously work and sweat to be better-shugyo. He also has the responsibility to make training fun so that he can set the hook in others to want to get better in this way and take up their own personal path of shugyo"

Before I ever decide I am ready to teach, I'll have embodied this idea. Fortunately, I've got a long way to go, so I can keep having fun.

Any good teacher will get you (not necessarily with your permission) to go to your edge, and make the edge a little bit further and sharper. They'll push the envelope with you.