Instructing: The key to true martial art mastery.

Robert Barton 

            One can see from the ranking requirements in Shorinji Goju that in order to progress beyond the rank of second degree black belt to third dan one must complete the instructor training program. In fact all ranks beyond second dan are dependant upon teaching knowledge and application. We are a teaching system and instructing is the cornerstone of what we do at more advanced levels. Beyond second dan simple knowledge of the kata and fighting ability will not be sufficient in order to be promoted. This is seen as limiting by some but the key to true martial arts mastery is to be found in teaching and these levels can only be reached when a person has embraced and practiced instructing.

            For the first few years of martial traing it will suffice to listen to our teachers and to do what they tell us and learn the material. But there comes a time when we must thoughtfully consider what we are learning and we must improve upon ourselves and our understanding of the material. This type of thoughtful reflection upon an art is best facilitated when we are placed in the position of needing to articulate the lessons that we have learned. When we teach we must now take what we have learned and share it with others. In this sharing process we repeatedly reexamine the knowledge and skills. Many students will require different approaches and types of explanation and as we are forced to present this information to different perspectives we are forced to examine it from different perspectives. As we attempt to find new and different ways to articulate and present this information we come to understand it much more deeply.

            Because of the nature of learning and learning styles we have to adapt top the method by which any student learns best and one student may be very tactile and learn through doing and yet another may do well with verbal explanation while yet another may need to see it. In learning to adapt to the needs of these students we learn to be more adaptable. We learn to better read people and situations and to assess what is happening and our problem solving skills are greatly improved. Yet while we are refining our highest understanding of people we are always taking a trip back through basics and we continually have to do those basic techniques and combinations and each of our kata. We have to continually be reenrolled in all stages of the learning process through which we have come.

            A great deal of teaching involves observing and doing so in minute detail. It also involves observing things that are moving quickly and yet we reach a point where even when a black belt student is moving at full speed we can have a complete comprehension of his or her movement and make corrections as needed. This ability to observe improves our own ability to see and understand movement as it relates to our art. And we become better able to see and read an opponent and his or her attacks and intentions. When we are in that teaching mindset our brain is able to observe in a most relaxed manner and is motivated to observe more closely than we ever have.

            Not about the ability to harm and damage another it is about the ability to direct and guide. The ability to accommodate and manage people and to understand and appreciate others is more about what one learns in these ranks. The irony is that it is only then that one becomes truly dangerous to an opponent. Only when one has reexplored the art and done the basics again and again can one actually begin to understand it at the deepest levels. Then our ability to fight actually reaches the higher levels because we have such an intricate understanding of the subject. Our sense of responsibility to our art and our people increases as we gain a better understanding of ourselves in the context of a group.

            It may seem strange that we only allow people trained as instructors to progress past second dan and that only those who have taught and gained insight thusly can be considered for the recognition as a master and be considered for a master’s authorization to teach. I hope that this has clarified why it is this way in Shorinji Goju and how our teaching as a practice facilitates the mastery of ourselves and our martial art. For these reasons and myriad other little things teaching is the cornerstone of  understanding the ideas that lead to mastery of Shorinji Goju.

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