I was recently discussing the topic of encouraging personal development in the dojo with a newly belted Shodan who was visiting us. Like many Shodans, he has come to realize the profound impact that martial arts training has had on his life, above and beyond the simple benefits of self-defense and fitness, including self-confidence, mental fortitude, perseverance, exposure to different philosophies and lifestyles, etc. This led to a discussion on how to encourage this kind of personal development in the dojo.
I am of the opinion that the gentle approach is best. You provide the opportunity for students to undertake this sort of development but you allow them to do so on their own terms. Most students don’t take up a martial art with this kind of development specifically in mind. Most are looking to either learn to defend themselves / pick up a new physical skill or they are looking for a fun way to get fit or stay fit. So in the beginning, up until orange belt, the focus of what I teach is meant to provide exactly this as efficiently as possible. Realistically speaking, the majority of students don’t make it past orange/green belt so at least they’ll have picked up a good grounding in self-defense skills by that point.
Students that last beyond that naturally develop in other ways over time. There are a few ways I like to encourage this development without hammering it into them. I like to make information available to my students wherever possible. I do this by providing articles on my blog, sharing links through our Facebook and Twitter pages, and lending my students books. I have a plan to start a library of books related to the martial arts and personal development that students will be able to sign out when I upgrade to a bigger location too.
Even more importantly, it is vital to set a good example in your dojo. Whatever characteristics you want to see your students develop, you must develop in yourself, in the other instructors at your dojo, and in your senior students. For the most part, this can be done by example, but there may be times that you have to talk to people to make sure the leadership of your dojo is projecting the image you want.