Teaching Martial Arts: What It’s All for

Yesterday, I held a brown belt test for two students at my dojo. One of them had been training with me pretty much since I first started teaching in the Vancouver area, just over 7 years. The other had started less than 2 years ago, having come to the dojo already holding a black belt, with 9 years of training in another style of Japanese Jiu-jitsu having studied on the east coast. I am happy to announce that both students passed, but there is so much more to it than their test results.

After the test, the student who had trained with me since the beginning presented me a gift he made himself, which you can see in the photo below. When he presented it to me, he gave a short speech. It was along these lines: “When I first started training it was to learn self-defense, but I gained so much more. Training with you gave me the confidence to go after my dreams.” One of his dreams was to work in law enforcement and now he works as a BC sheriff, as represented in the gift he made, which I’ll be hanging prominently at the entrance to our mat area. I couldn’t help but tear up at this meaningful gesture.

Teaching Martial Arts: What It's All For

The other student already had a pre-established passion for the martial arts, thanks to his training experiences with his instructor in Nova Scotia, Ray McKinnon Sensei. He faces challenges in keeping two different sets of curriculum straight in his head, but has always put in an honest effort to learn and embrace the different nuances, while continuing to keep his previous training alive, even sharing it with our dojo. He first moved to Vancouver 2 years ago, knowing very few people in the area, but he is now a friend to many of us at the dojo and his presence is very much appreciated.

Both these students now enter a new stage of development having earned their brown belts. They now will enjoy the privilege of being apprentice instructors of the art of Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu.Β They intimately know the ways their training has helped themselves in their lives. They will now start to help other students on their own paths, helping them to discover what the martial arts means to them. They will get to teach and learn through the experiences of the students who receive their instruction. They will serve as examples of the possibilities of how dedicated training can affects one’s life. From my own experiences, my development as a martial artist and person increased exponentially once I became a teacher, and has continued to do so over the past 17 years. I am exceedingly grateful to have played a role in bringing two students to this level and look forward to seeing them embrace their new roles. πŸ™‚ (*Yes, I photobombed the pic below.)

In what ways has teaching the martial arts enriched your life? Please share your experiences in the comments. πŸ™‚

Teaching Martial Arts: What It's All For 2

Comments (7)

7 thoughts on “Teaching Martial Arts: What It’s All for

  1. Congrats to the new brown belts. I remember it was quite a change for me and as they say a brown belt is a black belt in all but the title: if you’ve made it this far you’re quite likely to succeed and the difference in skill level between a brown and a black belt is usually not that pronounced. It was a nice gesture and a sure sign your efforts are appreciated by your students, which is the primary reason you’re doing it I imagine (a labour of love).

    From my limited experience I know teaching is fun and rewarding, plus it does help you in your own development and understanding. If you can properly explain a technique and spot the fauls in execution by the students you’ve pretty much got it down yourself. One day I would like to run my own dojo but that day is still far off: atm there are more important things and I still need to learn a lot before I can do this fully on my own. It would in all likelihood only be part-time as a hobby (two evenings a week, which is what most clubs do here) since it’s quite hard to live off the martial arts and I do have another career path in mind but still it’d be fun. An ideal situation would be to make it a joint-venture of sorts: teaming up with other teachers (preferably from different arts) to have more say in the schedule and training area and to have someone you can count on to replace you in case of illness or absence in general.

    The one downside to being a teacher is that it does cut into your own training time and if you can’t live off teaching then this does become a factor since most people are quite busy and can’t train very often, especially if they start families of their own.

    How much time do you train for yourself Lori? I’m sure you must be quite busy with teaching alone but keeping one’s skills sharp by keeping up one’s own training (preferably under supervision by a higher teacher and by cross-training) is absolutely necessary in my view. Otherwise it can end up like my old teacher who stopped taking seminars and as a result grew stale in his teaching. This is a disservice to one’s students and I believe if you can’t motivate yourself to put in extra effort then it’s best to leave the task to someone more suited.

    One last question: if you only had only two evenings a week (three at most)to teach and were planning to teach two or three arts would you keep them seperate or would you make one unified curriculum and teach them together?

    1. It is hard to find a balance, but I usually do solo training at home every day or every other day. Chris and I sometimes train together in our basement (we have mats there). We also regular train in other styles of Jiu-jitsu and other styles of martial arts, usually once a week or every other week. And we take seminars often as well. It is true, that one can grow stale in one’s own training, so I keep just doing what I can.

      As to your question, it would kind of depend on the arts you wanted to teach and which you value teaching the most. I would choose one as a primary art, say Jiu-jitsu, since it’s fairly well rounded, 2 nights a week, then teach the secondary art once a week. If I only had 2 nights a week, I would just focus on one style only maybe introducing aspects of the other arts for interest’s sake once in a while.

      1. Thanks for the input. Atm I’m leaning more to a blend of jujutsu and JKD as a base since I believe pure, classical jujutsu as I was taught is not all that well suited to deal with striking attacks (which JKD excells at) but it is great in dealing with all manner of grabs, chokes and the like. For higher belts I’d teach the basics of kali-escrima and basic BJJ as a supplement to SD on the ground learned earlier. Basic throwing (JJ) and kickboxing (JKD) should form the technical base for beginners and intermediate students while locking, basic trapping and sports ground-fighting (which I still need to start with myself, this is a long term project after all) and weapons are more suited to higher level students. For black belt and up a more in depth study of kali, JKD and jujutsu seems like a good idea. In any case the main approach would be to impart basic skills in stand-up, grappling, groundwork and weapons with a strong focus on practical application outside the sport-arena. It truly is better to be a jack of all trades (at first at least) than master at a specific area while being weak in others since fighting is dynamic and unpredictable so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to choose the range you’re going to fight in and even if you start in your preferred range things can change very quickly once fists are flying.

        I don’t think it would matter that much whether I’d teach it as a unified curriculum or spread out (one day JJ, the other JKD) since the end-result would be the same and I wouldn’t teach the full curriculum for each art since a lot of it is quite unnecessary for basic SD or just too advanced to teach and absorb quickly. It could even be more fun to have more variety in each training session than having to box or throw/fall all the time. Plus I’ve heard of a club that teaches jujutsu, JKD and kali: all on different days and the end result is that there are almost no students for jujutsu while JKD and kali are much more popular.

        My sensei teaches two times a week: on friday at a school gym focussing on JJ (throwing, falling, locking, ground) and on sunday at his home (JKD & kali). This is mainly for practical reasons: at the school there are mats to fall on while on sunday we train in his garage or on the terrace if the wheather’s good. Personally I like sunday training better since I learn the most. I could never go back to just training classical jujutsu, even the JJ he teaches is modified and influenced by his training in karate, JKD, kali and silat. We hardly ever use typical jujutsu/karate defenses against strikes or kicks (hard blocks are generally inefficient and therefore a bad idea unless there’s no choice) and the grappling aspect of JKD closely resembles his interpretation since it’s basically JKD/WC with finishes from judo, jujutsu and chinna (taught to Bruce Lee by Gene Lebell, Wally Jay and others). To me this is semi-advanced to advanced stuff since it usually relies on fine motor skills (especially the locking) and attempting to control someone is usually harder than hitting them as hard as possible.

        As far as JJ is concerned I’m probably at black belt level, in JKD I’m approaching intermediate level (kickboxing is ok, trapping still needs a lot of work), in kali I’m still a beginner. My main weakness is still ground which we don’t train very often so in the long run enrolling in a BJJ-program or something similar is a necessity.

        In a few months I’ll be moving which would probably mean having to skipp a class a week (I really don’t like to sit in a bus for hours so once a week would suffice) which will probably be friday, to compensate I could enroll at either a boxing or thaiboxing club in the town where I’ll live or train with a krav maga and/or a thaiboxing club at the university where I study. Too bad there’s no BJJ-dojo or I would definitely pick that.

        I think boxing and/or thaiboxing would be better since they’re more sparring-orientated and krav maga (being a mix of techniques from a lot of arts) closely resembles what we do already so I doubt I’d learn much. Looking at krav maga videos on youtube you can see there’s a clear influence from wing-chung and kali and from jujutsu aswell. Their techniques are generally good but nothing special really and I’ve seen some techniques that would land you in trouble against a trained opponent (boxer, kickboxer). Their fire-arm disarming techniques are neat though and as an overall concept it’s basically my idea of what SD-training should be.

        1. Ah, that makes sense. Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu already blends the elements that are relevant to us that are in styles like BJJ, kick-boxing, and to some extent, JKD type movements. We do weapon work, but not as much, which is why I would have suggested having a separate class for Filipino weapons. But if you could blend the arts in ways that make sense for your overall goal of teaching self-defense, while maintaining commonality of technique (making it easier to jump from one concept to the next), blending them could make sense. Good luck!

          1. Well, my sensei’s curriculum is fairly comprehensive in the sense that it deals with every conceivable unarmed and armed attack (within reason of course) but his approach is to combine JJ with elements from JKD and kali so there’s always a lock or throw to finish off the opponent. In my view this can work if trained enough but it’s not something I would teach beginners or students looking to learn SD quickly. To me striking (street modified kickboxing) should be the first line of defense, not the grappling techniques of JJ so that’s why I was thinking about making up my own blend with the more complex JJ techniques taught later much like you do with your curriculum. If the essence of SD is to get away asap then it makes a hell of lot more sense to just strike him in the nose (or eyes if the situation warrants it) and run than to attempt complex techniques that will be easily twarted by Murphy’s law. Whenever I see people struggling with locks in class I cringe at the thought of them having to do it for real: imo you only put on a lock if you’ve subdued him enough beforehand (basically removing him as a threat) or you’re supremely confident in your skills and you’re so well trained you can flow from technique to technique at a moment’s notice based on the energy he gives you.

            Of course I could teach it seperately, much like my sensei does now, but I doubt I’d have much students for the JJ class (not very popular these days). Like I said basic kali weaponry (stick, knife) will be part of the curriculum for higher belts (if you take a stick or knife from somebody you should know what to do with it) but I could either organise another class for it like you suggested (besides the self-defense classes with the blend of JKD and JJ) or maybe just give an extra class/seminar in kali now and again. This way there’d be less commitment (teaching three evenings a week without back-up is not easy to do, especially if you have to combine it with a dayjob and you’d still like to maintain a social life) and more free time.

            I’ll have to ponder this. Thanks for the suggestions.

  2. Congrats to the new brown belts!

    After receiving my black belt in tkd I presented my instructor with a gift. It was a framed piece of rice paper with the Korean words for indomitable spirit. This is one of taekwondo’s tenets and the biggest lesson I learned while in the art. I was 40 at the time — indomitable spirit is half the reason I achieved 1st dan! Also, my instructor was female and weighed all of 110 lbs. However, she was a dynamo and could go toe-to-toe with guys who outweighed her by 50 lbs. She also had that no quit spirit and put in a lot of extra free time getting me ready for my test.

    There are damn few people I’d go to the end of the earth for. I count her among the few.


    1. I love hearing about awesome instructors who inspire their students as yours did. Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

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