Saturday, November 7, 2009


What, in your view, makes for a great teacher?


  1. It's kind of like pornography, in that you know one when you see him. But the real answer, as my finance prof. used to say, is "it depends."

    Over the years, I've trained with a few mediocre to poor teachers, a few good ones, and two great ones. The two great ones couldn't be more different. One is from Tokyo; one is from Texas. One teaches a Japanese, linear, external, "hard" striking art; the other teaches a Chinese, circular, internal art that uses far more locks, throws, projections, and breaks. One speaks English; the other not so much.

    What do they share? A love of their art; the absolute respect of their students; and -- this is the big one -- the ability not just to execute but to explain their art.

    Of course, as you touched on, different students have different learning styles. Some need to read a book, some need to look at a picture, some need to be told what to do, and some need to have their elbows physically forced into the correct position. A really great teacher knows this. Then again, if your learning style matches the teacher's teaching style, it might not matter, from your perspective, how well anyone else does with him.

    One thing though: I don't think Kisaka Sensei would be the right teacher for me now, and I don't think my Shifu would have been right for me 25 years ago -- I probably lacked the patience. When the student is ready the teacher appears.

    So how can one tell a great teacher without spending years with them? Look at their students. Do they train hard? Are they skilled? Are they respectful of their art, each other, and the people around them? Are the angry ones, and there are a lot of those -- too much testosterone, too much yang -- a little less angry after a class? After a year of classes? And what about the ones who are too yin? After a while do they walk a little taller and take up a bit more of the room?

    Warning signs: Does the teacher allow cliques within the school and play them off against each other? Does she play favorites, arbitrarily giving "secrets" to some and not others? Big Warning Sign: Does the teacher take sexual advantage of students -- this is, unfortunately, far too common.

    Then, of course, a great teacher for me may not be a great teacher for thee. My 10-year old daughter is now taking Aikido. Her teacher is great for her, because she knows how to teach 10-year olds. I'm no longer ten, so I'm not sure how great she'd be for me.

    This is a long answer that could go much longer, but it's your blog not mine. Happy to go into this further...

  2. Please do comment as much as you please, Hakko. I wouldn't have asked if I weren't curious about your response.