by GM Jeff Helaney
For the real instructors out there a bit of hard earned wisdom…(and to the one instructor who needs to hear this today)

I know you don’t want to hear another lengthy lecture from me, but I think it helps to put things in context. You are unique and your love of the arts (of what you do) is laudable. Still none of us are completely perfect, although there are days when I come close.

Relationships are difficult at best and the martial arts student-teacher relationship can be extremely complex. Not so many years ago martial arts instruction looked very different from what it does today. The relationship often times took on a familial aspect and engendered a sense of fierce loyalty to the school and instructor. Martial arts was not a weekend sport, but a way of life.

Fast-forward to the 20th Century and the promulgation of the commercial school. Things changed … what was once exchanged solemnly with fidelity was now purchased. The trappings of the past remained in many traditional schools, but the relationship was forever altered by this new dynamic. The more commercialized things became, the less tradition held sway.

You would have been a great teacher 300 years ago. Today they would be writing books about you. Unfortunately you live today and nobody reads books just blogs. There goes your hope of being famous. Finding a balance between the past and the present is precarious for the career martial artist and you are no exception. The goal to keep tradition alive is often in conflict with the need to keep the doors open. Long past are the days when students took a position of servitude within the school. Today, it is more common to see feelings of entitlement than loyalty. It is not a reflection on you, but rather a reflection on our society and current values. So get over it.

You have taken up the mantle of a teacher you need to see itas a calling and nothing less. It is an amazing thing. True martial arts instructors are a rare breed because they do what they do out of love of the art, not love of money. To them money is just a vehicle to be able to pass on what they love, it is not the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, most students do not view the gift they are being given in the same light. For many it is a transaction to be made as long as it is convenient and does not conflict with softball (football,soccer, piano, dance, acting, track, … ad infinitum) practice. It is that complex and that simple. You are not special because of how ‘everyone’ sees you, but because you are an amazing person.

As teachers we invest our hearts, our spirit, and our love of what we do for our students. It is a door that we open for them. Some will walk through the door and understand the gift. A slightly larger group will step through the door, but never truly understand what being offered and walk away. Unfortunately, the vast majority will just see door and never go in. This does NOT mean you are a failure. It just means that your gift was not the right gift for everyone who came to your door.

So listen up! It is a hard lesson, but a valuable one. A teacher is like a parent. You can dream for your children, but it is their dreams that matter. When you teach your child you hope they get what you have taught them. You pray that they do well and keep your lessons close. It doesn’t always happen with children and it doesn’t always happen with students.

To the instructor that needs to hear this today, let it go. Encourage those students who share your love of the art and let them carry it forward while recognizing that not everyone will take what you offer. If you are a good teacher (and I know you are) you will get this and it will take away some of the sting you are feeling right now. Enjoy the successes and the students whose eyes look to you in wonder and dream of being just like you.
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