From my earliest training in martial arts, I was always encouraged to teach. I was a little self-conscious about it at first. I didn’t think I was good enough. I found that as I taught more I became more confident about what I was teaching and more confident overall. As the adage goes, if you want to be good at something, teach it.
There are many misconceptions about teaching, but most pervasive is that the teacher is somehow losing something by teaching. I once asked a student to consider becoming a teacher, and they responded with, “I want to work on my own stuff.” I had already gone through my spiel about the benefits of teaching, so this person obviously didn’t believe me, didn’t care, or perhaps both. That was fine with me; I didn’t want to force someone to teach. I am a firm believer that people will usually not do a good job if their heart isn’t in it. What the student failed to realize, believe, or understand is that if you teach, you get more than you give.
Spread your knowledge and you will make a difference in yourself and in others. [Photo credit: Jeff Nguyen]
Why You Should Teach
When I was younger, way, way back in that other semi-sordid life as a musician, I remember not wanting to teach a friend a particular guitar lick that I liked to play, because I was afraid of losing it. Another friend who taught guitar told me, “You know, when you teach someone that lick, you’ll get another one. It never runs out.” I was struck by that idea, and I’ll be doggone if that isn’t exactly what happened. Later, in music school, I heard the same thing from just about every player that taught there. I eventually heard the phrase, “The more you give, the more you get.” I believe it implicitly.
When I entered the world of martial arts, I was struck by the similarities in thought about teaching. When I attended my first black belt class, I was surprised to hear the Grand Master say, “I don’t teach for you, I teach for me!” When students grumbled about the volume of material to learn and keep up with, he would say, “If you don’t like to practice, then teach.” I knew what he was saying was true, as I had been teaching for some time. But I still saw some people roll their eyes, wanting instead to work on their own stuff. I always found time to do both. In fact, I had more time because as a teacher, I had less to practice.
The other objection I often hear is that a person thinks they are not good enough to teach. I like to ask them when they think they will be good enough. It is usually in the very distant future, or an indeterminable time such as, “When I am better.” I tell everyone that uses this excuse to just get started, and the rest will take care of itself. You will get better faster if you teach than if you don’t. No preparation will make you as good as standing in front of someone and showing them how to do something.
The Benefits of Teaching
So what are the overall benefits of teaching?
- Confidence: If you are not confident, you will not teach well. Putting yourself on the spot will make you cultivate a level of confidence you likely didn’t know that you had. This is a tremendous benefit for those persons seeking self-improvement. Teaching can be scary, and a person willing to confront that fear will improve tenfold. If you need extra work or practice, you will likely do it, knowing that there is a real and pending reason to do it.
- Your skills will improve: Whatever you are teaching, you will get better at doing. My first martial arts teacher used to tell me to teach the technique that I most wanted to improve, because it was the fastest way to make it better. Want to improve your snap kick? Ground technique? Arm bar? Teach it!
- You will be a better student: As you teach, you will appreciate those students that exhibit behavior that is pleasant and makes it easy for you. Likewise, when you are being taught, you will have empathy for the teacher and strive to be attentive, alert and engaged. Consequently, you will learn more as well. Your lessons as a student will be more productive.
- Practice time: For a skill like martial arts, teaching enables you to practice as you teach, so you lessen the need for extra practice time. There was a time when I used to practice all the forms in my style of martial art. Now that I teach them, I only practice the ones I don’t teach. And I am looking for students for those!
You Will Improve Yourself and Others
I believe wholeheartedly in the idea of teaching to make yourself better at whatever you are doing. When I started studying judo, I taught everything I learned in my lesson later that night. I have done that for some time now. I wanted to be a better grappler, so I started teaching grappling. It absolutely made me better, and quick.
I can always tell a good teacher by how they accept a new student. Are they enthusiastic and cheerful at the opportunity to show something new, or are they bothered that they got pulled away from “their stuff?” When I started studying Xing Yi, my teacher greeted me with, “Great to have you! Now I don’t have to practice my Xing Yi!” I knew he would be a great teacher, and he was. Spread your knowledge and you will make a difference in yourself and in others.
Develop your skill set:
Develop the skill of your athletes: