For Northwind Martial Arts this fall has been a lesson in perseverance. The season of injuries and illnesses culminated in a testing session with one student too weak to test and another too injured to complete Gibon Doncha! We’re a small school, which left me grading only one student getting ready for her promotion exam!
I asked my two injured students, who had shown excellent mudo attempting their tests despite their challenges, to take my place up front. I handed them my note pads, showed them the list to check off and/or comment on, and lined up with my remaining student to go through the test with her.
It was one of the best days I’ve had as an instructor all year. For one thing, my faith tradition teaches that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Humility isn’t merely a Christian concept. It features highly in the Dao, Zen, and most other world religions. Secondly, I have always found it more comfortable to test or compete as part of a team than on my own, so I was privileged to have a chance to show my students that at the end of the day, we’re a team together, and I’d rather step back from my place at the front of the studio than let them train alone. Finally, masters train and test as well, and it was an excellent motivation to go through our curriculum carefully.
So for an hour and a half I trained in front of my students, and we all got a lot out of it! During class I was motivated to give it 100%, to show my students the absolute best technique I could. After class when we got ice cream and compared notes, my students commented repeatedly how something I had been telling them over and over clicked when they saw me get it wrong, even if I didn’t get it as wrong as they did. So that little exercise in humility (and exercise) turned into a great teaching tool. Then there were times when I performed the way that I expected, and the students saw the difference between what I was doing and what they were.
The students taking notes learned a valuable lesson in mudo as well. It is quite easy to talk about how to be a good uke, or receiver of a technique, a good opponent. We talk about doing our best to push each other forward, but the truth is that it is easier to go easy on our friends and fellow students. Stripped of their excuses, because they knew I was going to check their notes, the sick and the injured students faced their trepidation and got practice looking critically at another’s performance. They had a chance to teach, in a way, and I believe they learned what I have, that once you begin to teach, you learn as much from your students as they learn from you.
So once again mudo, fellowship, and our nascent martial arts community came together to turn a potential downer into a valuable lesson for all. I’m reminded of the day before we got a dojang location when we trained outside in the rain. What felt miserable at the time now remains as an anime bragging right and fond bonding experience (though as winter sets in we’re grateful for our hosts for the roof, heating, and light!). Those are only some of the growing experiences we’ve achieved in our half a year as a dojang.
I look forward to many more, and until then, I’m going to remember the benefits in store when I take the risk and let my students see me train.