Monday, July 22, 2013

Master Teacher: An Expository Essay In Leadership .... By GM Jerome Barber

         It is my belief that a Master Teacher is someone who knows, understands and is very dedicated to the art and science of teaching.  A Master Teacher goes well beyond simply presenting information or training regimes to his/her students. Transmitting information or transferring knowledge is an important and necessary activity that must  happen with every new generation whether it is in a formal educational setting, an apprenticeship program, a job training program or martial arts academy.  There are some subtle yet significant differences between a trainer, a coach and a teacher.  The main difference is that a teacher educates his/her students for both the current moment and a future time which neither can fully anticipate or predict.  Trainers and coaches are usually concerned with preparing their people for the immediate short term successes of the times, here and now, without any real concerns about the long term future.  The Master Teacher educates his/her students by giving them both the physical and intellectual tools that they will need to make their own informed decisions about what directions to take in life.

            The life lessons that a Master Teacher provides to his/her students are not always obvious nor immediately understood by the students.  These lessons are realized and utilized later in life and in ways that neither the student nor the Master Teacher could have fully anticipated in advance.  One of the most important components of these life lessons centers on making the students independent from the tyranny of conformity and seeking the lowest common denominator as an acceptable standard of social existence.

            Those students who have learned to think for themselves, ask critical questions and research the possibilities and alternatives for themselves.  They will usually find alternatives to the standardized, generally accepted societal answers that give so much comfort to those people who are willing to accept the opinions of the so-called ‘experts’.  Those simplistic, canned, oft-recited statements that serve as the correct answers to our social and political problems are actually mental, social, intellectual and emotional blindness.  This type of socio-emotional blindness allows the emotionally insecure to escape taking responsibility for their own behaviors and ideas. 

We can see it so clearly in the martial arts when students cite the opinions of their instructors as hard and fast facts, beyond any need for questioning.  We can see it in instructors who refuse to get involved in calling into question the moral or ethical shortcomings of other instructors, because they do not want to get involved!  They were the people, who as students, followed the party-line and faithfully quoted their own instructors, word for word, idea after idea, until they were given their black belts.  We can see it in so-called martial artists who will jump from system to system and instructor to instructor until they find someone who promote them based on how much money they were willing to pay for those promotions.

             Master Teachers are the bane of every dictatorial minded person and their emotionally weak true believers in public as well as private life.  We can find those dictatorial personalities in every area of human activity including the martial arts. The Master Teachers are there as well and they offer a viable alternative to this conformist malady.

            Teaching is both an art and a science.  It is a learnable craft and there are formal institutions established for the express purpose training people in the art and science of teaching.  In the USA, we have teacher education colleges as well as teacher education programs in some larger colleges and universities.  There is no such equivalent in the martial arts systems as they are taught in the USA.  In fact most current martial arts instructors in the USA have never had a formal instructional training program made available to them.  For most martial arts school owners-operators they opened their schools with little to no formal training in the art of teaching.  They are engaged in on-the-job-training with their paying customers as their students.  It is very difficult for these instructors – owners – operators to move beyond being someone who coaches or instructs martial art students to the status of Master Teacher.  Set all the titles aside and simply look at what these coach-instructors are actually doing.  They are providing guidance and instruction in acquisition of physical movements and skills.  Punching, kicking, rolling, tumbling, grappling and weapons manipulations are physical skills or exercises for the body.  Beyond the cultural courtesies of bowing, training barefooted, learning some words and expressions, counting in another language, what life lessons are being taught by most martial arts coaches/instructors? 

This does not mean that all these coach-instructors are not skilled teaching professionals.  A good number of them are accomplished trainers with students who have earned many awards and lots of well-deserved accolades.  The problem is that these coach-instructors are focused almost exclusively on the development of physical skills in their students.

            Most of the coach-instructors teach what they were taught and in the very same manner in which they were taught.  They do not know how to develop a curriculum or lesson plan.  The do not have instructional alternatives for their students – they use a “one size fits all” approach and if a student is not successful within the confines of their program it is the student’s fault – the student is ‘defective’, has a ‘flaw’, lacks ‘heart’ or is not motivated for success within ‘our championship black belt dojo program’.  Coach- instructors are primarily technicians who are focused on physical skills development.  They are not well versed in character development nor have they mastered the critical principles of teaching and learning beyond the physical realm.

            Coach-instructors are generally at the center of attention while their student- trainees are interchangeable, disposable and continually replaced.  After all is said and done, the “magic” of success resides with the coach-instructor, not the student-trainee who went on the floor and performed in the competition with student-trainees of other coach-instructors.  The student-trainees will come and go while the coach-instructor will remain in place over a long period of time.  In the end it is all about the coach-instructor and what they were able to accomplish with their student-trainees in competitions.  Within the martial arts world there are a large number of coach-instructors who establish the training regimes and schemes that their student-trainees followed in the quest for championship medals and recognition.  We have to recognize and appreciate that it is the coach-instructors who have pushed their student-trainees through the physical training programs that focused on winning at the tournaments.  Their teaching methods were centered on providing the correct mechanical and technical skills development needed to win medals, but they did not intentionally work on helping their student-trainees to understand how those skills could be blended into other aspects of lives in society.

            Master Teachers are skilled people help their students to move beyond the mechanical and physical skills development.  They use the lessons taught in the present to prepare their students for future situations both inside and outside of the martial arts.  Master Teachers understand that they are involved in a ‘performance art’ which can be improved on and further perfected through practice and experience.  They are inclined to critically evaluate their own performances as teachers just as they will evaluate the accomplishments of their students.  Master Teachers demonstrate the importance of continual learning and the lifelong pursuit of knowledge through their active behavior on a daily basis.  They lead by example while clearly demonstrating to their students that they know, understand and live the maxim:

                  Proper prior preparation prevents piss poor performances.” 

            Master Teachers place their emphasis on the intellectual, emotional, and physical development of their students.  They are not seeking the limelight; they do not need to be viewed as legends in their own time.  They understand that success is only possible if one has also failed from time to time and learned from those experiences.  As with coach- instructors, the students of Master Teachers come and go over time, the major difference is that Master Teachers encourage their students to learn the lessons well, and then move on, continuing to learn as they grow.  The Master Teacher is an educator, even if they are not working in a formal educational institution.  They bring out the very best in their students and prepare them for life in the future. 

            As a student I had the benefit of learning from and being under the guidance of a number of people whom I consider to be Master Teachers.  They were people who in some cases I sought out and in other cases I was assigned to them by some means without any input from myself.  I want to acknowledge and thank, Mrs. Whetstone, Mr. Harry Whitesides, Dr. Harry Randles, Dr. Sidney Willhelm, Sifu Don Zanghi, GM Tom Bolden, Ama Guro Billy Bryant, Gat Puno Abundio Baet, PG Eddie Lastra and MG Roberto Torres.

            Master teachers are leaders.  They lead by example and inspire others to accept the challenges of studying, learning and teaching.  They were teaching role models who presented learning as a lifelong pursuit and sharing as an ethereal gift to those who are able to accept it.  They are educators in mind and spirit who share a common bond even when they have never met or talk with one another because the gift of knowledge that they gave lives on through their students as well as their student’s students.

            No one can legitimately claim to be a Master Teacher.  It is not a title that one can confer on himself or herself.  The title is earned over time and comes from the accomplishments of your students as seen and understood by people totally outside of your sphere of influence.  A number of people have tried to claim the title, but they never accepted the responsibilities that always come with the designation, Master Teacher.  We all know a true Master Teacher when we meet him/her.  They never have to tell anyone that they are Master Teachers and they will not use that title to describe themselves.
Jerome Barber, Ed. D.,  
Grand Master and  Principal Teacher, 
Independent Escrima-Kenpo -Arnis Associates, 
Hamburg, New York.
 April 12, 2013