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A High Teaching Standard or an Ego Trip?

by Christopher Rappold


Recently, a friend shared with me an experience about going to see a chiropractor. The person was highly recommended and had a mystique about him. Over the years, he’d worked with many pro athletes, and he wasn’t shy about showing it on his website and in his lobby.

When my friend met with the doctor, he was treated more like the next number in a factory line of patients rather than a person seeking healing. The chiropractor poked and prodded my friend in all his injured and inflamed areas, creating enough pain to cause him to nearly fall off the treatment table.

As I listened to his story, I was thinking about many similar experiences I’ve witnessed in the martial arts. Here’s one example: A student takes a seminar conducted by someone he admires. He’s picked to go to the front of the class for a demonstration and surrenders his arm to the instructor. The subsequent application of force is so painful that the student has a massive physical reaction. Whenever I see this, it makes me cringe, yet most of the time, the onlookers appear impressed.

While I’m not writing this to condemn anyone, I do think that as teachers, we need to learn from experiences like this. In the Retention-Based Sparring program, a lot of attention is given to meeting students where they are and then growing their skills from this starting point. The best instructors I’ve had the privilege to train with mold their teachings to fit the experience level of their students. Causing excessive pain or frustration in any of them is an indicator that a teacher hasn’t correctly evaluated the starting point of the student.

While this might make sense intellectually, it’s far from a common practice. Many coaches and instructors have clear memories of the way they learned from their teachers. Pain was a rite of passage that demonstrated worthiness to learn. If you continued to come back, you were seen as tough, and the tougher the methods of teaching, the tougher you became. It’s no wonder that some of the classes these martial artists conduct now rely on teaching practices from 30-plus years ago.

I’ve always loved the expression, “Do not walk in the shoes of the masters; instead, seek what they sought.” I always strive to keep the spirit of commitment, grit, work ethic and perseverance alive, but such a mindset is built over time, slowly and steadily, as the student’s skills enable progressive resistance to be applied. My goal is to cultivate skill sets in a way that keeps the student progressing without feeling overwhelmed, moving forward without undue tension or fear, which can handicap performance.

A good teacher transfers information. A great teacher imparts information in a way that provides a challenge that matches the experience level of the student. A master teacher inspires the student to exceed his or her preconceived limitations without triggering a feeling of mental or physical resistance.

Such master teachers are always reflecting, learning and refining their skills so the next student’s learning experience can be even better.

A high teaching standard should be able to stand on its own without the puffery that’s often encountered when outdated practices are masked as magical skills. Let’s really keep it real.


To contact Christopher Rappold, send an email to [email protected].


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