Early in my aikido career I was largely unknown in the dojo. I was the college kid who came stumbling in with dirty hair and smelling like coffee and cigarettes. I found the practice very interesting, but then one of the senior instructors noticed me and took me under his wing. He spent a lot of time training me, encouraging me and inviting me to walk with him down the path. I felt like I was getting more out of my practice than I was getting out of school. This instructor spun my world around, gave me the gift of drive and motivation. He helped me fall in love with training and the path. I learned that the basis of practice is relationships with people. I found a mentor.
A good teacher fosters relationships. A good teacher discovers teachable moments that can turn around a student’s thinking. A good teacher can quite literally be a guide and a positive life changing force in a student’s life.
That is the power of a good teacher.
After several years of training, I made my way into the dojo on a spring afternoon. We were working on the Koryi Dai San Kata bokken work. The instructor was obviously agitated about something. Perhaps he had a bad day at the office? Who knows? Anyways, I either missed or misheard an instruction that he gave the class. All I know is that I looked up and he was staring at me red faced. He exploded in a tirade. He yelled and screamed at me in front of the class for several straight minutes. While I write this now, 15 years later, I can feel the bite of shame in my stomach, and my cheeks are getting red. This one incident was a violation of the relationship we had, and his power as a teacher. I felt terrible. The dojo became a hostile place.
I stopped training for a long while. His one bad day derailed one of his students training for several years. I avoided his classes when I returned. The magic of the practice was gone for me.
Bad teaching, even for a moment can shatter relationships. A moment of bad teaching can limit a student and push them away from study forever. A single bad moment in teaching can be a negative stain and a negative influence forever in a student’s life.
This is the power of bad teaching.
I have been in education for the past 15 years now. I have taught in Japanese public schools. I have taught residential programs with Houston’s tough gang teens. I have taught some students who have some of the toughest behavioral challenges in the state. I have been stabbed in classes, I have been bit. I once found myself being violently attacked by four 18 year olds because I found their stash of drugs. I have had students disrupt my classes and insult me.
But you know what? I have never yelled at a student, not once. It violates the strategic principles of aikido conflict resolution as it has been taught to me. It is adding speed and energy to a conflict to overpower an opponent. Yelling shames people. Yelling asserts dominance and is a harsh way to control. It is counterproductive and shows a lack of self control. It is a short term fix to a problem while not addressing the reasons behind the problem. It points to a failure in the fundamental core principle in teaching and aikido. Teaching and aikido both are based on relationships.
Of course I have made mistakes while teaching. But you know what I ALWAYS try to do? I try to heal the relationship. I am never afraid to say I am sorry, or that my choices were not the best. Even when my choices were justified, letting a student stew in negativity is a failure in teaching. Reestablishing the relationship is the job of the teacher because we are the ones invested with power.
So teachers treat your students well. I implore you to learn gentle teaching and learn good relationship skills. If we do not then we are doing a grave injustice to the people that invest in us. The students are the reason you are there. If you are not building them up, if you are not leading your students down a positive path you are failing in your career and services. One bad moment of teaching can derail a student on their path forever.
If one of your students sits down in fifteen years to write a blog post and still feels shamed and angry, was it a successful lesson?
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