A Really Nice Guy

From a conversation overheard at a recent BJJ tournament at City College:

Guy 1: I heard he is kind of a jerk to his students. Like he yells at them when they lose and stuff. And he doesn't pay much attention to lower belts during rolling, he mostly just rolls with the other black and brown belts. 

Guy 2: But I heard he is a really good teacher. 

Guy 1: Oh he is! He is really great at demonstrating technique. Really knows his stuff! I took class there once and it was awesome!

Um, guys? If he is a jerk to his students he is not a "really good teacher". He just a jerk who happens to also be pretty decent at teaching jiu jitsu moves.

I don't know who they were talking about. But I actually hear this kind of stuff in the martial arts world a lot. Apparently dojos are full of these "amazing" teachers who really "know their stuff". They have won a lot of trophies, these guys. They have important names. You go to their schools, watch them demonstrate a couple of techniques and really feel like you learned something. Except for the fact that you are not sure this teacher actually knows your name. Sometimes he walks around and gives you tips while you are drilling but mostly he is off in the corner chatting with someone and you figure the move out by asking the pair of purple belts right next to you. But it is ok, because you are a white belt so you are certainly not worthy of the master's attention.

Then you spar for awhile and the people you spar with are very helpful. Which is good, because the actual teacher is nowhere to be found. I mean, he is actually right over there, training with one of the brown belts. But he is not watching you, or offering any coaching, or pointers or anything particularly useful because again, you are just a newb.

At some point maybe you get a new belt from this guy, who must be counting your classes or something, or maybe he watches you when you aren't paying attention (some kind of secret camera system?) because now you are a yellow belt. (Or a blue belt. Or whatever.) Which is awesome except you are pretty sure that this guy still doesn't know your name and if you asked him what you were good at and what you needed to work on he would just smile and blink at you.

Also, you still really suck at karate. (Or kickboxing. Or tai chi. Or whatever.)  You think you might be better if you had an actual coach but since your karate classes don't really work that way, you watch a lot of You Tube videos and hope for the best. 

You compete once or twice. Maybe you win, maybe you lose.
You text your teacher afterwards to tell him how it all went. 

For some reason you keep training anyway. Maybe even all the way to brown belt or higher. Now the master knows your name but he still has never asked you to train with him and he still probably couldn't list all your strengths and weaknesses. (He mostly spars with guys.) At one point you hurt your rib and miss class for over a month. It would have made you feel good to get an email from your teacher asking how you were feeling but you understand that he has so many students and is very very busy. You go back to class and feel like you are still progressing awfully slowly, maybe someone, like the person in charge of the class, could offer you some tips for what you need to do more of, but no, he doesn't really do that. He does smile a lot and always says hello to you (by name!) which makes you feel good. What a nice, friendly guy!

Your payments are on autopay anyway. It is hard to cancel those.

You keep going to sparring class. Sometimes you leave feeling very frustrated. The teacher doesn't notice just like he didn't notice that all the women who used to train with you have quit. He also doesn't notice that there is this one white belt guy who keeps hurting everyone. He hits really hard. Like really, really hard. Or maybe he does notice but doesn't say anything because that is not his job. His job is to demonstrate technique. He is really good at demonstrating technique. Except that sometimes he doesn't even show the move because it is far too dangerous. He just talks about this super dangerous move. A lot. And then you practice it. In the air. 

He is a really great teacher! Everyone says so!

Eventually you quit jiu-jitsu. Or karate. Or whatever. 

You are pretty sure he does not care. Most people quit the martial arts because training is really f*$king hard. The teacher is on vacation most of the time anyway. He has opened two other schools and he has assistant instructors teaching half the classes now. You cancel your autopay (which was really complicated and took awhile), send a nice email thanking him for everything. (After all, he taught you a LOT of techniques and explained them really well.)

Maybe you join a new school. Maybe you don't.

A little while later you find yourself in a conversation with a buddy at City College and you are saying "Oh that guy? He is kind of a jerk. But he is a really great teacher. Really knows his stuff."

You realize that you should stop saying that because it is bullshit. It does not matter how well that guy "knows his stuff", if he does not actually care about the development and well being of his students he is not a "really great teacher." In fact, he is kind of a crappy teacher. No matter how many world championships he may have won or how expertly he can explain a hook kick.

You know who is a really great teacher. That guy who can demonstrate proper technique and also knows the names of all of his white belts. The guy who called his student the day after he hurt his neck to make sure everything was ok. The guy who likes all the Facebook pics of your newborn. His kata is beautiful and he also knows the names of all your kids and wonders if your grandmother is feeling better. 

 Go train with that guy.

And you can also have a beer with him. Because he is actually a really nice guy.


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