Being a martial arts instructor is not just about being able to do great karate moves. You also need certain personal attributes which I will outline in this post.
Ask yourself this question. Have you ever seen a shy and retiring martial arts instructor? Whether the instructor is a shouter, a high energy motivator or a quiet reflective type, one thing that all martial arts instructors have in common is an air of confidence. That is not to say that you have to be a naturally confident person to be an instructor. I have to admit that I was by no means a confident public speaker before opening my club but you need to give off the impression to the students that you take everything in your stride and leading the class is as natural to you as breathing. That may be had to do when your heart is pounding in your chest but I promise that with the familiarity of teaching a class the confidence does come and the nerves subside. The important thing is the perception of the student. Speak with a clear voice, try not to stumble over your words and be confident when demonstrating techniques. Take comfort in the fact that in the early days your students will be beginners so will not know if you have made a tiny mistake in performing a move or in pronouncing a foreign word, for example. You should of course try to do everything correctly, but instructors are human too and so the odd mistake is bound to happen. The trick is not to let it put you off. Just continue as if it hadn’t happened and resolve to get it right next time.
It is important to be an effective communicator. If you have reached the point where you are ready to instruct you undoubtedly have a lot of knowledge stored up in your head. Now you need to find a way of conveying that to your students. Think about how your instructor described techniques to you. You will inherit some of their ways; after all they got you to where you are. You may have also found some areas where you wished things had been explained differently to you. That is fine, think what worked for you and try to use that when explaining to your students. There is no better feeling than when you have a student finally master a move that they have been struggling with because you have managed to explain it to them in a way that they can understand. When that light bulb moment occurs you know you are on the right track.
Remember that you need to be able to communicate to a large group and also on a one to one basis. Depending upon the make up of your class you could also be dealing with a mixture of ages. You sometimes need to talk differently to children when compared to adults so take this into account. You don’t want to alienate your adult students with patronising language and conversely you don’t want to leave younger students confused by using language they do not understand. If you have children in the class you also need to be prepared to be able to talk to the parents which can be another different prospect to talking to students directly.
An instructor must have a huge amount of patience. You may be fantastic at what you do and be used to working with people of a similar level but now you are going to be dealing with absolute beginners. Try to remember back to your first classes and inability to perform even basic moves that now come naturally after years of practise. Some of your students will be almost naturals whilst others will seem like they are never going to get it. As the instructor you need to show patience and never get angry or despondent with the students. Imagine the joy when they get the technique nailed.
As an instructor you are going to be a role model to your students and to some extent be a leader in the community. With this comes a responsibility to be of demonstrable good character. If you are a drinker or a smoker you should try not to let your students see you doing these activities and you should ensure that you do not turn up to class with the smell of either on you. Do not use bad language in earshot of students. Basically don’t do anything that could bring a bad reputation to your club.
Fitness and Flexibility
The instructor should be a shining example to the students and should strive to be the best in the class. I am a great believer that the Instructor should lead by example and that you should never ask students to do something that you cannot do yourself. If you ask the students to perform 50 push ups then you should be able to comfortably do this yourself and if possible you should get down and do them with them so that they know you can. The same goes for flexibility. A lot of martial arts moves depend upon the flexibility of the practitioner and so the instructor should have good flexibility and be able to demonstrate this to the students. On the flip side if you are extremely fit and flexible you still have to recognise the abilities of the students in front of you. It is great if you can do 100 sit ups without breaking a sweat but don’t expect white belt juniors to be able to keep up and complete the same number of reps.You are there to teach, not to show off how good you are. It is a matter of balance between inspiring your students with your ability without pushing them beyond their limits.
Can you afford the Time?
If you are at a proficient enough level to consider instructing in a Martial Art then you will have already invested a lot of time into training and have demonstrated commitment. Now that you are going to be an instructor the level of commitment is going to increase even more. As a student if you don’t turn up to class you are letting yourself and your instructor down but you can’t not turn up for your own class. This means week in, week out, for one or more nights a week you have to be available to lead a class. Unless you have other instructors that can cover for you then you will have to close the class whenever you are unavailable. Do this enough times and the students won’t come back. On top of the teaching time you also need to have time set aside for the promotion and administration of the club as well as for preparing lessons etc. It all adds up to quite a few hours a week and added to your own regular training it could end up too much for a long suffering spouse. If you can’t commit to this long term then this is not for you and you would be better off being a helper in somebody else’s club. Anybody joining your club has the right to expect you to be in it for the long haul. It takes years of training to even reach black belt so if you don’t think you will be around for that long then it is unfair to even start. You don’t want to be in a position where you close the club leaving your students high and dry without achieving the rank that they could have done.
If after considering all of these things you are still ready to become a Martial Arts Instructor then great. I am glad I did not put you off. You are in for such a rewarding experience. Read on to the following posts to find out the practicalities of starting and running a successful Martial Arts Club.
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Qualities of an Instructor
The first, and maybe the most obvious, question to ask yourself is; are you good instructor material? It is worth taking a pause to consider this. Not everybody is cut out to be an instructor and those that are not up to it would be better off staying as a student rather than inflicting bad teaching on a new generation.
Experience and Ability
An instructor should have experience in the martial art that they are proposing to teach and be knowledgeable about the techniques that the art is comprised of. Students will be coming to you as an expert and a teacher. You would not expect to pay for guitar lessons from somebody who had never played the instrument and the same applies with martial arts.
Not everybody believes in the belt system but it is usually a good indicator of the proficiency of the martial artist so in my opinion an instructor should at least hold a black belt that has been awarded by a reputable association. This should ensure that the instructor has undergone a minimal amount of instruction and has demonstrated that they can perform the required techniques.
Apprenticeship and Certification
A lot of martial arts associations are protective of their reputation. They don’t want bad instructors representing them and so they have their own conditions for becoming an instructor. If your new club is going to be affiliated with an association then you need to find out what the requirements are. Some associations will expect you to have completed a minimum number of hours teaching within another class. This is a kind of apprenticeship where you have the opportunity to lead parts of the class under the supervision of another instructor. Even if this is not a requirement of the association I would recommend you ask your instructor if you can do this anyway. If nothing else it will give you a flavour of what teaching will be like and help you decide if it is right for you. Some associations may even have a formal instructors certification program with tests (both physical and written) required before you can call yourself an instructor. If this is required then take the test and get the certificate as this will give further proof to any of your prospective students that you know what you are doing.
If at all possible you should continue to be a student under your instructor while running your own club. This will ensure that you continue to learn and grow within the martial art and have new things to show your students. It also means that you can progress your own rank and maintain your fitness levels and flexibility. Teaching can be physically demanding but nowhere near as demanding as training as a student. I would suggest that if you teach once a week you should try and attend another class twice a week. If you teach twice or more a week I would still suggest that you train once a week with your instructor if possible.