Time to Start Teaching – Kim Taylor, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph, Nanadan Aug 2, 2013

When you know more than your sensei it’s time to start teaching.

That seems obvious to me, but of course it’s hard to tell when you know more than your sensei isn’t it? If it’s kendo or some other competitive sport you may start to whack your teacher once in a while when he’s not just letting you do it… but that may be because he’s an old fart rather than because you now know more than him. It would be a shame to go teach if you haven’t wrung him completely dry… yes I just suggested that your teacher is an old mostly used-up and wrung out sponge. Trust me, the metaphore is often accurate.

So what else can we use to know when we need to leave? Let me tell you about a few of the dojo I’ve come across in my journey. One of the first situations was a club that one of my early teachers had somewhere else. This one was full of high ranked students, hardly a beginner around. Everyone had been together for ten or fifteen years and it was just like a family full of teenagers, full of rebellion and opinion with no “kids” around to mellow anyone out. I think the sensei was teaching us because we were little fresh sponges, ready to be filled up, much more fun than the “full of piss and vinager” (as my gran used to say) bunch in the other place. The end result was that sensei left the dojo to the students. Now I didn’t think that was a good idea then and I don’t now. Sensei should have booted the most senior folks out one by one to start their own clubs “promoted them sideways” as it were, which would have made a stronger art and relieved some of the pressures in the dojo.

First way to know you should go teach… sensei boots your ass out the door and says you know more than him, go teach.

The club I started my budo career in was started by a lovely fellow who had a middling rank. a desire to keep practicing, and a town with no instructor. He started teaching because there was nobody else to do it, and he brought his teacher in once a week.

Likely the most usual way any of us started to teach… so we’d have someone to practice with. We know more than our students at least, and if we can bring sensei in once in a while we may even keep learning.

Funny thing is, I was apparently one of those obnoxious students I am talking about who knows more than his teacher. At one point this lovely fellow was going to quit. All the other seniors said they would quit too, me, I said “the art is bigger than my personal feelings so I’ll stay” which is so pompous and self-important I can’t believe I didn’t know it then. Well it turns out that’s not all I didn’t know since my teacher was going to quit because I was a pain in his ass. Somehow it worked out but don’t think I don’t know the short-sightedness “a little knowledge” can cause.

The art is still bigger than I am, but for different reasons these days I hope. Mind you, I’m still a pompous windbag with a gigantic self-image, just not as many (the same?) illusions.

One of the clubs here in town had a fellow who liked his rank, and liked as much of it as he could get, so he would, each few years, leave one organization (and sensei) and join another where he would get another rank. He made it to a pretty high number before he finally quit trying to make a go of it as a commercial dojo. I don’t know much about his students but I’m pretty sure they weren’t too fussed about leaving him since he wasn’t fussed about leaving his own teachers.

Leave and teach because that’s the easiest way to get rank. You know other ways to do this don’t you, the old “airport promotion” where you get on the plane from the mysterious orient as a shodan and you arrive as a godan (well, they rhyme, maybe you misheard). Or the fellow who phones back home and says “hey teach, they don’t respect a sandan around here, I need a hachidan to get respect how about it?”

OK not really “when to leave to start teaching” but more “start teaching to get some rank”.

How about you know you know more than sensei when you find yourself telling other students how other teachers do this or that technique? What’s that say except “time to leave” since you obviously can teach yourself now with your multiple sensei, so you may as well be out there on your own passing on your broad knowledge.

Note the word broad, it’s not the same as deep.

Or maybe you realize that you have already left your sensei even though your ass is still on the same dojo floor. This is the dojo where the students have “our sensei in the home country” which the students are always quoting to their local sensei. The idea is that the students have some sort of access to sensei’s superior so they’ve jumped up the heirarchy and can now tell sensei how to do things. If that isn’t a hint to go out and teach I have never heard one. You’ve just put yourself on the same level as sensei because you both have the same boss. Staying with the original teacher is just lazy, be a man and go get your own students in your own dojo, I’m sure that upper level sensei will support you since he hasn’t smacked your nose with a rolled up newspaper and told you to go back to your old sensei and leave him alone.

You know, I don’t really mind any of this nonsense from my students, and I know of few sensei who do, but it isn’t very good for the students. The know-it-mores tend to give up the art (after all what’s left to learn) or go and open their own dojo, often without asking permission, so the problem solves itself. Sometimes though, I wish some of my fellow teachers would just tell these guys to “get a life” and go teach somewhere else. Not my place to say of course, but as a “blogger” I got a right don’t I?

For those who just don’t know how to do things properly, here are a few thoughts.

You’ve only got one sensei. I don’t care how many people you go stand in front of, or whose books you read, you’ve only got one sensei and everything goes through him. If he says go practice with another guy, go do it, but don’t come back and tell everyone what you learned, show it to your sensei and then go back to how sensei told you to do it. If he decides the other guy gave you a better way to do things, your sensei will tell you. You don’t get to decide.

You don’t talk about any other teacher in front of any teacher. Your various teachers all know each other and have practiced, watched or talked together. What makes you think you have anything to contribute? Just do what you’re told to do by the guy up front and check back with your sensei later.

If you don’t like what dad is doing, get a job and an apartment. Seriously, why would you stay in a dojo if you don’t agree with how sensei is teaching? And why in the world would you try to change the way he does things? I’ve got a couple of teenagers at home and I’m happy to listen to them since they know more than I do, but I’m paying the mortguage so I get the last word, right or wrong.

Defend your sensei. If you don’t want to defend him when other sensei are telling you he’s wrong, think very carefully about whether or not he’s your sensei. I’m not talking about blind loyalty, nobody is owed that, any more than “my country right or wrong” is a healthy attitude, but if you don’t want to at least go calmly quiet when he’s being slagged, you probably agree that it’s a mistake to be his student. Move in with the other guy or go teach on your own, don’t be an enabler of your sensei’s bad habits.

Incidentally, when you do go out and teach have the following things in mind.

Say “ask your sensei” a lot. My personal inclination is to teach anyone who is standing in front of me (I assume they have asked permission to be there) but I’m damned if I’m going to suggest that a sensei is wrong about anything except what I’m supposed to be the authority on. I’m speaking about seitei gata iaido and jodo here just to be clear, I’m one of the senior judges so I will say “that’s wrong” if it’s written in the book. On things that are allowed to be in flux my answer is “ask your sensei”. Mind you, I’m also not going to waste a lot of time comparing what I do to what your sensei does, I’m going to show you my art and you are going to listen and then do what your sensei tells you to do. He sent you for a reason, it’s your job to figure that out for yourself.

Do not comment on other sensei either in or out of the room. I have heard of one situation where some senior sensei asked another sensei whether or not the guy up in front was doing it right. Seriously? The guy up front was asked to teach so shut up and listen. You can either do what he says or not later, but while he’s there shut up and do it his way.

Oh those lovely lost days at seminars when I was younger and the senior students would look briefly at what the sensei was showing, assume they knew what was happening, and then turn around and tell me how to do something else altogether. Yes I paid attention to what the guy up front was saying and yes I did whatever my seniors ended up telling me to do but I never lost sight of who I was actually there to see. Any sensei in a room who tells me different from what’s being taught goes right into that gang of “seniors” from my youth who couldn’t be bothered to think there might be something else to learn.

When do you know when you are ready to go teach? When you finally decide you never want to teach, when all you want to do is wring out that used up old sponge until there’s not a drop left to fall out.

When do you go teach? When your ass has been booted out the door (or you can’t get there from here and sensei says “teach”).

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