What gives me the authority to teach the stuff I teach?
For a lot of the time that I’ve been teaching I have relied on a mixture of humility and external validation to teach such things as iaido, jodo, aikido, niten ichiryu, women’s self defence and a bunch of other bits and bobs of the martial arts stuff. By what authority does one teach? In my case I figure I’ve pretty much covered the field so let’s check out my situation as an example.
Zen Ken Ren Iai: According to the current International Kendo Federation rules and regulations, at 7dan I hold the highest rank necessary to grant the entire range of rank in my country. By this I mean a 7dan can sit on a panel to create another 7dan and any rank below that. Those in the know will be saying “8dan” in their heads now, but an 8dan, like all other rank, is created by the local country, not through the FIK who only supply recommendations on minimum standards. Their guidelines only state that an 8dan should show some skills as part of the examination, which I take to mean they should still be practicing the art. Beyond that, 8dan is entirely up to the country, as are the shogo ranks of renshi kyoshi and hanshi, which the FIK has stated they will not attempt to standardize.
Since I qualify to sit on the highest panel we can convene in the CKF, I automatically have the authority to teach the techniques that are covered by that grading panel. That is, the techniques of the “seitei gata iai”, the kendo federation iaido. If I pass judgement on who demonstrates them correctly, it’s a given that I can tell people what those correct ways of performance are.
Thats a simple one, but I’m not the “big word”. I’m “a” voice but not “the” voice. There are three or four people who “outrank” me in the CKF. First are the two regional examiners, one east and one west, who are the folks in charge of the local gradings and who sits on the grading panels under their control (5dan and below). Then there is the chief examiner for Canada, who is the head of the iaido section, and the fellow who decides on all technical matters pertaining to training and grading in Canada. Finally, there is the president of the federation who is the fellow taking the names from the chief examiner and signing the certificates. The president is under the board of directors, but it is his name on the certificate and he is the interesection of the administrative and instructional arms so can be seen as the top of the pyramid.
For CKF jodo I hold a 5dan grade. That means, under our system, that I am qualified to put students forth for examination which is pretty much the strict definition of a teacher. I can, according to the FIK guidelines, sit on a panel that will grade up to 3dan. So I suppose that implies I have the authority to teach jodo up to that level at least. Can I teach up to 5dan? More? Of course any teacher can teach to any level at all, but that brings up an interesting point. What if one of my students grades to a higher level than me? That’s actually happened in my career, at one point I had several students who held a higher grade than me and what happened is that they all made me carry their bags. Seriously, that started my career as a packhorse for my classes, and you will still see me schlepping bundles and boxes around seminars.
What having a higher ranked student also gives you is a great deal of pride and some bragging rights. In the budo world, to teach well is a goal greatly desired. You are a tournament champ or “the best” for only a short time, but you can teach your whole life, so it is better to be good at that. Some people think that they have to move up the ladder in order that their students are allowed to move up too, but that’s only the usual way of doing things, rank is not really technical or teaching ability, it’s just rank and people stop grading for all sorts of reasons. That doesn’t mean they can’t teach to a high level.
So I’m a 5dan in the CKF, and as it happens, that’s the highest rank we have in the country for jodo. I got there first and am actually eligible to challenge 6 but I have not done that. The other hat I wear is chief examiner for jodo and it is my job to figure out how to convene panels that can get our students graded beyond 3dan. (If anyone has any interesting new ideas how we could do that, please let me know.)
As chief examiner, it’s my job to set the standards for teaching and grading, so again, the implication is that I have the authority to teach “seitei jo” up to the highest levels. Chief Examiner is the equivalent of Chair of the section or the head honcho so of course I can teach what I have authority over. You might actually say that I have more teaching authority in jodo than I do in iaido because as the head of section I’m in charge of defining and implementing the curriculum. In iai, my job is to teach the curriculum as it is defined by the iaido chief examiner.
Again, pretty clear on the teaching front, just a bit of a hitch on the administrative/instructional front. As head of section I have authority to set up grading panels, it’s just that we don’t have the rank to do it.
Moving on to Aikido, I have a very old teaching rank of shodan from around 20 years ago. Having been away from the art for quite a long time I have returned to help with some beginner classes at the University. In the meantime I suspect my shodan has lost some “purchasing power” with many higher dan ranks and, apparently, a system of fukushidoin and shidoin (teaching certifications) having appeared. I don’t, as a result, have a clue whether or not I have any authority to teach within the organization. I take refuge in the idea that the club is my “home dojo” and I hide behind the hakama of the head teacher who will correct any strange technique I teach and sign any grading applications for the students. In other words, I teach here because I once had (and maybe still have) a teaching rank but more importantly, I have a chief to teach under. This is an “assistant teacher” situation which frees me from the worry of getting re-trained in current technical practice. I stick with fundamentals and let my supervisor teach the standard techniques as required today.
Self Defence: The next level of teaching authority to discuss is my women’s self defence class where I am the “founder” of an art. Yeah I know, but bear with me. In 1987 the University had no self defence class so a couple of us youngsters volunteered to do it. We started from a review of the academic literature on assault and resistance, took about 30 years cumulative experience in several martial arts and threw it all out the window. We came up with a system of escape and running away screaming like a banshee that was based on “what worked” and started teaching it. I still teach it to this day, but classes have been cut down over the years as students of the arts have dropped generally and this year it’s down to a one day class from the original 20 sessions. I’m not too worried about it, our system is good and has proved it’s worth over the years for many people but it’s not anything that can’t be worked up by others if necessary. My point here is that I teach it because I created it, that’s the authority under which I operate in this instance. I was in on the discussions of principle, I read the background research and I use what teaching tricks have been shown to work over the years I’ve done the course. The jokes are a bit stale but they still get a laugh once in a while.
So, for iaido and jodo you might say that being a member of the panel makes me an arbiter of style, my authority comes partly from my ability to say “do it my way or you don’t pass”. Of course that’s not the reality and there is an organization full of teachers that prevents too much of that sort of thinking, but for the teacher that sort of understanding can provide an internal authority that allows us to say “do it this way” instead of “well I think it may be like this”.
For Aikido I’m just a minor cog on the wheel, no pretense of being an influence so I my “inner authority” comes from being able to say “I’ve done this and you haven’t, try it this way and see if it works for you”. No question of my way or the highway but certainly I can say which way to (from?) that same highway.
Ultimate authority on the self defence, as far as I know I’m the only one still teaching it and I was one of the founders so of course I get to say what’s what. Internal authority galore, externally what? I suppose the ultimate external authority to teach anything is the presence of students in the class. No students, no teacher. It doesn’t matter how big the paper on the wall, how many stamps and gold seals, if there are no students there is no teacher. On the other hand, if someone says “I want to learn what you know” you’re a teacher. After all sensei means “gone before” right? Someone will doubtless tell me I’ve got that wrong, and frankly, “gone before” smells a bit fishy (or otherwise) but there you go. (See, stale jokes).
Authority felt within the teacher allows them to teach in a definite and positive manner, which gives the student confidence and allows them to learn with confidence. Often this authority in the teacher comes from the external validation of rank, position in the organization or, as in the case of the self defence course, creation of the material being taught.
I’ll leave a discussion of my koryu teaching for later.