Why Are You Still Here? Why is sensei still up front there teaching after so many decades? Well a lot of it is momentum, you just do what you’ve always done, then some of it is the responsibility of paying it forward but rarely is it because sensei is getting paid. Which leads to some interesting situations. Students pay to go to class, they pay community centers or a dojo administrator who rents the hall and whatnot but in my circles of kendo federation sword there is very little paying of sensei. What this means is that students expect to get taught because they’re paying their fees but their teacher teaches mostly out of habit. Nothing wrong with this when it works and if nobody minds the arrangement. On the other hand, let me tell you a couple of stories. First, many years ago we were happily practicing in class one day when a note was read out, it seems our teacher’s teacher had a roof that collapsed or a furnace that conked out or some such. Regardless of what it actually was, funds were being raised all over our region through his former students in order to fix the problem. Now this guy was a professional teacher and ran his own dojo but none of his students who ran their own dojo contributed up the ladder mostly because he didn’t have his own organization so he lived on what he could make from his current students. Obviously not enough to fix his house. He wasn’t kendo federation which seems to have an unwritten rule about not charging to teach. Oh, except for the best teachers in the organization by common agreement, the guys who teach at the police dojo across Japan. Those guys are the best, and why not, they’re professionals, they do it for a living. Not much of a living apparently, most of them end up with another job after they retire from their… well let’s call it what it is, their coaching jobs. I just saw a map of the highest paid university jobs by state for the USA. Overwhelmingly the highest paid jobs were for coaches, one or two states had university presidents as highest paid but that’s it, one or two. Football is big big business so there’s money to pay those guys I suppose. Not like the martial arts where somehow being paid to teach is a sort of under the table, frowny-faced thing. Which brings me back to my question. Why is sensei still up there in front of the class? The students may figure he’s getting paid so they expect him there. Maybe he is paid, but certainly not much. Usually he’s not. He started the class many years ago because he was taught. It’s called paying it forward and it’s how the arts have survived to this day. You were taught, it’s expected that you teach when you’re ready for it. Please note that these days teaching seems to be some sort of reward, something that kids want to do because it makes them feel like they’re dangerous units that know lots of stuff. Or some other, similar reason. It’s not. Teaching is a chore that goes on for decades and it’s only when you get a large amount of knowledge and experience under your belt that you start to enjoy it. Around about when teaching the mechanics turns into coaching and research. To get to that point you have to be old and very senior. Nobody should want to be a teacher, but lots aspire. Now one of the reasons sensei is teaching is to create new teachers, that’s how we pay the art forward, but the best teachers aren’t the ones who want their black belt and a dojo of their own ten minutes later, the best are the ones we have to trick into it, the ones we have to boot out of the dojo by force, or the ones who inherit the dojo when we totter off to that big gasshuku in the sky. Teachers get old before they enjoy teaching, which makes them feel guilty. They know bags of stuff but they can’t show it any more. They figure the younger assistant teachers ought to be doing the teaching, so if something like the water heater exploding or the garage collapsing comes up, they may just disappear from class. They figure the students are in good hands so why not just stay home and putter around. Remember that we’re talking about retired folks here, the ones who finally have time to be a professional, to think about martial arts all day instead of a couple hours an evening. The guys who really ought to be in class instead of home trying to re-shingle the shed. What about that responsibility to pay it forward you say? Hey, they maybe got taught for ten or 20 years and have taught back for 30 or 50. You figure that isn’t even? They certainly do. No guilt there for not showing up to class. The teachers who shouldn’t be teaching? The kids who find it all shiny and new? No problem, they’re in class every day repeating by rote all the stuff sensei said last year. They don’t worry if sensei isn’t in class, they’ve got lots to teach. And they do of course, lots to teach anyone who hasn’t been around as long as they have, but there’s a guy at home enjoying a cup of tea and resting his shoulders who could teach so much more. So if you want the guy who should be teaching to stay in the class, remember a few simple guidelines. 1. Never, ever let him name an assistant instructor, and absolutely never let him say to anyone “it’s your club now”. Having someone to turn things over to will let him off the hook faster than finding an even more senior sensei to take over. (Any senior sensei would give his best bokuto and four students to have a teacher to study under once again). 2. Never let him drift out of class for more than a day without tracking him down and asking for a note from his doctor. 3. Make it easy for him to get to class, if you have to arrange rides, do it. If he drives himself, pay him mileage. Note I didn’t say gas money, I mean mileage so that he can fix the wear and tear on his rustbucket hatchback. Make it generous. 4. Make his wife happy. Look, if you’re lucky he wants him out of the house, but if there’s chores around the yard she’s going to want him cutting the grass instead of teaching you on a Saturday afternoon. Set up a rotation of students so that once a year you have to go cut grass or trim hedges for sensei. 5. Pay him. I know this is far down the list but you should consider it almost at once. If you can get the fellow to accept some money for teaching he’ll figure he has to show up for work. If it’s costing him money to be there… well you get the idea don’t you? 6. Figure out sneaky ways to pay him. Like mileage instead of gas money. Like presenting him with a new hakama when his gets a bit ratty, like finding him a deal on a new water heater, even if you didn’t. The bottom line is that old sensei need some attention to keep them in class. If they figure you don’t need them they go sulk in the garden. You should develop the habit of paying them, in enthusiasm, in attention, in assistance or in money (which is actually the easiest) so that they have some reason to hop into that old rust-bucket and show up to teach you.