Don’t correct other people’s students – July 8, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

A while ago we had a seminar and “my sensei said” quite a bit a bit about being a senior. Specifically he was talking about how to keep learning while being a teacher. One thing jumped into my mind just now as I was looking at one of the old martial arts forums online where folks were obsequiously (my new favourite word) criticising various videos online.

Ohmi sensei said “Do not correct (criticize) other people’s students. Look at them, see their mistakes and look at yourself to make sure you are not making those same mistakes”. Great advice indeed, I have never looked at any iai performance and not seen at least one “mistake” that I make myself. If that video is of a highly ranked sensei I take solice and if it’s a lower ranked student I become inspired to correct myself before that student corrects it and passes me by.

I am pleased to say that I have no desire to correct either my betters or my juniors. I will offer advice if asked of course, but it has been a long time (about the equivalent of nidan in iai and about 3rd kyu in aikido) since I have felt compelled to demonstrate my knowledge. Best just to provide an example of your brilliance so that others can be inspired to follow.

As I think deeper about this, I don’t think I criticize my own students all that much. What use is it to say “you’re doing it wrong” (I’m usually a lot more snarky about it than that) if you’ve already told them once how to do it correctly. I figure if I tell them and they don’t do it, I was unclear and I find another way to tell them. Mostly though, I prefer to build on what they are doing correctly than to correct what they are not. That way they move ahead while feeling that they are moving ahead. To teach by correction gives them the feeling that they are not improving at all.

Was I just correcting other people’s students who are teachers? Not my intention at all. This is what I do and how I feel about it, you are welcome to take what you wish from that. Remember, if you treat it like advice then it’s worth what you paid for it.

After a grading I get students who come and ask for corrections. Apart from saying “ask your sensei” I try not to offer anything. I will to those who are especially persistant but then it’s usually to question what they are asking, how to pass the next exam or how to improve their iaido. How to do stuff like I want to see it done or how to get past the rest of the committee. By then their eyes usually glaze over and they wander away to ask the next guy. Gradings aren’t the place to ask me for advice.

Seminars where we are both watching a senior sensei are also not the place to ask me for advice. Go ask the guy in charge, not me. Not unless the guy in charge looks at me and says “answer him”. Then it’s not you getting advice, it’s me getting tested. Even if you’re my student at that same seminar, go ask the big guy. Now, do I ask questions that someone has asked me but won’t ask the big guy? Sure I do, I was told a very long time ago that one of the functions of a senior is to look stupid in front of sensei so the juniors don’t. You think the big guys figure I’m asking that stupid question for myself?


Some things I’ve seen at seminars. Senior students correcting others off in the corner (or even in the middle of the crowd) while sensei is speaking to that very same point up front. Classic. I especially like to watch the students try to ignore the senior and listen to the sensei. I’ve seen those senior students then move around in front of said junior, turning their back on sensei in the process, just to make sure they get their correction across. Magnificent. The best of all is watching a senior get bodily pulled away by his buddies as he begins to contradict the point just made, and clarified, by the sensei in charge of the seminar. Unforgettable.

Speaking of which, how about a student at a seminar who flat out tells a sensei that he is wrong because so and so other sensei said to do it this way. And proceeds to demonstrate the “correct” way. I kid you not, I’ve seen it more than once. All of these incidents get no mention from the sensei in charge at the time (don’t correct other people’s students). The biggest reaction might be a small smile and nod accompanied by a sort of hmm sound. That’s at the seminar, consider what happens later that evening when sensei tracks down that student’s teacher.

Don’t correct other people’s students.

If you are asked to do so, assume you are the one being tested or you’re being used for the different pitch of your voice, maybe a different pitch will get through the buildup of wax in that student’s ears.

Kim Taylor
July 8, 2014

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