HOW TO FIND A GOOD SENSEI
8 Tips To Know If Your Instructor is Legit
It is commonly said that the world is becoming a smaller place. As transportation and infrastructure improve, what we once believed to be far away feels less and less like a journey. This means that options multiply, choices become more difficult, and with the reach of the internet, it certainly does us no favours in narrowing things down.
This is no exception for a young Martial Artist trying to determine where to place their foot, in their very first step of their cliche “life journey”.
The practical thing might typically lead you to beginning your research on the internet. You’ll watch videos, read reviews, see what the people are saying about the Dojo (place of training), and then muster up the courage to actually go and try it out for yourself.
So now you're 6 classes in and you’re still not quite certain if this is the place for you. You’re overwhelmed with choice, but yet your time is valuable and limited. Let’s assume that at this point you've already determined that you’ve selected the right style of martial art for you. As a novice in the art, with little to no experience, it’s impossible to determine by yourself what skills are practical and what is not. Every Dojo believes what they are teaching is practical, or else they wouldn’t be open and operating. So the only thing you can do is read the reviews of strangers on the internet, and listen to the opinions of your friends who are currently still training.
However, all things being equal, the purpose of Martial Arts, is to make you a better person than you were the day before, and that all starts with The Sensei (the teacher).
Here are a few key questions to ask yourself, to help you determine they are the right one for you:
- How does your Sensei treat other students? Does he/she/they talk to, or talk down to everyone in the class? It’s okay to have a tough instructor who likes to push you to your limits, but with that must come respect and humility. To be able to empathize with the students and remember they were once in their shoes is an important trait in helping the student grow.
- How does your Sensei treat themselves? Do they put themselves on a pedestal or do they speak very humbly. Often arrogance and overconfidence are masks for insecurity, and should not be confused with experience and skill. If you are good at something, and you know you are, there’s no need to display it for the world to see. There’s simply no need to show off.
- Who does your Sensei put first? Are they constantly talking about themselves or do they spend more time listening? It’s nice to have students follow and respect their Sensei, but they must not let that get to their head. The Dojo is a place to share and spread positive growth, and to make the next generation better than the previous. It’s nice to share old war stories, but it’s more important that the instructors remember the purpose of why they are teaching. Hopefully this reason is a positive one.
- How much does your Sensei really know? They say if you ask the question “why” enough times, you’ll usually identify the root of something. Don’t be afraid to ask your Sensei “why”, when they’re demonstrating a technique or a sequence within a Kata (that is if your art practices Kata - a series of patterns/movements). If they cannot explain something, this may be a limitation to their knowledge, but doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bad Sensei, especially if they are willing to go and find the answers for you. (However, it’s important that you, as a good student, do not ask this in an embarrassing or insulting way, intentionally trying to highlight to everyone that you know they don’t know something. Always be respectful.)
- How does your Sensei behave when they don’t know something? Everyone wants a Sensei that can answer all your questions, but eventually you’ll come to a point where they may not know the answer to something. What’s important is how they respond to this situation. Do they fumble through with an answer that doesn’t quite make sense, just to provide an answer, or do they admit that they don’t know everything (and even better, promise to find the answer for you when they don’t know). This is a sign of humility vs. ego.
- Is it ok that my Sensei doesn’t know everything? Of course it is OK (to a reasonable degree of course). Just because they’re a teacher doesn’t mean they’re no longer a student. They too have their own journey, and should embrace their own path towards growth. Just pay extra attention if they continuously cover up their lack of knowledge. If they fail to recognize that it’s okay to not know something, this could be a sign to watch out for.
- How important is their ranking? We all want to be taught by the highest level Black Belt, or World Champion athletes, but rank/status alone is not everything. Not every World Champion makes an excellent teacher, and not every high ranking instructor is a World Champion. Depending on why you’ve decided to take up study of the Martial Arts, it may or may not be very helpful to your journey. What’s more important is how that helps you grow. Especially in the extremely early stages of your learning, you may not even be able to benefit from absorbing all the details taught by an extremely high level instructor.
- How do the students behave in the class? This may not be an obvious one, but it’s important to have some order in the Dojo. If zubon (flip flops) and gi (training uniform) are all over the place, how can you expect there to be enough order for knowledge to flow efficiently from Sensei (teacher) to Seito (student)? How can you catch the details of advanced concepts when you haven’t mastered the details of the mundane? A relaxed atmosphere is great, but order and cleanliness is important. It is a sign of respect for the space, the knowledge, and the willingness to learn.
These questions are not the only definitive ways in determining whether or not you are in a good school, but exist simply to help guide and give you clues to whether or not you may want to stay put or to try another school.
At the end of the day, a good fighter doesn’t have to be a good person, and if that’s all you want, certainly your metrics will be different. The goal for RIZE is to help make the world a better place, and we believe this reality lies in great leadership. If you’ve already taken your first step in your journey as a Martial Artist, then I am confident our world is only going to shine brighter.
Let us know if you have any tips of your own!
-Kelvin Cheong 1st Dan Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, BJJ Purple Belt, Judo Blue Belt and Forever a Student of the Martial Arts