Taught by the Master

By Erik Hofmeister

I have read blogs that insist that you should make sure you will work with the head instructor before joining a school, and some which suggest that a school which asks students to teach is taking advantage of them by not paying them.  I obviously disagree with both of these stances, and here is why.

BlackbeltMasterKarateYou don’t need to learn from the head instructor.  You don’t need to learn from a blackbelt. You need to learn from someone who knows more than you and, sometimes, someone who knows as much or less than you.  In educational psychology, studies have shown that peer teaching is as or more effective than learning from a lecturer. Maybe the student can be more relaxed and hence receptive, maybe they feel more invested in the educational process, maybe the more junior teacher can identify more easily with the student.  This is not to say that less experienced teachers are objectively better, but that students may learn as well from others who are closer in rank and experience to them. Ultimately, it is up to the head instructor and blackbelts to make sure that the techniques are all correct and well executed. All of the instruction, however, does not and maybe should not come from the head instructor and blackbelts.  Doing so may hamper student learning.

As has been mentioned before, students learn by teaching.  In my opinion, not allowing students to teach is detracting from their own education and progress.  Asking students to teach is to their benefit as much as it is to the dojo’s benefit or the learner’s benefit.  Once a student starts to have their own classes that they are responsible for in a commercial school, the issue is somewhat different.  In that case, some compensation should be considered, as the student is directly helping the bottom line of the school and relieving the head instructor to do other (hopefully money-making) activities.

I have heard veterinary students complain during surgery labs about being taught by residents.  These are individuals who have finished vet school, an internship, and started specialty training in surgery.  Such people are more than qualified enough to teach a student basic surgical techniques. They do not need a board-certified surgeon to teach them how to tie a basic knot.  I feel the same with martial arts students. A white belt does not need a third degree blackbelt to teach them how to punch. They can be taught the basics of punching by, say, a blue belt.  This is not to imply that the blue belt has mastered a punch. But a white belt does not need to master the punch. They just need the basic elements, which the blue belt knows.