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Being Your Own Teacher

The other day I heard an exchange between a school teacher friend of mine and one of his students. The student asked the meaning of a word. Rather than give him the definition, the teacher said to look it up on his phone, an answer the student didn’t appreciate. The student felt like he was being blown off. The teacher’s response was to explain how important it is to learn to use one’s own resources to gather information.
What a great ninja lesson! I chimed in and said there really is no more powerful lesson from a teacher than learning to become your own teacher. My friend and I spent a few minutes trying to explain this to the young man, but again, he didn’t really appreciate what we had to say. He just wanted the answer.
It was so cool to see a school teacher following something I feel very strongly about within our martial art. Our art is so big, and even if you are at a dojo every night, there is only so much time you can spend with your teacher getting feedback. There is some work you need to do on your own, and the higher in rank you progress, the more important it is to be your own teacher.
Whenever I say that, however, I inevitably hear a grumble or two from students who, like the young man above, don’t appreciate that lesson. Maybe they want everything handed to them. Maybe they just think I’m not living up to my job. Whatever reason, it is dangerous, because there won’t be a teacher around when danger happens.
I’ve also seen the lesson misunderstood. Being your own teacher doesn’t mean you don’t need other, higher ranked, teachers to guide you where you want to go and to give you feedback. You absolutely need those. Being your own teacher also doesn’t mean making up an answer or thinking that just because you’ve found an answer for yourself, you’re ready to teach it to others. All it means is you are taking on the responsibility of getting what you want and need out of your own training.
This idea is most important for higher level black belts, but even brand new students can enrich their training by remembering to:

Have a question.
It seems simple enough, but what do you want or need to work on? Can you be as specific as possible? “I want to get better” is too vague. What is getting in the way of your growth? Then be curious enough, driven enough to seek out answers, even if they aren’t easy to find.

Find the resources.
Some resources may be available to you right now. Ask questions in class. Read. Watch videos. Then consider other resources that exist, but you don’t have access to them. What do you need to do to get that access? Save up for that private lesson or that trip to Festival if that’s what you need. Don’t wait for the answers to find their way to you.

Apply what you’ve learned.
Applying the answer is what makes you grow, but it can also help keep you honest about your training. This application stage, and getting more feedback on how you are doing, is how to make sure you have the correct answer. And once you start applying this new knowledge, it inevitably leads to the next step.

Have another question!
Probably you’ve found three other questions as you looked for an answer to the first one. That’s the way it usually works for me. And it’s why I’m just as excited about this martial art today as I was when I started so many years ago.

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