The teacher is more important than the dojo!
[From G.E.Mattson’s new book, “The Way of Uechi-ryu Karate”]
When looking for a school, try to find one that teaches a style that is suited to your natural abilities. Make sure that you meet the person who will be teaching you. Watch him teach at least two classes. If possible, watch a new student class. Imagine you being in that class. Will you feel comfortable and confident with your teacher’s knowledge, ability and personality?
Although the style is important, the teacher is the key to your success. A good teacher will be able to adapt a marginal system to your individual needs and goals. A poor teacher, one who is egotistical or one dimensional, will take a great system and transmit it badly. Do not blindly accept rank or trophies as a judge of teaching ability. Often those who can do, cannot teach! Many teachers own schools for all the wrong reasons! Try to stay clear of these schools and teachers.
When searching for a teacher, find one who follows the philosophy of “not injuring a student while trying to help him”.
Often, people will ask me how to select a school, style or teacher. If you are contemplating studying karate, and have not yet selected a school, my discussion on this subject might help you understand a little more about the art and the people who teach it. You might also be a little better prepared to select your school.
There are quite a few teachers who consider themselves “tougher” and better fighters than the “professional” instructors who are so successful today. For obvious reasons, their schools seldom have very many students. The teacher might be an excellent athlete and a wonderful person, but his training methods may be better suited for Navy Seals than what you are capable of achieving.
Even though you might like to study at this dojo, your odds of staying with the pro gram won’t be any better than the school’s hundreds of other drop-outs. Regardless of how much you want to take the “hard” road, spend the first year in a traditional school that has a proven track record for holding their students. There are no bragging rights for having dropped out of the toughest martial art school in America.
Young teachers often will run schools where the training is geared to the very young and strong. People not able to keep up with the younger program quickly drop out, or do not join in the first place. Conversely, older teachers often gear their classes for a more mature audience and might turn off younger students and potential students.
Teachers do not consciously specialize in the caliber of instruction offered at their dojo. Often, the program is subtly focused on a specific category and without the instructor realizing it, his school takes on a one dimensional characteristic.
You are responsible for your own progress and destiny. Your teacher is a guide. He should be responsible and sensitive to your short and long term goals. If he is not, then you should check out another teacher.
There are many reputable organizations, schools and teachers. Many have direct ties with their teacher and respected organizations. These associations tend to be more “traditional”, in that the members value the link with the styles’ heritage and attempt, through the group’s standards, to maintain the system’s key/core elements. Member schools agree on standards for rank, which relates to the trademark forms, sets and drills that make up the heart of the system.
Students joining schools belonging to a reputable association, have the best chance of receiving excellent instruction while having confidence that the diploma received for rank has some value.
First check to see if a school and teacher has a direct tie to a national organization that in turn has a link with a well known International organization. If a tie exists, then you at least know the school you are interested in, is being supervised in some capacity by individuals who are knowledgeable about the art. Even with this basic assurance, you should still talk with new students in the school and watch a few classes, taught by the person who will be teaching you during your first course.
If the school does not have ties with a national or international organization, deter mine if the school specializes in a single system or style. Even if the dojo does not have ties with a well recognized group, it may have strong positive leadership, thoroughly versed in a traditional style of karate. In this situation, be especially careful in checking out the school’s credentials and those of the parent organization, if applicable.
Find out who will be teaching your classes. What are their credentials? How long have they been teaching and/or in business? Finally, watch a few classes and talk with people who have been attending classes.
Since you will, by extension, be part of the association, learn as much as you can about any parent organization. Be skeptical of those groups whose sole function is issuing rank certificates. Find out as much as possible about the people who are in charge of the organization. . . Their background and years in the art. Find out if the par ent group offer seminars and other methods for keeping member schools up to standards.
Even though an individual might be an excellent teacher and technician, he should have some way to keep up his own training and teaching methods. Good teachers learn from one another and need others to make sure subtle day by day changes don’t vary too much from the standards of the system or organization.
I often talk about a dojo having a life of its own, made up of students and teachers. By watching a few classes and talking to members, you should get a sense of whether you will fit in with the dojo and its members. The more schools you check out, the better sense of value and compatibility you will have.
Be aware and make sure you feel comfortable with the dojo you select. Few people would buy the first car they look at. Most of us will do research prior to ever visiting a showroom. Not surprisingly, karate schools have far more options/variables to offer than cars and interestingly enough, today the financial commitment involved, equal or surpass that of an automobile purchase!
Finally, there are hybrid groups, dedicated to specialized areas, such as Mixed Martial Arts, Point Tournament or Kick Boxing training. These organizations recognize the limitations of their sports and address issues that relate specifically to their interests. Schools that train students to participate in these activities should be up-front about what they offer.
Your comments and suggestions should be of value to your instructor during the course of your training. You are the best person to know your limits and capacity for learning. If you need more help, or if you need to progress more slowly, do not be afraid to discuss your concerns with your teacher. He may have his own reasons for pushing you beyond what you consider correct. But he may not be familiar with your concerns that are valid. If there are 250 students in your school, it is difficult for the teacher to know everything about you that relates to how you can best learn safely and effectively