Teaching Martial Arts

I must receive thirty-plus phone calls a week from people wanting to enroll their 3, 6, 9, 12, 14-year-old into martial arts.  I dismiss them with a pleasant, gentle explanation that, 1, we’re not taking new students, and, 2, we only teach adults.  And not all adults, either.  It isn’t the age, per se.  It’s the maturity and mind-state.  I’m sorry, but children — American children (though there are, of course, exceptions) are generally unprepared and unwilling to submit to the rigorous discipline — mental, emotional, physical, and philosophical — required to study martial arts with us.  We’re very strict; we’re very demanding, and we’re very much a traditional school where “fun” isn’t part of the curriculum.

Oh, it’s fun, yes, if you have a high pain threshold and love ever increasing challenges, but it’s not entertaining (except for those occasional guffaws when you lose your footing because someone dripped sweat on the mat). ¬†For Americans, both adults and youth, who have been raised to expect their hedonistic desires fulfilled, who are perpetually conditioned to expect reward for mediocrity, and who have been pandered to their whole lives, our martial arts classes are not quite what they expected.  We tend to direct callers and walkins alike to the McDojos, because, honestly, that’s what they want — instant black belt in exchange for no real effort and no true commitment and self-motivated development.

But what about the prospective student who does hold the duty, discipline, self-actualization, and focus that’s mandatory?  Well, taking on a student means this for the teacher: Be ready to become their life counselor, even after they’ve left town.  You’ll be the one they call, regardless of what time it is, what day it is, or if you’re down with pneumonia when they have any kind of life crisis, from marital difficulties to existential crises.  It’s the way of things, and, believe me, after years and years, taking on new students and adding to the calls for help and advice you get takes its toll.  As a teacher, you become very hesitant to add to your load, especially since, having invested the time and effort to get them to and then through the “gateway” that is earning the black belt, then going further, you are obligated to be there, always.  It’s a life commitment on both the student’s and the teacher’s part.  And it’s tough on both of them.  It’s also extremely rewarding.  My students…my husband’s students, it’s why both of us go to bed with gentle smiles on our faces.  They are our delight, even if they do occasionally cause all manner of bleary-eyed mornings.