What Good (Martial Arts) Teachers Have in Common

The best teachers in my life have all had something in common:

I could never figure out whether I liked them or not. And most of the time, I disliked them.

But I also realized something: these teachers, the ones I learned the most from, held themselves responsible for making sure I got better.

Regardless of whether or not I liked it.

Sensei Doris discusses bullying with students.
Sensei Doris discusses bullying with students.

Who were the best teachers in your life? Click “more” to find out about some of mine.

Mr. U., one of my first martial arts teachers, was probably the #1 toughest teacher I’ve ever had. For the first few months of my training, he taught the youth white & yellow belt class on Monday and Wednesday nights.

Mr. U. was a veteran. He walked with a limp and was missing some fingers. He was scary. The situps you did in his class were always full body, no questions asked. I was always sore after his class, and more than once he made me want to cry because I never thought I was good enough.

black belt
NWSMA black belts teaching.

A second notable teacher of mine was for a college English class. I was used to getting pretty good grades in writing classes.

This prof tore my work apart. Mercilessly. He was never satisfied. I had to rewrite everything for that class.




Some of them I rewrote twice or more.

Needless to say, I figured out a simple truth early on: ain’t nobody want to believe that they are bad at something.

But, you know what? If we don’t confront our weaknesses, we cannot open a path to improvement.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out our weak spots or our flaws. Our blind spots, so to speak.

summer camp
NWSMA students doing a group activity.

That’s what both of these teachers of mine had in common: they forced me to confront the things I didn’t even realize I was bad at. Then they showed me how to get better.

My writing prof was always right, when I stopped to think about it. Believe me, I hated every second of it–but I came out of that class a much better writer, and a much stronger person.

I survived their critique.

Yes, they were hard on me. Yes, it was uncomfortable. But they took the time to give thoughtful, detailed, and useful feedback on my work. (If that’s not respect, I don’t know what is).

They showed me where I needed to improve, and the rest?

Well, that was up to me.

My motivation & effort.

My self-awareness and ability to self-critique.

My training/writing/whatever.

And I’m a better person for it.

black belt
NWSMA black belt teaching.

I’ll leave you with a final thought.

One day, Mr. U. had the class line up. He went around to each student and whispered something to them. What he told me, I will never forget:

“I appreciate your effort. You’re one of my best students. You’re doing exactly what I want you to be doing, keep it up.”

Those words are why I’m still here today.

Sensei/YDN Caitlin doing her form at a tournament.
Sensei/YDN Caitlin doing her form at a tournament.

Feel free to leave a comment & tell me about the best teacher you ever had!

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