The road to black belt is a long journey. And 1st Dan (degree) Black Belt is even the start of a new journey! The title of Sensei is honored to those Black Belts who will also be teachers, this title is awarded by their instructor. However, not all Black Belts will be a Sensei. But those who attain this title usually started teaching long before they were a black belt as assistants and student teachers. At AKJ, like most Dojos, we foster an atmosphere of social and learning support; everyone helps everyone grow. The motto of AKJ is “Empower Yourself, Empower the World.” In helping teach other students, one will sharpen their own skills in the process. There is a saying: “To teach is to learn twice.” My original instructor had me leading kids classes and even beginner adult classes starting when I was a green belt. I was honored by the opportunity to help my Sensei and support the school by teaching new students the basics.
There’s a misconception that only the Black Belts or the Chief Instructor should lead classes. While the Chief Instructor of a Dojo (in this case, me) is the spearhead of technique development and the primary representative of the school, the Dojo is an entity comprised of all of its members and moving parts, including student teachers. A student teacher, often referred to as Senpai, is entrusted by the Chief Instructor to either assist with a class (i.e. holding pads for striking), or for those with more experience, lead a group or class. Also, people must keep in mind that a Chief Instructor needs time away from the Dojo; as much as I love training, I must take time off for myself and my family as well.
As with most educators, teaching martial arts effectively is a skill that one learns and works to develop. Simply showing up to class to learn the material is the first step. However, at AKJ the black belt instructors and student teachers meet regularly to discuss skills and tips on how to improve our teaching and student interactions. We also discuss how to make it stick, that is how to instruct in a manner that helps students retain the information better. And of course, repetition and positive reinforcement are further keys to success.
The next time you see a student teaching or assisting in class, be sure to thank them afterwards. They volunteer their time to assist the class by sharing their knowledge and helping others learn more effectively. They help the Dojo overall by bringing a good attitude and a willingness to share and learn. I started AKJ in 2008, but the Dojo is not just me. A Dojo is made up of all the great students and student teachers who make it run, a community of like-minded individuals who want to better themselves and others. Take personal pride in that AKJ is not just my Dojo, but our Dojo. Empower Yourself, Empower the World!