I am fascinated by martial arts and I try to learn about as many styles as I can. With that experience I have met all kinds of teachers. They have had all levels of skill and experience. Some saw themselves as my superior, some as my equal and some as my junior. How they saw themselves had very little to do with how much I learned from them or my relationship with them. A relationship with a teacher is very important for one’s learning experience. One can learn techniques from most teachers. However, it takes a special teacher to bring you beyond the techniques and help you develop understanding. This special teacher is really more of a mentor. If you can build a level of trust and mutual respect with this kind of teacher, you can really expand your martial arts knowledge.
Most of my teachers have been able to show me techniques. They had expertise and many taught well. They understood the mechanics of the moves, the level of required intensity and proper execution. You can see these teachers showing students kicks and punches up and down the floor, typical kata training and individual throw and submission techniques. These are very important lessons. They are the basis of many of our drills but many people stop at this level of training.
A smaller group of teachers I have experienced go beyond just technique and teach strategy. They explain the relationship between moves; they understand the true meaning of kata, and they can show you strategies for defense and fighting. These teachers understand the mechanics of the art, not just the mechanics of individual techniques. There are also teachers that have shown me adjuncts to my martial arts like fitness and the attitude needed for self-defense.
At the pinnacle there are a handful of teachers that are more mentor than teacher. They have knowledge and experience in the martial arts with a desire to share their knowledge with select students. I have been lucky in my martial arts experience and have met several of these people. They have decades of experience, one has been published in a national magazine and they all have experienced significant achievements in their martial arts careers.
I did not actively seek these mentor relationships. I fell into them. One of these relationships did not even originate in martial arts. He is a business provider in my town and I was introduced to him through that business. It wasn’t until later that I found out that he is one of the most experienced martial artists I have ever met. I have only trained technique and strategy with him a couple of times, but he and I have had many in depth discussions on martial arts, the meaning of the way and how I can improve myself as a martial artist.
Another mentor is one of my teachers. He has encouraged me to experiment with other styles but to ensure I remember where I came from and not lose what I have already accomplished. He has mentored me on being a better teacher and even though I do not own a school he has advised me on running a martial arts business and he encourages me to get into the business. (Maybe I will someday)
I have met teachers in the schools I train, at seminars and in networking at tournaments and in business. I am grateful to have known all of my teachers (even the mediocre ones). I have learned a lot but most of all I have learned that I still have a lot to learn. With the help of my mentors and other teachers I will continue on my path improve my knowledge of the martial arts. Seek out teachers that can feed your martial arts needs and become the accomplished martial artist you are meant to be. No matter your level, keep learning!