Can You Teach Heart?

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I was listening to a sermon this past week and my mind began to wander. I started to think about a couple of students in a martial arts class I was taking. Both students are enthusiastic about martial arts. They are about the same age and about the same advanced rank but one has a certain spirit that the other doesn’t. He has a certain intensity and is more sure in his movements. He has heart. Both students have perseverance and I am confident both will make it to black belt but one will always have an advantage over the other unless heart can be taught.

I am not sure if one can be taught heart or if it is an inherent personality trait. When I was younger, I tended to be conservative, polite and even meek at times. I sometimes avoided new things and would take the path of least resistance. This made me a target for bullies, but I would demonstrate to the bully why picking on me was an unhealthy option for them. So did the seed of heart develop through my willingness to stand up for myself or was it always there waiting to come out. As I got older I found that heart, my inner spirit, would push me to work harder to get ahead and helped me persevere through tough times. I also found that most people do not have heart. This made me wonder if heart is taught or is inherent.

Looking at my own experience, seeing how my kids are growing up and how the kids in my martial arts classes are developing, I think that heart is taught but there are some caveats.

  • The student must be willing. If they are trapped by insecurity that they won’t let go of, they cannot learn to have heart.
  • Lessons have to be consistent and reinforced (at least in the beginning). If dad is teaching the inner spirit, but mom is instilling insecurities (this happens in the reverse as well) it will not work.
  • The student needs to associate with other people with heart. The seeds of doubt and insecurity grow faster than the seeds of heart.
  • The student needs to proceed down the path of their choosing. Doing something only for the sake of someone else’s satisfaction and ignoring one’s own satisfaction will cause resentment and will eat away at the inner spirit.

Because of these factors it is hard for heart to be taught in a martial arts class. I support those students that have heart and try to help those students that don’t. As a mentioned earlier, these students are enthusiastic about martial arts and their technique is sometimes superior but they are quicker to give up on themselves and feel inferior to their peers. As a teacher, it can be easy to give up on them. They can require a lot of effort from the teacher and they still give up on themselves.

I don’t own a school and am not a full time teacher, so I don’t have the responsibility for the kids in the same way that full time instructors do. I am wondering what your experiences are and how you address the issue. When I see students with talent and enthusiasm not reach their full potential, I feel bad but I am not sure anything can be done about it in a martial arts class. If you have had experience getting kids to the next level and building heart, please comment and let us know your thoughts.

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