Practitioners face teaching responsibilities at different starting points in their martial arts journey. It is a shift from the odd teaching request – normally related to teaching others of a similar rank, to teaching requests that become more frequent – normally related to teaching different junior ranks. In my view, when a practitioner teaches others, regardless if they are a club owner or not, they become an instructor (if only for that period of time). This is a particularly important point for preparing the mindset of those who step in to assist with teaching – to consider yourself as an instructor – which will impact on performance for both you and those you teach.
Starting your teaching experience is typically a step outside the comfort zone. It is a break away from training alongside your peers full-time to actually teaching some of them part-time. Common thoughts include: ‘what are they thinking about how I teach?’, ‘do I know enough?’, and ‘how will they respond?’. It is not uncommon to feel nervous or feel that the teaching could have gone better. Speaking to many instructors (both within and outside martial arts), and from my own experience, I found that these feelings still exist regardless of experience. However, finding yourself as an instructor (and continuing self-development) are important for your mindset and performance growth. The focus of this article is to help you find your instructor self.
What do I mean by finding your instructor self?
Just how each of us has a personality, we will all have a unique style that comes naturally to us when teaching. Our style fundamentally communicates to others who we are and what we’re about – without necessarily saying anything. I believe this is an important component as an instructor because if we instruct to our natural style, we are more at ease- and this positively impacts our teaching performance. Communicating who we are through teaching also presents our authentic self to others. When you are authentic, people tend to respect you and your efforts more, because they know they are seeing the real you.
Sometimes it takes time for our style to surface because we may start off being more preoccupied with concerns similar to the examples mentioned above. Unfortunately, sometimes it is the case that people fail to invest time to find themselves as instructors and communicate this through their teaching, which makes them undistinguishable. A good way to think about this is thinking about your favourite teacher at school. Most likely, they are your favourite because of something they did that fused their personality with their teaching. Now, compare this to a teacher who just wanted to feed you standard information or just read through PowerPoint slides throughout the lesson. My point is, teaching is similar yet different across subjects…and so are the memories and actual learning through different formats by those who are taught.
How do you find yourself as an instructor?
Before you begin to think how you can fuse your personality as an instructor, think: what are you all about?
As pointers, some of the following may help to get you started:
- What am I good at? (Soft skills and personality)
- What do others say I’m good at? (Soft skills and personality)
- As an instructor, what do I want to be known for?
- As a person, what do I want to be known for?
- What are my weaknesses?
- How can I overcome my weaknesses?
- What do I like to do outside martial arts?
- Who do I admire as an instructor and why?
You may have noticed from this list that I have not included anything related to your actual martial arts ability. That is because I assume that your skill level is good enough to be asked to teach. Also, as an instructor, you should be more focused about delivering learning value to those you teach, rather than overly showing your skills.
You may also not have expected me to ask you to think about your interests and ambitions outside martial arts. However, the essence of finding yourself as an instructor does in fact merge with yourself (personality and ambitions) outside martial arts. It’s what makes you unique, authentic, and will enhance your teaching.
What happens next?
Once you find your instructor self, the next thing is to apply this in your teaching and amend your delivery over time with feedback. It’s important to actively seek feedback. Don’t just assume. From experience, I have found at times that someone who looked very serious throughout my teaching actually found it very valuable – their expression just reflected them trying to absorb useful content! If I did not ask, I would have assumed that the person did not enjoy it. Of course, if people feel something could be done better, accept it as a positive that they opened up to give constructive feedback. People start to do this when they know they are seeing your authentic self and know that you are putting a lot of effort to help them, so they want to help you too.