I have a love-hate relationship with teaching. I love teaching, or I’d make my living another way. Watching people grow stronger is one of the coolest things to watch, right up there with desert sunsets and ocean storms. And feeling even a tiny bit of responsibility for that growth is a huge ego stroke. No denying that. And teaching is one of those professions where you can really watch the ripples of what you’ve done spreading in the world.
As a wise friend likes to point out, we are all teachers.
But I hate being a teacher.
The teacher/student relationship is incredibly toxic for self-defense. And it is incredibly limited and limiting for any real growth or deep internal work.
Toxic for self-defense. The core skill of SD, beyond hitting and hurting, even beyond awareness, is the ability to stand up for yourself. The skills to see what is going on and make a decision are vital, but in the end, you have to be able to act on that decision. If you can’t act, your understanding and situational awareness skills will only serve to make you a smarter, more aware victim. This decision to act is not made in a vacuum. There will be another personality there, the threat, and he or she also wants this to end a certain way. And the threat will use power– physical, personal, voice, authority, threats…– to make you do what he wants, not what you want.
And so spending six hours a week with an authority figure, doing what he wants in training, may be the exact opposite of the internal training a student needs.
It can be even worse in martial arts. If you pick the right art and the right school the kid who was always picked last for kickball can convince himself he’s not just an athlete but a martial athlete. You can convince yourself that you are a great fighter or a “warrior” without ever experiencing real pain or fear. And the person without the social skills to get a date, if he sticks it out long enough, can be called “master” and demand that his students kneel. You can see why this is a petri dish for certain predatory personality types. And even if the instructor isn’t a predator, the system itself is ripe for abuse.
Limited and limiting. Most of our concepts of learning came from our experiences in schools, naturally. We all spent twelve or more years running through what was essentially a factory. Time scripted. Tasks designated. Every assignment judged. There have always been a few extraordinary teachers, but generally any creativity snuffed on sight. Can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve never been sent to the principal’s office or had my parents called for doing bad work… but I have for pulling out an encyclopedia and proving the teacher wrong. I never saw stupidity or ineffectiveness punished in the place I was sent to learn. The only sin was disobedience.
And that shared experience is the idea of teaching and learning that we all too often take to other training.
You can’t become proficient at chaos by rote. You need to play. To mix it up, to make mistakes. You need to play with people so much better that they remind you there are levels of skill alien to you, and play with people of passion with no skill because they’ll surprise you, too. But chaos is scary for some. As soul-crushing as I think our educational system is designed to be, it created a comfort zone and people try to recreate that comfort zone in the dojo. Complete with an imaginary imbalance of power, as if the students were first graders and the teacher the only adult.
You can’t learn the stuff you need to know from that dynamic. It’s too limited. And it is also limiting, because once you accept an authority figure as a font of knowledge you lose the habit of thinking for yourself (assuming you had that habit to begin with.) NO ONE has all the answers. There are no experts in this field. And even if someone knew everything there was to know about violence, that person still wouldn’t know you, not the way that you do. And you are a big part of any situation.
A training environment where all acceptable answers come from a source outside yourself limits some of your greatest survival advantages: Your creativity and your adaptability.
Given all this…ahem… if you sent me an e-mail recently asking me to be your guru and I went a little ballistic, this is why. It’s one of my buttons.