What Makes a Good Instructor?
Sensei Dutch Farinas, FSKA
Karate these days produced good karatekas, but few in my opinion are good instructors. Beginning, intermediate kyu grades and even Dan grades cannot differentiate a good instructor from the mediocre or bad. Our sport mentality gives us the impression that the good karatekas, those that win tournaments or those that studied under famous senseis are the good instructors. Which is true? In my opinion neither of these hypotheses is true. Are there qualities that make a good instructor? Are there traits and characteristics that set them apart from these tournament winners or just within their own peers? Definitely yes. From my years of training and attendance to various seminars around the world I have come up with 8 distinctive traits and characteristics that in my opinion, are the make up a good instructor.
Let’s start with the traits…
Trait is defined as a distinguishing feature, as of a person's character
1. Humble - Marked by meekness or modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful. An Instructor is looked upon as mentor to young kyus and Dan grades. Many seminars or schools that I have attended were great but overshadowed by the instructor’s arrogant attitude.
2. Friendly/a people person- Warm; comforting; Students are people, instructors need to be able to communicate warmly and be approachable. I’ve seen seminars where instructors and attendees are segregated from one end of the hall to the other. Students come to the seminar or school to learn; some of them may have traveled long ways therefore, it is the responsibility of the instructor to make them feel welcome. Karate training is an atmosphere where constant interaction is needed.
3. Kind - Showing sympathy or understanding; charitable: a kind word. Instructors should provide meaningful feedbacks to the students about the training or techniques they do not comprehend. We need to remember that we were also once young novices.
4. Respectful - Willingness to show consideration or appreciation. Many of the students that attend training seminars are also instructors, some of them may not be as good or as experienced as you, or some of them are seasoned instructors nevertheless, extend the appropriate respect they deserve. I’ve known instructors who have studied under the famous instructor programs put down talented attendees just because they do not comprehend each other or question their teachings. Karate training is a two way street, continuous interaction in which has one goal, to further the knowledge of the art.
Characteristics of a good instructor
Characteristics is defined as being a feature that helps to distinguish a person
Essential character; nature:
1. Superiority of kind: an intellect of unquestioned quality.
An essential must have in every instructor is their degree or grade of excellence in the art they are teaching. Technical knowledge gained from years of training and finding out what works and what doesn’t is irreplaceable. Instructors shouldn’t be a book guide type of instructors--those that just tell their students … Ichi, Ni, San…down and up the hall…instructors should be able to explain in detail what the technique is all about, should be able to tell their students the how and the why, the positive and negative sides all with clarity-being able to explain it in “layman terms” instead of using PhD terminology. This way of teaching will, without a doubt, produce the greatest effects on learning karate efficiently.
2. Dedication- Selfless devotion: served the public with dedication and integrity.
There is nothing more humiliating than to see instructors who are unsporty and have that unclean look wearing their dogis. I once visited a school where the instructor couldn’t perform a technique he wanted his students to do. The instructor must have been 40 lbs over his standard bodyweight, about to burst out of his dogi. Instructors should also have the dedication to also train and continue to learn from other instructors. Wearing that blackbelt and being called a sensei is not enough.
3. Innovative: research/teaching style.
How many times how you seen very knowledgeable instructors teach in the most boring style? Should learning karate be boring at all? I think not, Karate should be fun, learning the past is as important as learning new things about Karate, learning new ways to develop past techniques. Instructors need to be innovative, do their own research. One doesn’t need a PhD to write or do research on something they are particularly interested in. Being creative with your teaching makes students want to learn more.
4. Resilient to change: —flexible.
I was once in a instructor seminar, we were divided into groups and each group has been tasked to show and explain training techniques, the host instructor contradicted one of the groups explanation and the group asked the why and the how… to make the story short, the host instructor was all bent out of shape. Instructors should be able to take this information and look at from another point of view. Instructors need to be open and take criticism positively. Remember karate is an interactive learning environment; it is not a one way street.