I have had many opportunities the past few years to be a guest instructor in other people’s schools. Sometimes this was in the same art and other times it was in a totally different art. Both situations place different needs upon you as the instructor. And sometimes the simplest task such as what the other students should call you can be the most troubling.
Titles don’t mean much to me. Having been around for several decades I get uncomfortable when I go into a school and the instructor introduces me with a title. I don’t know why, maybe it is the humility trait of not wanting to stand up and be the center of attention. But having been in the arts for so long I feel everyday that I know less and less. And it is this reality in realizing the more we learn the less we know that makes it hard to be introduced as supreme commando.
For years I have thought that the Japanese language based schools do it best. They tend to refer to everyone who teaches as Sensei; a simple solution to a possible faux pas. Yes, I realize that the Sensei tile is typically awarded at different Dan levels but it is still considered acceptable to refer the leader or a senior as Sensei.
Korean schools in which I would be classified as have become title happy. When I started it was Sabum nim for master and Kwajanim for Grandmaster. Where a better translation would be is teacher for Sabum nim and school owner as Kwajanim. Yes, my translation is overly simple but I just don’t see the need for titles for every Dan grade.
So as a solution for instructors who come to visit my classes I will always have a few words with them privately before class and ask them how they want to be introduced. Over the years this has saved a lot of embarrassment for the instructor and helped the students by telling them their expectations up front.
Usually the visiting instructor and myself when I go visit will respond with Sir/Ms or Mr. Ms. (last name). And what works better than titles is to tell the class why the visiting instructor is here and a little bit of background to support their educational level. I never mention Dan grades, only years training and styles learned.
What to teach as a visiting instructor can be problematic. When I go to teach a new group who I know nothing about I will usually include a couple of simple sit down falls during warm-ups just so I can see what type of students I am dealing with. If they can’t fall or control their bodies as they sit to the ground I can generally surmise that teaching big throws is out and I will have to stick to more upright techniques. Focused seminars are a different environment and the student has decided to learn what is presented in the seminar.
When the guest comes to my class it is always at my invitation. I don’t allow walk-ins. Of course if some of the special people I would like to meet dropped by unannounced and I could entice them to share a few words of wisdom I would open the floor to them. But in reality all instructors are by invitation and with that invitation it is my responsibility to get the guest to tell me what they plan to teach. The reasoning for this is I know the school culture and want to make certain what is to be presented will blend with the class. I am pretty open minded but still want to preserve a professional decorum. And I have seen a lot of garbage techniques being taught by knowledgeable people.
A few months ago I was attending a demonstration where the instructor was having a young lady perform a choke escape. He had a large man from class grab this young lady also from his class by the neck and pretend to squeeze. Her role in this demo was to reach up and pinch the undersides of both his upper arms. Needless to say she twisted, turned, and finally dug her nails in after about 30 seconds of trying. The big guy stood patiently with his arms around her neck like a statue and let her pinch away.
A few weeks later I was demonstrating this same technique to a group I work out with. These grown men pinched, twisted, and did everything they could think of to get the aggressor to release the choke hold. Needless to say none of them were successful and after several minutes one of the brave souls asked why no one was able to make the technique work. I responded “that the technique worked perfectly, the real lesson is to think about a technique being shown to you and don’t blindly accept it as being able to work. You all know enough to think about what is being taught and if something seems fishy then you had better decide if it works or not.”
The group’s regular instructor had also seen the demo from earlier and when I told him what I had done to his class in his absence he about fell out of his chair laughing. The students spent a lot of time the next couple of weeks discussing this fake move and how they had been tricked. They learned a great lesson that day.
If you are a black belt and go to visit a different school the odds are you won’t be expected to demonstrate or teach. That is until you come visit my school. If are looking to join the school I will let you fall in with the ranks and workout. But if you want to come visit, your price to play is you have to demonstrate or teach one technique. I do this for two reasons, one being that you want to learn from me and my class, so it is fair for you to teach them something, the second is that if what you teach is garbage my students and I get a measure of how competent you are.
This is not for us to talk bad about the guest but instead it lets the students see themselves in how they relate to outsiders. A lot can be learned by watching others and mirroring our own actions to theirs.
New black belts should be competent in the basics for both execution and demonstration. So they should prepare a bag of tricks or simple demonstration techniques they can have ready for display.