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What do you do with new Black Belts?

One thing I like to do is have them go in the back room and re-teach themselves everything they think they know. I will tell them that the junior belts will be asking them questions and your technique must be correct so you need to understand all parts of everything you do and be able to demonstrate and explain. As they do that I also have them watch class on the side with me and we talk about different students techniques. I will have them tell me what they see or ask questions about what I see. It is at this point of instruction that we can learn a lot about how affective they will be as a teacher.

To preempt the Black Belts move to now one of senior belt I start dealing with junior belts ability to teach or instruct early on. I like to have students from the next higher belt teach the techniques to the next lower belt level as they are promoted in. This lets them learn to teach a technique as well as lets me learn if the older student understands the technique. I don’t rely on the lower belts to teach all the nuances of the technique but I do want them to do the introduction step. And by the time they reach Black I will usually have a good understanding which direction they will go; senior level teacher or support level teacher.

Black Belts are the backbone of a good school. There comes a point where a school must have senior Black Belts to grow and teach the expanding student base. Any school owner that denies the benefit dedicated Black Belts provide in teaching and crowd/student control is not in touch with the realities of creating a completely functional school. But understanding and identifying the different skill sets each Black Belt can bring to the school can be difficult. A key trait of Black Belts is that they maintain the school culture, not the instructor/master. The master may have started the process but it is the Black Belts that keep that culture moving.

Some Black Belts never move into the teaching realm and some students start to find their groove around brown. I have seen and worked with many 3,4,5 Dans who could not teach and had no desire to explore beyond their own school base. They know their martial backwards and forwards but will never be outside or inside leaders. I see these as company men. They are great for keeping the school running and the culture set but never broaden their understanding of the arts or look to challenge their growth with outside learning. They may be masters of their craft but lack the skills, desires, or cogitative ability to teach. One could say they need to focus on learning those skills but that may not be their motivation. Every school as it grows larger and larger needs these types of Black Belts. But don’t expect them to deviate from the status quo.

They help run classes and keep the organization moving. In running classes yes they lead or instruct from the predefined curriculum. What they don’t do or have the ability to do is “think” outside the box for cause and effect relationships. They are not capable of taking a student from white to Black Belt but can support the teachers who do. Think of them as teachers’ aides. Don’t get me wrong, I have the highest respect for these Black Belts. They provide a vital function for the school and once you understand how to tap these skill sets they will move mountains for the good of the school. Unfortunately it is these Black Belts that tend to get roped in to running classes for free. They want to give to the school but many times the school does not give to them.

I see a true teacher as someone who can demonstrate the technique, explain how and why it works, understand and explain the body dynamics of the attacker and defender. They have to be able to do this for others and not just themselves. They are capable of dissecting a student’s actions for cause and affect relationships and make corrections along the way. These are the Black Belts that truly make the art their own.

Some schools have several of them and some have only one. I have also seen some schools that have none. And in truth it is not necessarily the school owner or club organizer that possesses these skills. They may think they do but the harsh reality is that they can’t teach. These true teachers have many different personalities from type A go getters to the quiet geek in the back of the room that is simply lacking confidence. Interestingly, many mothers that get into the arts have this skill set.

So what does all this mean? Every Black Belt is different and we as the teachers must learn to recognize what true skills the new Black Belts possess. We must also have an open line of communication with these students and ask them what they want to learn and how they want to fit in with the school. Many have focused so hard on just obtaining their Black Belt that they have given little thought to what to do next.

It is this step in their education that we need to not only layout a curriculum for martial techniques but also personal understanding and growth. Fore we may find that the skinny little girl in the back corner will grow into the next martial arts star and think how much better her journey would be if we took the time to understand how she fits into the arts and the arts fit into her.