Ask the Senseis: What should New Students look for when choosing an Instructor?
By: Sensei James Ryan
St. Catharines Wado Kai Karate
Sensei Neil Prime (St. Catharines): “The best way to find a good instructor is by a recommendation through a friend who’s already in a martial arts club. Barring that opportunity, you should do a little homework. Research the Internet to find out what’s in your area and try to have an understanding of what the major differences are. Karate, Tai Chi and Taekwondo, for example, are all very different. It might be obvious to the people who practice in the Arts, but not necessarily to those who are looking to discover the Arts, either for themselves or for their children. With Internet advertising and write-ups, you should get an idea of the type of feedback other people have in regards to the club. Once you have it narrowed down to a few choices, visit the dojos and observe the interaction between the instructors and the students. You should be looking for good rapport and mutual respect between the instructor and the students. You should be allowed to watch a class. This will at least give you an idea of the physical level of the club. After that, there should be a trial period in which you can participate with the class. If a club is looking for any type of payment up-front or a contract of any sort before you have the opportunity to make an informed decision, you should be suspicious. A quote from Hanshi Shintani says: ‘Kick, punch, block – they’re all the same. It’s the people that you workout with that are important.’”
Sensei Kris Reynolds (Kawartha Lakes): “Observe how the instructor interacts with his or her students. A good instructor should quietly command devout respect from their students without the need to boisterously demand it. The instructor should be unassuming, quietly confident, and very compassionate. The instructor should speak to the students encouragingly and kindly, and will participate in the class (on the floor) by working out. The students should be very loyal and respectful, and work very hard to earn their instructors approval of their performance. Most importantly, questions should be encouraged, and should never be answered with any form of mysticism, or ‘because Sensei said so.’”
Sensei Lou Roentgen (Hamilton): “Go to a club that’s recommended, but find out, why is the school recommended? Did they like the instructor? The location? Was it a good price? Did they achieve good results? But most important, did the child change for the better in school, and with behaviour in general? Rank is also important because then they’ve had more time to learn, and in karate, that’s a good thing. And if they’re a higher rank, they would likely be older and have more experience. Becoming a Champion in Kata or Kumite doesn’t necessarily make someone a good teacher. So to find the right school is not a given. You join a karate club and draw your own conclusions after a while. If you find a club you like, do some research on the instructor and the club’s reputation for success.”
Sensei Mike Rust (Toronto): “For me, it’s an instructor who teaches perfection of character first – someone who teaches respect, humility, kindness and discipline. Those should come first – then technique. It should never be about how many tournaments they’ve won or how fast their punch is. Sensei Shintani was the perfect example of a great teacher.”
Sensei Brad Cosby (St. Catharines): “I think when I started as a kid at 11-years old, I really didn’t know my own mind. Choosing a dojo ran by Hanshi Shintani was a GODSEND. If you’re going to a dojo today, it’s important to have goals. What do you want? To be an MMA star (VERY short term) or are you looking for a lifetime experience? Talk to the other students, and get a feel for it. Then, go back and look at the reasons why you want to be in karate. And make sure that by either conducting background checks or through other means (talking to former students for example) that the instructor is a genuinely good person – someone with no ego, who doesn’t take advantage of others, and can teach and treat talented and non-talented students equally.”
Sensei Jim Atkinson (Delhi): “First of all, the student should investigate the club’s background. Websites are good for learning about an instructor and how organized their club is, and what their mission or vision is. Second, find out the character of the club’s students. Most of the time, the student’s character will reflect the character of the instructors. Third, visit a couple of classes or a tournament to see if the image that they’re promoting is what they’re representing. And Fourth, class size and higher fees are not that important. If what they’re presenting goes against your core beliefs or nature, then maybe they’re not a good fit. Their teaching should build who you are to the positive – not change who you are.”
Sensei Nico Gosselin (Thunder Bay): “Students should look for an instructor who is welcoming. I think it’s important to be comfortable enough to invite anyone interested in learning karate to try out a few classes before deciding if karate, or the particular club, is a good fit for them. A good instructor makes you want to be better and helps you achieve your goals.”
Sensei Darren Marshall (Toronto): “In my opinion, I believe that an instructor, versus a teacher, is the difference. Go watch a couple of classes and see if the instructor: 1) knows what he is instructing, 2) seems committed to his existing students, 3) has an ability to put the training into context (his or her own experiences), and 4) they can teach various demographics. Most clubs have a strong demographic with kids, teenagers or adults. Each is an indicator of the instructors. A healthy club will always have an invested interest in the students achieving their goals, and a good instructor or teacher will be able to guide you to the next steps in your journey. Teaching morals, values and being invested in a student’s future is a must for me.”
Sensei Michel Gosslin (Hearst): “Here’s a list of qualities that one should find in a good instructor: 1) always tries to improve his or her technical and teaching skills, and is fully committed to helping the student, 2) demonstrates kindness and humility, and encourages others to do the same, 3) adapts to the needs of each individual student and allows each person to progress at his or her own rate, 4) able to make the new student feel safe, and able to push the more experienced students out of their comfort zones, 5) able to provide students with attainable goals, and 6) is well-respected among his or her peers and community.
Sensei Lauren Pankratz (St. Catharines): “What makes a good instructor is someone who is willing to teach to the student’s way of understanding. Not all students learn by watching a technique being demonstrated, nor do all students learn by verbal instruction alone. A good instructor should be able to teach any given technique in various ways so that they are able to effectively deliver their message to all of the different students in the dojo. This can be done with a combination of verbal instruction, visual demonstration, and physically active participation. Above all else however, the instructor must first and foremost believe in what they are teaching. Even better… when the instructor is passionate about what they are teaching, it comes across as more genuine and creates a magnetism with those learning from them.”
Sensei Ron Mattie (Welland): “A good instructor shows compassion and never makes a student feel like they are beneath them.”
Sensei Brodie Hicks (Peterborough): “A good instructor is someone who you can look up to, and inspires you. Someone who has gone down the journey themselves and has made mistakes, learned from them, and can share and teach that.”
Sensei Peter Ruch (Nayarit, Mexico): “A good Sensei is a person who teaches the basics in a way that is progressive. Start with a few techniques and put them into a series. The best examples are in teaching the Kata(s). Learning the basics properly will assist students in understanding why they should move correctly. Kumite is important to our style, but understanding that you must protect your opponent at all times is a main ingredient in moving forward. I have always stated that it is my responsibility to make sure my opponent is able to go to school or work the next day. Any other violent approach to Kumite is not acceptable; we all know that by moving only an inch forward while executing your technique could cause devastating damage if not controlled. A good Sensei watches every student closely to reinforce good techniques and give praise when necessary. The Sensei must, in a positive way, make corrections to stances, etc. As an example, in the stance Kiba Dachi, both feet should be pointing forward with no slant to the side. What I do is, I make it a game where I move beside them and very lightly step on their little toe to help them move there foot in. I always found that the students responded well to this and when they see me coming to them, they automatically checked their feet, putting a smile on their face. The Sensei must make the experience fun, but also imparting to the student the serious nature of what they are learning and the responsibilities that go with our style of Karate.