International Taekwon-Do Federation  offical web site
National Taekwon-Do Academy, Inc.
Region V Headquarters
Master Earl Weiss, Region Director
4051 Old Orchard Road
Skokie, Illinois  60076
By Earl Weiss
Published in the Taekwon Do Times May 1998
What does it take to be an ideal instructor?  Does your instructor fit the profile of what is required to excel as a martial art instructor?

Although, I have trained with several instructors over the last 25 years, none of them were able to excel in all areas. All of the instructors had many great qualities, Some were better at teaching kicking; some at sparring; others at hand techniques; some at explaining theory and philosophy. Some instructors were better able to inspire, to motivate, or to instill loyalty.

Before instructors begin teaching careers it is understood that they must have a thorough understanding of their particular martial art. But how thorough an understanding of the art is required?  From a technical standpoint the instructor must know what is involved in the proper execution of the technique.  If the instructor has not mastered the material students will recognize it.   The result will be irreparable damage to the instructor's reputation as well as to the relationship with his students.  It is better to inform students that you make no claim to be omniscient, then to try and convince them otherwise, only to be shattered when they learn "it ain't so."  This is shy it is important to invite instructors with a particular expertise to teach a special class if the material is not within your realm of knowledge or ability.

You maybe familiar with the "Empty Your Cup" story.  It begins when a young martial art student seeks out a famous master.  Upon meeting the master, the student requests instructions and the master invites the student to be interviewed over tea.  The student attempts to impress the master by telling him about all that he has learned so far.  The student notices that the master is pouring tea into the student's cup and that the cup is overflowing.  The student tells the master that he should stop pouring the tea because there is no more room in the cup.  The master informs the student that this is the point he was trying to make.  Before the student could truly receive and appreciate the knowledge the master had to offer, he must first empty his cup of knowledge to eliminate his preconceived notions and accept the knowledge offered by the master.

I have a sequel to this story. Each of our instructors pours their tea (knowledge) into our cups. However, some of the tea is spilled because we are not capable of catching the tea (absorbing the knowledge) in our cups. When we notice that our cup is not full, we add  liquid to the tea which dilutes the tea and alters its flavor.  As the process is repeated from instructor to student on down the line, the tea becomes more diluted and changed, ultimately losing some of its essential characteristics.  That is why it is very important for advanced instructors to train with the founder of head of their system as often as feasible so that the tea can be absorbed and passed on in the purist form.  This will accomplish two goals.  First the system will retain its unique identity.  Second, if a student trains at another dojang in the same system, he or she will be able to fit into the class immediately as the techniques and forms are uniform in all dojangs.

In order to teach, the instructor must be able to explain information within the comprehension level  of each student. The instructor should be able to demonstrate the theories, principles and concepts that he or she teaches.  This will allow the student to learn on both the abstract level by understanding the concepts, and the concrete level by learning the technique through repeated observation and practice.  If the concept, theory or action is too difficult to grasp. it is the responsibility of the instructor to "break down" the material to its simplest elements.  An example would be teaching a new student a front snap kick.  The instructor doesn't execute it at full speed and ask the student to imitate it.  It is demonstrated in slow or stop motion explaining the timing of various elements including the correct angle to bend the knee, ankle and toes at each stage of the kick.  Yet, many instructors may teach a "front" or "walking" stance without explaining their exact characteristics such as stance length, with, angle of the front knee, relationship of the front knee to the front foot, weight distribution, and a method for the student to determine if what he is doing is correct.  How is the student able to practice outside the dojang if an objective standard for measuring correct performance is not taught?
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