When I first started training in Eizan Ryu Jujitsu forty two years ago, I was not a particularly promising student. I understood what I was supposed to do, but was not able to make myself do what I understood. It was frustrating. The dojo was very new back then, open in that location for maybe a year, and the senior student in most classes was a yellow belt.
What this meant was that after I had been training for a year or two, minimally skilled as I was, I often found myself working with beginners who knew even less than I did. By that time, martial arts training had become a very large part of my life, and though I struggled in every class, I could feel the training changing me in positive ways. So when I was asked to
work with new students, I took great pleasure in doing so, because it felt like I was sharing a very important thing with them, something that could both save and change their lives.
Eventually, my sensei had to move out of the city, and he asked my immediate senior and me to keep the dojo open, running it together. We were not ready. I, in particular, felt that my skills were really not good enough for me to be actually teaching classes, and I told Sensei that. His response has always stuck with me – he said “It’s not about you. It’s about the work. Do your best to improve your skills, and share your knowledge as you do so.” I did as he asked, and though the first years were rough – and my apologies to all the students who trained with me back then, when I was kind of clueless – I loved it. I loved sorting out the information in my head and figuring out the best way to present it. I loved working to develop a good eye, so I could figure out what a student most needed to improve. And the necessity of being able to actually do the stuff competently and in a convincing manner, so that my students would trust me, drove me to work relentlessly on my own skills.
During this period, I was becoming a writing instructor at a university, so teaching was a huge part of my life – both in the classroom and in the dojo – and I found that I had a knack for it. I had the good fortune to train under truly gifted instructors in both jujitsu and karate, and I set about developing a teaching style of my own which incorporated things I learned from their methods. Teaching martial arts became a deeply satisfying part of my life. It has never earned me a living, nor has it made me famous, but it has become a mission of sorts, a way to help others on their own journeys. I teach because watching my students progress over two or five or ten or twenty years, watching them develop into instructors themselves, is rewarding. I teach because my own teachers changed my life. I teach because I love to teach. I think that this is true for many martial arts instructors, both those who run large successful commercial dojos, and those like myself, who teach smaller groups, for little or no pay. While there is a degree of romance and excitement inherent in the role of sensei, in reality, it is demanding, exhausting work, and there are much easier and more profitable ways to make a living. But for a sensei, the rewards are many. A new student gathers their courage to take a breakfall. A student throws someone larger than them in a shoulder throw for the first time. A teenage boy takes his yellow belt test and is so proud afterward. A 115 pound woman battles herself and her attackers for two hours, and emerges exhausted and triumphant, her dojo mates applauding as she is presented with her black belt. After twenty years of training, a black belt takes on the challenge of learning to be a teacher himself. That is my "pay."
I love to teach, and if you come to my dojo, I will do my very best to teach you.