Why Teach Martial Arts?

A couple decades back, one of my mentors in the martial arts posited that people teach martial arts for one of three basic reasons: themselves, the art, or the students. He then asked, “which one do you believe would make the best teacher?” The ensuing conversation really became a healthy inventory of all the things that make for a good, or a poor, martial art instructor.

For people who’ve spent a large part of their lives in, for lack of a better term, more traditional martial arts, we’ve all seen the instructor who’s there for themselves. Often they’ve just received their rank as an instructor, and they love the power that comes with the position. While their boot-camp drill sergeant style of barking orders makes for an orderly and often productive class – as judged from the amount of work and sweat produced – the students can be left wondering whether the instructor was really interested in helping, or just in making sure everybody knew who was in charge.

Then there’s the folks who love their art. They’re usually very concerned with tradition, and passing on the art exactly as it was passed on to them. They tend to have a “take it or leave it” attitude when they teach. “This is how it’s been done for the past 10,000 years. This is how my instructor taught me, how their instructor taught them, and so on, and so that’s how I’m teaching you.”

Thirdly, there are those who teach for the students. They recognize the benefits of the training, and want to do whatever they can to pass the knowledge on to their students. They develop their ability to communicate to a broader range of individuals and are willing to refine their teaching techniques in order to facilitate more students’ acquisition of the art.

Upon reflection, and with the benefit of 20+ years more of living, I realize the question is rhetorical in nature. It is fallacious to pose those three reasons as being independent or separate. The fact is every great martial art instructor has a healthy balance of all three.

Everyone who teaches at Cassio Werneck’s schools loves Brazilian Jiujitsu. In fact, many of us have backgrounds in other arts, yet here we are, pursuing the Brazilian Jiujitsu “lifestyle.” We are drawn to it for many different reasons, most notably it’s practical efficacy, it’s challenging nature, and the family-like camaraderie. While we appreciate it’s history, we also recognize that it is a living, breathing, growing art. It’s not hung up on tradition, but focuses on it’s effectiveness.

Unlike the aforementioned arts that often utilize a more formal, militaristic class-format, BJJ is a bit more low-key. Bowing and “sounding-off” are not demanded, or part of some required protocol. We still have, and show, the utmost respect for all who are willing to brave the unknown and step onto the mat for the first time; we respect those strong enough to become part of the family, continually pushing themselves to be better. The respect Brazilian Jiujitsu practitioners have for one another is a natural extension of the training.

While it might seem a paradox, the nature of such close-quarters, one-on-one combat is actually a cooperative effort. As practitioners, we need good training partners. This creates a symbiotic relationship in which everybody wins when everybody gets better. Thus, each of us is motivated to help the next. We all learn from one another, as we work together to assimilate the techniques and strategies, and develop our own individual game. In this manner, every one of us is a teacher, as well as a student.

So why would anybody want to teach the martial arts? It seems the real question is, why wouldn’t you?