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Part 1 – here

Part 2 – here

Okay, so we’ve covered what I call the “Science” of teaching1 let’s move on to the Art of teaching.  The best part of the Art of teaching is that this is really where you get to let YOU shine! This is not about the material itself; but how you present the material to your students. 

Finding You

Yeah that sounds like a self-help title. So be it. Here is the biggest lesson in all of teaching:

If you are genuine, you teach better.

Read that again:

If you are genuine, you teach better.

Think back to your time as a student (either in schooling or martial arts). Think about the best teachers you’ve had. What characteristics did they share? Think about the worst teachers you’ve had. What characteristics did they share?

As a teacher, I know when I’m phoning it in; when I don’t really care about the lesson. Even worse, my students know it. And their performance suffers. Because their performance suffers, their learning suffers. And that means I’ve failed. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, not every lesson will see rainbows shooting out my arse. There are bad days; you are ALLOWED to have bad days. That’s not what I’m talking about here. But you need to be genuinely interested in what you are teaching in order to teach it the best. Thankfully for the world of martial arts (as opposed to public education) if you are at the point of teaching you should be interested in the curriculum. If not, find a new curriculum.

Okay, you are interested. Now what? To complete the task of being “genuine” you need to be honest. Be honest about what you are doing:

  • If you are a teacher in a living lineage, great. Acknowledge that. Recognize its strengths and limitations. 
  • If you are teaching what your teacher taught you of a reconstructed system, great. Acknowledge that. Recognize its strengths and limitations.
  • If you are actively recreating a system, great. Acknowledge that. Recognize its strengths and limitations.

So you see, every approach has strengths and limitations. Acknowledge those. Acknowledge the CONTEXT of the systems, plays, etc. Acknowledge your own strengths and limitations. Be honest with yourself and your students. 

There are two main ways to teach – The By-The-Shoulder and the Sage on the Stage. 

The Sage on the Stage presents themselves as the Alpha and the Omega, the sole font of all knowledge. Their interpretations and comments are LAW. They are not to be questioned. If the interpretations change, no they did not. Frankly, they are stagnant. They do not grow2, and as such neither do their students. Nor is their art allowed to grow; it becomes fixed, ossified, and separated from the Art.

The By-The-Shoulder presents themselves as a guide, as a more senior student of the Art. Their job is to present the material and explore. They view their students as “fellow adventurers and researchers”. Rather than being worshiped, they work with their students to grow their interpretations and their art.

Yeah, if you can’t tell which one you should be aiming for, go back and read again. 

The Sage on the Stage is a Fixed Mindset. It is the Dark Side of teaching. It is static, ossified, and cannot stand any light being shone upon it. 

The By-The-Shoulder is a Growth Mindset. You may know more than your students do but that doesn’t mean you are The Authority on the matter. That is reserved for the text.

When I am teaching one-on-one or small groups I am always a By-The-Shoulder teacher. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed interpretations mid-class because of an observation from a student. Now, there are times when aping the Sage on the Stage is appropriate – these are large group and teaching a seminar3 and this is ONLY DONE because I am attempting to ensure that the maximum amount of information gets to the students. This is the “Regimental” idea – named for the Regimental Sword Exercises where you have a large number of people and you run them through the basics. And honestly, I hate doing it. But even when I do I always make myself available for discussion afterwards. 

So the key to creating your style of teaching is checking your ego and learning to grow with your students.


  1. To be completely honest, the science of teaching is understanding human development, psychology, and for our context, physiology and kinesiology.
  2. Here I will refer you to Growth vs Fixed Mindsets –
  3. Unless that seminar is a small group.
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