From a Western perspective, a teacher and an instructor are synonymous. These words are used interchangeably when referencing someone from whom we are learning. From a Japanese perspective these words are very different in their connotation. It is common in modern, standards-based education to think and plan lessons around the facilitation of learners acquiring skills, but there are some current thoughts around how teachers develop a student’s character as well. It is in this difference that the subtlety between instructor and teacher can be differentiated.
An instructor is focused on skill acquisition, level of proficiency, and transfer of that skill. All lessons and shifts in instructional methods are based on the feedback produced by the learners on some form of assessment. Modifications are made in an effort to increase proficiency levels to the point of being able to transfer the learning to a new context and thus achieve mastery. In Japanese, it is referred to as “Shu-Ha-Ri”. “Forming-Breaking form-Releasing form.” The learner copies the form to create the correct form, then begins to break out of the form to be able to put the form back in a variety of contexts. From an instructor’s perspective in Muso Shinden Ryu, there are clear steps taken through the Shoden level and developed before instructing a student Chuden, and then eventually Okuden. Though technical proficiency is a goal for both instructors and teachers, it is here that they begin to diverge as the role of the instructor is complete.
A teacher’s lessons go beyond the skill, they lead to the way, or “Do”. Furuya Sensei wrote about this in his book Kodo: Ancient Ways (1996). He writes that after releasing form, the next stage is called “ku” or “emptiness”. This concept was popularized in Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda when the character Po opens the Dragon scroll and finds that the scroll is blank, meaning that there are no traces of form in mastery. Many would interpret the blank scroll as nothing there, but another interpretation is that everything is there. The blank scroll has no boundaries, it is infinite; our learning is also infinite as long as we keep training. O negai shimasu?