originally published February 15, 2002
As strange as it may sound, the old rule of teaching students successfully is, “don’t teach!” In the old traditional Japanese martial arts systems, they used to say, “I don’t teach you my art, you have to ‘steal’ it from me.” Nowadays, as martial arts become more of a business, we go by the oft-used adage, “the customer is always right!”
Many years ago, I had a student who I desperately thought could do very good in Aikido and I really tried to teach him well. In everything, I corrected even the tiniest mistake but the final result was that he resented me. He interpreted my efforts to teach him well as harrassement only thinking that I was picking on him. I guess, more important than learning the art, was his own pride.
Often, when I am teaching, I have no qualms of correcting my students if it is wrong. I am sure this is not “good business” practice, but how will they ever learn it right?
One of the most important aspects of teaching and learning is sincerity, commitment and trust. Without it, no real teaching can take place. “Why?” you may ask. It is because in teaching, we are dealing with very long term results and the teacher must really continually consider the future growth of the student. It is not simply to entertain him or occupy his time for the present class or in the present moment. I constantly must think of how will what I teach the student today benefit him tomorrow and the day after and the day after and help him to grow and become stronger and more skillfull.
With immediate results, it is easy for the student to judge. If I push you and you fall down. Immediately, you can say, “You hurt me!” If I push you down and you realize that you were pushed out of the way of a car or out of a dangerous situation, you can judge that the push was for your own benefit and you say, “Thank you so much!”
When the result is not immediately seen, even though I am pushing you ahead further and further, without this trust, some just say, “Oh, this is no good.” When you can truly trust your teacher, you don’t mind him pushing you because you have faith that he is pushing you always in the right direction. We are much too concerned with “instant gratification” and immediate results so we always jump to conclusions much too quickly. We can’t even tell when someone is hurting us or really doing us a big favor!
Even the Buddha had difficulty in teaching people. In the Lotus Sutra, there is a parable of the burning house in which he teaches us, “hoben.” This means “skillfull means” and even a “lie” is useful if it can be used effectively to teach the student. I think it is important to always be honest with the student so I hope he doesn’t mind that I correct him honestly. I know it hurts, I don’t like it myself! Who likes to be told that this is wrong and that is wrong? Yet, with trust and committment, something like this can take place and something wonderful happens…
Some people call this the “mother’s heart” or “heart of the parent.” The mother will scold her child very severely not to do this or don’t do that. But the mother scolds the child because she loves the child, not because she wants to be mean. In many ways, the teacher must be like a parent who will scold the child for his benefit even if the child misunderstands and resents him. The teacher must have the heart to sacrifice himself for the sake of the student. Is it all worth it? Yes! But only a teacher can understand and appreciate this, never the student himself. Please try to understand your teacher!