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Saturday, August 20, 2011

That pedestal is not for you

Photo by: vichie81
It's so easy in our field to become a dictator.  After all, we are the keepers of our tradition, of our standards and we hold the key to belt promotions.  We are the heads of our schools and people come to us actually believing that we have knowledge and character beyond the typical person.  With all that adoration and respect (which we demand anyway, in the name of discipline), how do we NOT get a fat head?

In martial arts, you hear so much about the importance of being humble and I agree that it is one of the top traits in a great instructor or leader.  But how do you know when you are being humble?  What does it look like?  And when is someone just faking it for the sake of reputation?  Humble is a full time job, and doesn't stop when class is dismissed.

It's not just the students looking for a hero to believe in.  Even instructors look up the hierarchy for role models and inspiration.  I'm not ashamed to say that I really did think my instructors had magical powers.  But, if you've been in martial arts for more than 10 years, then I guarantee that someone you used to think was amazing has been revealed to be simply a person.  No magic.  *gasp*  Maybe they even turned out to be not-a-good-person.  Maybe YOU are not quite as awesome as you used to think.  I know... it's hard to swallow. 

So what do we do, then, to avoid being that kind of disappointment to others?  First of all, realize that even if someone wants to put you on a pedestal, it's probably best not to jump up there.  Come on... how long can you keep up that flawless exterior before someone gets a peak behind the curtain?

Maybe instead of demanding absolute obedience without question, we should offer up that we make mistakes.  When we mess up we need to own it.  By reacting with grace and honesty when we make mistakes, we demonstrate that it's okay for students to make mistakes, too.  I remember all kinds of mistakes I made at my own Black Belt examinations.  I may have passed with high marks, but I'm certain I wasn't perfect.

Humble means we realize the students are what make a great academy, not the instructor.  That's not just new age fluff, I mean it literally.  The next time you look at an outstanding Black Belt and think that you did a wonderful job teaching, remember all the other students who took the exact same classes, but just turned out average, or maybe even quit.  So was it you being a great instructor, or was it the student who happened to take what you offered and put it to good use?

Once I realized that, I truly became humbled. It made me work harder to try to inspire more students, but it made me realize it really isn't about me.  No matter how many Black Belts I "create" through my teaching, I am still the same person.  They change and grow because they put in the hard work.  I'm a facilitator, and sometimes I'm a good example, but really it's up to them.  I guess longevity counts for something, but I'm pretty sure my side kick doesn't keep getting higher every year.

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