Tuesday, July 29, 2014

TROY-KWON-DO: 10 Characteristics of a Good Instructor

From the Stick Chick: Welcome to our regular Tuesday feature, "Troy-Kwon-Do", featuring thoughts on the martial arts, fitness, and other topics from guest contributor Troy Seeling.

Once you have earned the title of “Instructor”, it is time to give back to the Martial Arts. By this point you should know your art and be able to demonstrate it well. What you teach is not the topic of this post – how you carry out the instruction is.
There's lot of great things to learn if you STICK with it - The Stick Chick
Good instruction comes from anywhere. In the above picture, this is my brother and I training with Roger Agbulos and Tim McFatridge at Roger’s Lameco Astig Seminar. We have never done stick combat before, and it was a wonderful learning opportunity.

Every situation is unique, but the role of Instructor is the same – no matter the style. Here is a checklist of the characteristics of a good instructor.

1) Be humble. If you are in a situation that allows you to demonstrate your “superiority” to a student, you must resist the urge to do so. There is a difference between instruction and just showing that you know more stuff than them. Your achievements, rank and confidence should be enough to command respect, if not, YOU need work. Ask yourself this, “Am I demonstrating this technique to help the student, or my own image?” Nothing is worse than a low self-esteem instructor that potentially injures a student to cure their own “little-man syndrome”.

2) Be confident. I do not want to learn from anyone who does not appear to have a firm grasp of whatever it is they are teaching. Know your stuff and be able to translate it into instruction clearly. If you are not confident in yourself, I won’t be confident in you either. This includes actually being able to perform what you are asking the student to do. Get down in the trenches with the students, do the exercises with them – don’t be a “helicopter” instructor. And above all, practice your material – don’t just preach it!

Breaking bricks at Larry Field's breaking seminar.  Up to this point I
 had never even thought of breaking this much concrete at once!
3) Be proactive, not reactive. This is the #1 most common instructor flaw I have seen to date. It is easy to yell and punish when a student does something incorrectly. Use positive reinforcement whenever possible. If a student feels good when they perform something right, they will try their hearts out for you. If the only recognition they receive is you yelling at their mistakes, then they will focus only on the mistakes. It is true that sometimes negative reinforcement is necessary – but use it only when you absolutely have to.

4) Don’t be a “Slack Belt”. Ugh… there are so many of these it is crazy. You worked so hard to get to the level of instructor, why stop there? Now that you know your art, why not see how far you can take it? Try for your next rank, compete, cross-train… do whatever you can to be the best you can be. So many people see the black belt as the goal - these people do not deserve to be called an instructor.


5) Speaking of goals… find a goal. Up to this point you have been told what to do. You have been giving requirements and clear steps belt-by-belt. Now as an instructor, you must set your own goals. If you decide to “rest on your laurels”, take our your belt and write“Slack Belt” across it.
Me and my BJJ coach Braden Masters after I earned my first stripe (on my way to blue belt).
 Braden is now a Black Belt in BJJ and one of the best coaches I have ever had the privilege to learn from.

6) Be a leader. People love to be around others that motivate them. If they see passion coming from you, you can bet they will follow you. This means bringing your A-Game to every class. A clear mind, kind heart and a willful attitude are all that it takes to progress. Leave anything negative at the door. People are watching you, make sure you’re leaving a good impression each and every day. Actions speak louder than words.


7) Be a Black Belt. The black belt is simply a piece of cloth; it has no meaning on its own. You must carry yourself as a Black Belt should. You should inspire others, treat them kindly, and never use your authority for ill purposes. If your goal is to hurt someone, take yourself out to the back alley with the rest of the trash. Martial Arts have plenty of wonderful things to offer, make sure you exhibit each of these things to the best of your ability.


8) Spread the word. You have many great things to offer and plenty of people could use your help to get fit, to gain confidence, to have something positive in their life. You have a responsibility to Martial Arts to give to others what Martial Arts has given to you.


9) Get noticed. This never hurts! Many people will base your credibility off of first impressions or even their own interpretation of your art. Giving people something to measure you by as a first impression will make them much more likely to trust your instruction in the early stages. Think of this like a college degree. Many people work in fields that have nothing to do with their degree, yet employers like seeing that you can clearly set a goal and achieve it. This can come in the form of trophies from competitions, or a public demo. The easier it is for students to see the quality of your “work” up front, the easier it is for them to open themselves up to your instruction.


10) Keep an open mind. In the end we are all students. If you ever start thinking your art is superior to others (or even that YOU are superior to others) you need to check yourself. This is very hard to do at times because you have developed an emotional connection to all of your hard work. Even a new student can teach you something and never be afraid to try something different. MMA started as a competition to see which martial art is superior. Take a look at it now – to even have a chance in the octagon you have to be well rounded in many styles of martial arts, from stand-up to ground and everything in between.

The greatest of instructors. This is the owner and Head Instructor or our school,
North Texas Karate Academy. She is also my Mom. The majority of my martial arts experience
 and the values and respect I try my best to carry were forged on the mat under our feet.


There are many other qualities that make an instructor “good”. These are what I consider to be the “passive qualities” that sometimes get pushed to the side when they become inconvenient. Our primary reason for being on the mat is self-improvement. Don’t forget the things that really matter.




Troy Seeling is a 1st degree black belt and instructor in Tae Kwon Do, with 5 years experience in Boxing and a two-year white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Troy also instructs a strength and fitness class, and helps to manage his families' dojo, North Texas Karate Academy  In his spare time, he enjoys trying different forms of physical fitness, including Olympic weight lifting and distance running. He also enjoys film photography with antique cameras.  You can contact Troy at troyseeling@aol.com.




Ed note: Opinions in "Troy-Kwon-Do" posts are those of Troy Seeling, and I don't always agree.  Also, I do not apologize for the stick pun above.  -The Stick Chick