A Teacher’s Reward

I started teaching martial arts a long time ago. When I started, my biggest passion was simply to share something I really love. For me and for many others like me, martial arts are more of an approach to life than a sport or hobby. If you have ever had a moment where you have found that place where you simply fit in, then you can understand where I am coming from when I say this. Keeping the doors to my schools open was always a challenge, but never enough of a challenge that I wanted to give up.

Then, in 2002, an opportunity fell in my lap. I had a chance to go to work for Chuck Norris’ Kick Drugs Out of America, which later became known as KickStart Kids. I was stepping into my dream job; I would be able to teach martial arts all day, every day, and not have to worry about overhead and the hassles that come with running a commercial martial arts school. I knew I would enjoy it, but I did not expect how much the job would change me.

When I ran my martial arts schools before, students were people, but they were also income. I needed them there and happy, but I also needed them to pay. I had to constantly remind them to pay the monthly fees, I had to call students who had stopped coming around. There was so much to actually keeping the school open that I only really knew anything about the lives of those students who were around for a few years.

In KickStart Kids, this was different. I saw my students every single day. I had a chance to really see them as they struggled and as they grew. I had time to learn their stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I gained an insight into the lives of the kids in my class, many of whom were classified as at-risk.

This insight comes with a price.

I have to see potential in everyone. This comes from the fact that I had zero potential of achieving anything remotely related to success in the martial arts. I have said many times that everything a person could have working against their success in this field, I had working against me. Everything from absolute poverty to being injury prone, add in a lazy streak five miles wide, introversion of such an extreme nature it would be better called willfully self-imposed isolation, and you can start to see the wondrous disaster I was, and why many people predicted that my foray into the world of martial arts would end in complete failure. I was often the only person who believed I could do this. It sucks to be the only one who believes in you.

As a result of this personal experience, in my eyes, every student has some degree of potential. It is pure foolishness to think that every student is going to become a lifelong martial artist, or follow in your footsteps and become an instructor. I don’t allow myself such delusional thinking. But I do try to see the potential for success that each student has. I made it my mission to make sure that my students knew that I believed in them.

But the real problem is that, very often, they don’t believe in themselves or see their tremendous potential. In some cases, they have been beaten down so much by life, or peers, and sometimes even by their parents, that they no longer value themselves or see anything they can do right. Even when they have a person telling them they actually are doing something right, they have a nagging doubt.

This hurts my feelings every single time, but as it is not about me, it becomes my job to make them see their successes and through that, see their potential for even greater success in whatever they want to pursue. Sometimes I am able to do this, sometimes I fail. The victories are awesome, and failing is almost physically painful.

But for as long as that student is in my class, I have a new opportunity each day to try to reach them again, and each day holds the possibility of success.

And in all honesty, the repeated failures of my attempts to reach them and break through their doubts really add up. And they do take a toll on me. But the beginner lessons in any martial arts style teach the need for tenacity.

So I try again because I have to make them see.

Their friends make fun of them, I run interference or counter every claim by the negative friends.

Their parents tell them that they can’t do anything right, I point out every day every detail that they are nailing spot on.

They have a bad day, they get a detention or a bad grade, I show them how well they can focus here and how to apply that elsewhere.

And it wears me out. Finding the energy to motivate someone else when you are worn completely out is tough. Doing it every day is probably impossible, I guess. I have not reached a breaking point yet, so I don’t know how true that is.

But there is this amazing payoff.

More often than you would imagine, a student will suddenly see! They will make those connections on their own that you have been pointing out for weeks or months, sometimes years. They finally get it.

The funny thing is, when my students get it, they always try to give me credit, and I have to remind them that I was just pointing out what they were already doing. Their success and the joy in their eyes when they find that success is my reward. That moment is my battery recharge and it is what keeps me going. Feeding off of this energy allows me to step right back into the trenches in the next class period. Yes, the moment is fleeting, but it is so important to know when you are happy.

Every Teacher of any discipline knows what I am talking about. I have spent the last fifteen years working with some truly amazing professional educators, and when I share these thoughts with them, they all relate, even when what we teach is immensely different. The best teachers I have ever known were people able to help their students see their own success when it happens, and see failure as a lesson and not a definition of who they are. Be the person who helps other people see what they do right rather than pointing out what they do wrong. In the long run, it will help you as much as it helps them.

Because I have many former students who follow this site, I want to take a moment to thank you for being one of those people who recharged me and allowed me to step into the next class ready to keep fighting. Your successes made me strong enough to keep trying to help others, and without you, I might not have made it to this point. I am proud to have had the time in your life that I had, and in some cases, still have. My successes in the classroom come from the blessing of having had such amazing and truly wonderful students. You all taught me more than you know. I thank you.

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