“There is no fixed teaching. All I can provide is an appropriate medicine for a particular ailment.”
Wise words from Bruce Lee’s legendary Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Bruce Lee was not only a martial arts icon for the cinema and incredible athlete, but a gifted teacher as well. From just one reading of his teachings it is apparent that he had not only refined his art down to a science, but knew how to convey that information effectively and efficiently.
Bruce Lee trained his body to kick, punch, and react instinctively. But unlike most athletes who only train for muscle memory, he understood the mechanics behind the movements as well. In so doing he was able to break down each individual movement for both veteran martial artists and beginner students alike as well as provide a plethora of exercises to aid the individual in his training.
I believe that this one of the qualities which made Bruce Lee such an incredible legend. Most people know him as an incredible athlete and martial arts actor. But to his students he was a remarkable teacher. One can only imagine what learning from him in person would have been like.
I have been a gymnastics coach and martial arts instructor for most of my life. It has been over a decade of opening up people’s minds to explore their bodies in ways they’ve never thought imaginable. It has not only been an incredibly gratifying and rewarding experience, but an educational one as well. Seeing the difficulties that students have in learning given skills forced me to understand the movements themselves better. I had to understand the moves inside and out and develop new methods for helping my students to learn faster. Over the years I have come to understand that that there are four key qualities that a good teacher should possess: proper knowledge of the techniques taught, adaptability to different students, rapport with the student, and an intense passion for what he is teaching.
To begin, I would like to clear up the common misconception that gifted athletes make excellent teachers. Just because you can do, doesn’t necessarily mean that you can teach. Most people are under the impression that gifted athletes must be able to teach because they have reached such a high level of success in their field. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact there are only a handful of athletes, (Bruce Lee included of course) who not only trained their bodies, but their minds as well to understand the mechanics behind each individual movement. The perfect example is the gymnastics coach. Take one look at the balding, perhaps even slightly out of shape old man who is yelling at the young, fit gymnast on TV and you can tell that he most likely isn’t able to do a full in, back out fly away off the bars – but he does know how to teach it. A good teacher will have an intimate knowledge of what he is teaching. Teaching is a completely separate skill from doing.
I will say right now that most people over time will be able to pick things up through many repetitions, many trials, and of course, many errors. Most of the time when people are introduced to a new skill, they are taught it with a regular or “stock” method by their teacher. The problem with these stock methods of teaching is that most of the time they are ineffective in conveying the appropriate information because they lack detail. Then the question arises, “So why are they used?” The answer is simple: they are the easiest to teach and they save time. Time for who? The instructors, not the students. While it may take only a few minutes to describe a given technique, it will take the student much longer before they can become proficient at it. But by spending just a few more minutes in the instruction of a given skill, the student will be able to progress to a level of proficiency much faster than otherwise.