Sensei and their Humanity

Sensei and their Humanity

This article was written by Sensei Dave Nielsen 5th Dan. He is the Founder and Chief Instructor of the United States of America Traditional Karate Association (USA-TKA). He is also the Founder and Chief Instructor of Nahashu Ryu Karate-Do.

The USA-TKA enjoys association with members from Goju Ryu, Shito Ryu, and Kempo Karate as well as the Olympic sport of Judo. Soke Nielsen continues to look for people who wish to learn from each other and join in the association.

Soke Nielsen holds the rank of Godan and the additional title of Shihan in his organization and the style which he created of Nahashu Ryu Karate-Do.

Dave Nielsen is also in the process of preparing a new book for publication, which is titled, "Toppo Seitou Ryukyu Karate - Breaking through Traditional Okinawan Karate". The book covers a wide range of karate topics and views including respect, history, practice, basics, kata and standard applications.  The Kata covered vary from Geki Sai and the five Pinans (Heian) to the classical kata Seiyunchin. Additionally, the topic of studying kata to unlock the "hidden secrets" of grappling, joint locking, and pressure point fighting to establish rationale self-defence applications for real situations is included in the final chapters. If you'd like to know more please contact Soke Nielsen at usatka@hotmail.com

I'll sure you'll enjoy this article and I'm greatful to Dave for offering to share it with the visitors and members of this site.

All the best,

Iain

Sensei and their Humanity

by Dave Nielsen

Receiving the appropriate title and certification of a Sensei and the license that accompanied it was an exciting event for me. It meant reaching a large goal that I had set for myself and gave me the recognition of my peers and seniors that I was important in the area of teaching other individuals the art of Karate-Do. I soon learned that I knew absolutely nothing! I do not mean that I did not know the karate necessary to teach other individuals or have the knowledge to do the teaching. What I do mean is that I realized early on that I would make many mistakes in the delivery of my instructions. I at times became frustrated in teaching and getting my points across even though I had spent many hours as an assistant instructor. It's different when you're "the main man", the Sensei.


I quickly sought advice from other instructors with my teaching frustrations. Although my students never had any knowledge of my frustrations I certainly did. And this I surmised would definitely affect my teaching career. My superiors and other teachers from the past gave me the best answer to my problem of teaching. They simply said: "you're human". 

This was so obvious and simple that I had to really think about it for awhile. As an instructor I have many responsibilities to my students. The first is to give them the best and most complete training that I can in Karate-Do. The second is to be able to answer their questions or find the answers to their questions in a timely manner. These two responsibilities alone can seem overwhelming. There are many other responsibilities of a Sensei but these two will serve nicely for our discussion here. 

By imparting my knowledge of training in karate to my students I was trying to be a perfectionist (no such thing!). The ultimate Sensei if you will. I was making a lot of mistakes. When I thought about what I was told by my teachers of being only human I started to develop a more effective relaxed form of instruction. (This relaxation was for me inside and not in the form of commanding a lesser degree of responsibility in my students' training.) This came just from realizing that I would make mistakes. It took no long arduous course on how to effectively teach. It just took that simple realization. I had to allow myself to make those mistakes and correct them as I taught. 

Let's face it. No Sensei wants to be embarrassed in front of their students. We all feel that we lose face with them if we get into a situation that is "sticky" because we might have explained a technique wrong. After all making a mistake in our art is not what we do. Well that's wrong!  

Ninety-nine percent of the students that you and I teach have never taken karate before. They are looking to you to guide them to learn the art correctly. One of the most important things that I learned was to be able to give to my students my humanity. In learning this, my students realized that mistakes are extremely natural in karate because we all share in humanity together. It is in our very nature to make mistakes! By allowing myself to be seen making a mistake and acknowledging it I allow my students to relax and not feel bad about being human themselves. This allows for further growth in the learning process. By being so strict on myself I was not allowing my creative nature to show through and this made my students feel "tight" and strained in class. By showing my human errors my students relaxed and realized that it was ok to make mistakes. It's never ok to insist on perfection. This is what I was trying to do. 

We as Sensei sometimes think that we have to be perfect about everything. If we would take the pressure off of ourselves we would grow so much more and our students would too. I like to think of the Dojo as a mistake filled place now. It shows me and my students how to grow when we allow the mistakes. I'm not talking about always making mistakes in kata and techniques. I'm talking about the everyday mistakes, small blunders, and occasional mishaps that everyone has. A good honest mistake leads to a good honest learning experience. 

Mistakes that I, the Sensei, make are to be acknowledged by me and my students. It puts me on a level of humanity with them. It does not take away from or demean my ability as an effective karate instructor. 

Sometimes students themselves look at a Sensei as a god-like figure. This is very wrong and can hurt the student's overall growth in training. Let's say the student believes this and tries to reach this state of perfection. It will never happen. Why? Because there is no such thing as a perfect Sensei. We are all human. We are guides and fellow learners just like our students. We simply have been studying longer and have more knowledge than them and have been awarded the license to teach. 

In addressing getting answers for my students I now see that I do not have to know it all and my students now realize it. Sometimes when a question comes up about the history of karate, a past master, or where a kata comes from, I haven't got a solid answer to give. So I now tell my students what I do know and that I will try to research it further in order to give them the best answer that I can. I also encourage them to research their own question. They might be able to show me something that I do not know. 

If all this seems strange to the reader, good. I am a human being first and a Sensei second. My students are human beings first and students second. Why would I look at the second before realizing the first? 

All students must learn this about their Sensei. They can only learn it though from their Sensei. It is important for them to look at the Sensei as a leader in the art of Karate-Do but first as a human being. If you want to be a good instructor with a title of Sensei, then begin by allowing yourself and your students to realize that you are only human. After all I am just one "who came before" my students.

Dave Nielsen© 2003

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