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Stuart Akers
Stuart Akers's picture
Changing roles as you get older

I'm having to change my role on the club, I'd thought I'd float it as a topic.

I think I'd always secretly hoped I'd bow out like the legendary Phil Milner, he was doing a private class in his OAP bungalow, the 2 guys left, Phil sat down to watch the Olympics and had a heart attack.

I managed the heart attack, no problem, passed that one with flying colours, I've got through the rehab, of course life is never linear so the curve is the return of the cancer and chemo.

There's no way I feel like teaching, but fortunately I've 2 very good 4th Dans I have complete faith in, if I'm brutally honest I'm redundant, for me it's always been a benign autocracy - I shout and they jump.

I never envisaged myself being a smiley grandad figure sat in a chair, or like Phil, coming in on 2 sticks shouting in Japanese and terrifying the kids.

So how do I see my role?

That hill back to fitness looks a tad steep right now and even if I got fit would the guys be happy back in line?

I suppose leave the guys to take it in whatever direction they chose to go, I never wanted it to remain unchanged but stepping back is not going to be easy.

I'm quite intrigued by finding technology that might improve fitness and training, perhaps that's my role.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

I think the aim of any good instructor should be to eventually work themselves out of a role. It’s a bit like parenting: you are a good parent when your child is able to stand on their own two feet and navigate the world effectively. The less they need you; the better the job you have done.

I was talking about this yesterday as it happens. I know at my club that I’m nowhere near as vital as I once was. There are plenty of other people there who are able to teach just as effectively as me. No one likes to feel “surplus to requirements”, but it’s a sign thing are going well if a club moves that way.

I also think the role of “overseer” is an important one. We don’t need to do everything ourselves; especially when others can do it. But it’s always good to have a hand on the rudder and gently adjust things to keep the whole ship headed in the right direction.

One of my teachers now only teaches teachers. He does no hands on teaching to the majority or students grades. His rational, which seems very reasonable to me, is that “generals don’t march squaddies”.  His talents are better employed higher up the chain.

All of our roles will change. I think that’s a good thing, and a sign we have done good things.

All the best,


Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Tough position to be in, I have been teaching only for ten years or so now, and am just 40..already I feel my own place in classes beginning change..and just when I thought I was starting to not suck at it!

Just as a related anecdote, some of the best Karate i've been around came at the hands (literally) of a guy in at least his late 50's I think, who subsequently had a stroke. I actually attended a class after this where he taught from a wheelchair, he actually requested to be stood up at one point to demo a technique with the half of his body that was working. One part here is that this really shows what training can do for people mentally, this kind of dedication, that kind of pesistence really speaks to something that can't be put into words. The other part is, he is such a good teacher that he could actually still teach quite well, partially because he was able to kind of "make use" of helpers, and was still SO engaged in what he was teaching.

So, I wouldn't count yourself out as being unable to to benefit sutdents directly, even if you are not physically up to some of it - especially when you have two very qualified helpers, if my experience above is any indicator. If you feel like teaching still, why not keep it going?

Ian H
Ian H's picture

I have always had an extra level of respect for the high-ranking senseis who "led from the front" and did all the hard work with their students (and often did more and better ... which can be daunting when he's 30 years older than you!!)  As I get older myself, and gain first-hand knowledge (as well as a fair bit of second-hand info as well) about how the ageing process affects our bodies and can hamper our physical abilities, I have come to respect those who keep going ... at whatever level of activity their bodies allow ... regardless of whether or not they can out-work the young, athletic students in the ranks.  

You are fortunate in haveing able assistants who can shoulder the teaching load ... and it's probably time for them to start getting lots of actual teaching experience, with you there to mentor them, so that when you DO eventually retire, your students will be in exellent care.

Neil Babbage
Neil Babbage's picture

You don't need to be able to do everything faster and harder than your students in order to teach or coach. There are plenty of examples in all fields of moving gently from "talented performer" to "leader from the front" to "coach" to the "wise old mentor." For some people it can be difficult to face that they can no longer "do" and have to focus only on teaching which is a shame, but I guess for some people it's not as much fun instructing as actually taking part.