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Finlay's picture
How much do you learn from teaching

it is often said by instructors that they learn through teaching, where as this can be very true i sometimes get the feeling that some instuctors use this particular phrase to hide behind and not train as much as they once did.

but maybe I'm wrong, it has happaned before i'm sure, what do you think can be learnt from teaching? is it quantifiable?

Stevenson's picture

There is a corny saying: "You cannot hold a candle for another without lighting your own way" but it is true.

I don't think teaching can replace your own training, and if you try to let it you will stagnate eventually. But teaching can clarify yourown thoughts. In order to 'show' someone a technique or idea, you need to define it clearly first in your own mind. The act of articulation and demonstartion means that you need to understand the principle in a deeper way than superficially performing the technique. Their questions may be ones you hadn't thought of asking, and their failures may illustrate limitations.

I am a musician and this holds equally well for playing an instrument as it does for karate. It's amazing how much more clearly you can approach a problem if you have been teaching it. Often you end up falling into the same bad habits that you have been advising against, but because you teach you can more easily recognize them, and 'instruct' yourself on how to correct.

An example in karate might be when you find that you are using too much strength or weight or reach to make a technique work. It works when you are doing it, but in teaching it to someone smaller you expose limitations. Making suitable corrections to help them make it work can give you insights in how to do the technique better/more efficiently yourself I find.

ky0han's picture

Hi Finlay,

I learned a lot through teaching. I not only  improved technically but mostly on the theoretical side. I once learned, that you really understood something when you are able to explain it.

When I first started teaching I used the explanations I always heard from my teachers, but soon I realized that there are better ways to explain certain things. The more I trained, the more I thaught, the more I understood. Now I come up with my own (in my eyes better) explanations. I think that my students understand things better now because there is more in depth information now in what I teach instead of only scratching the surface which often left the students sometimes with a lot of questions marks in their eyes.

My own techniques improved too of course due to the better understanding of certain things. So I figure my techniques always based on a sound theoretical background which I now understand better through teaching.

Regards Holger

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Finlay wrote:
it is often said by instructors that they learn through teaching, where as this can be very true I sometimes get the feeling that some instructors use this particular phrase to hide behind and not train as much as they once did.

There is an important difference between learning and doing here. Personally I totally agree that you can learn a lot through teaching. The old saying of “to teach is to learn twice” is very true. It’s one thing to intuitively know something yourself, but to be able to articulate it effectively so others can replicate it requires a clearer and deeper level of understanding. The process of learning to teach effectively generally leads to a deeper understanding of what is being taught.

All of that said, it does not absolve an instructor of the obligation to train if they which to maintain and build their personal abilities. Intellectual knowledge is one thing, being able to apply that knowledge is something entirely different. Knowledge is not power. I did a podcast on that a while ago:


This latest podcast is called “Knowledge is NOT Power!” and it discusses various issues surrounding “knowledge” and how “knowing” a technique is a long way away from being able to apply that technique. We also compare “theoretical knowledge” vs. “practical knowledge” and “experiential knowledge” vs. “non-experiential knowledge”. Finally I give my formula for power and the basic training cycle needed to ensure combative function.

All the best,


Paul_D's picture

I think there is very little that can be learnt from teaching.  I have learnt almost nothing, and could teach for hours and learn nothing, yet train for 15 minutes and learn many things.

I think that learning by teaching is often just an excuse for instructors to get students to do their job for them.  I have no problem paying someone to teach me, I have no problem teaching in their class, but I am damned if I am going to pay someone else and then spend all night teaching when they are running the club a business.