The Roll of the Karate Student, from the Student's Perspective

When Does the Student Become the Teacher?

We've all heard (and probably used) some form of the cliche, "Ahhh, the student becomes the master!" but is it actually a true statement? Clearly, we can all agree that a Karate Practitioner wearing a Black Belt is an expert and, therefore, most likely a teacher, right? However, I would submit that one of the most intriguing constructs within martial arts is that of the Student/Teacher Singularity. What I'm trying to say by "Singularity" is the idea that:

From day one, the student IS the teacher and no matter how long he or she has been training, the teacher WILL ALWAYS be the student!

In American culture, we place value in a hierarchy of skills in everything we do. In school, there is a very clear difference between student and teacher, or teacher and principle, or principle and school board member. In business, we have employees and managers and executives. In sports, we have players and assistant coaches and head coaches. All of these relationships can be described in terms of a clear "teacher/student" differentiation.

Karate Thinks of This Differently

In my (limited) experience with Karate, even though there is clear delineation of ability through belt rankings and rules of etiquette, there is also the notion that every practitioner is both teacher AND student! This is because when a student trains, that training offers the teacher new insights on the technique and teaching practices, which means the teacher is ALSO LEARNING!

Another way Karate practitioners describe this is through sayings like "empty your mind" and "always learn as if it's the first time you've seen the technique." These sayings imply that keeping an open mind (and heart) allows us to learn (and teach) more fully. After all, the expert level practitioners are the most adept at emptying their minds, which means they are the most skilled students!

So to bring this around full circle, the cliche "The student becomes the master" is not quite right. In my view, the student and master are in each of us!

Thanks for reading.

Shawn Matthews, (Yellow Belt)


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