What I Wish You Knew Before You Started Teaching: A Student’s View

ONE Superstar Shinya Aoki teaches students how to maintain the mount position

As our instructor, you are the most revered person at our school. 

But that doesn’t mean you’re above criticism.  After all, just because you can pull off a reverse berimbolo variation from the guard doesn’t mean you can teach it or even make us want to learn it.   

As a good instructor, you need to understand your students and make them want to be part of your growing academy. 

You also need to build a realistic set of expectations.  As any manager or CEO will tell you, having down-to-earth beliefs about what your clients can and can’t do is vital for running a successful business.       

Yet your own instructor may have never imparted this information on you when he was drilling you through your chokes, armbars, and kimuras. 

If he didn’t, here is a partial list of the information I, and maybe even other students, wish you had known before you started teaching.    

You need to build rapport with your students

Don’t be one of those instructors who sits in her office and plays on her cell phone before and after class.   

Use your non-teaching time to talk to us. Learn our names, ask us what we thought of the last UFC or Metamoris event, and inquire into how everything is going for us at work or home. 

Be sure to also extend this courtesy to new white belts.  As a high-ranking (or not-so high-ranking) instructor, you might be tempted to believe interacting with new students is below you. 

But this attitude accomplishes nothing besides driving your “newbies” into the hands of your competitors.     

No one is saying you have to be every student’s best friend. But ditch the standoffishness for something friendlier. 

Remember, friendliness equals likability, and likability will help get you more students.  

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re wrong

Another good way to keep yourself off of a high horse is to admit fallibility. 

If you don’t know something, admit it.    

Your students are not going to storm out of your school the second you utter the words “I don’t know.”  As long as you demonstrate competency in your art, they will respect you. 

What will irritate them is when you try to BS your way into explaining something you have no idea about.  Lies have a way of catching up to you. 

Do yourself and your students a favor and live by the simple dictum that honesty is the best policy.

Kids are miniature ATMs

Kids will make up the majority of your bread and butter.  They have hours of free time, and their parents would love nothing more than to get rid of them for an hour or two. 

Yes, they can be a pain, and their parents can be even worse.  But many times, if your gym looks like a palace, it’s probably thanks to the students watching Super Why. 

Just because we don’t ask doesn’t mean we know

One of my karate instructors used to go off on a tirade if you didn’t ask him questions. 

“What? You guys know everything about karate?” he’d scream.  “Well, then what do you need me for?  You might as well go teach yourselves!”

Of course we didn’t think we knew everything about karate; we just didn’t know the right questions to ask.    

If we aren’t aware of what we don’t know, we can’t possibly know to ask for help.

Part of teaching us is showing us what we don’t know.     

Don’t confuse absence with indifference

Some of us may only show up once or twice a week.  We may even take a week or two off.

However, don’t confuse absence with indifference.  Most of us would love to train four or five times a week. 

We just can’t. 

Like you, we need to put food on our tables.  Unlike you, we can’t do it with jiu-jitsu.    

Many of us also have families who need our time more than you.  Do you honestly expect us to miss our children’s Christmas plays or parent-teacher conferences to see your new triangle variation?

We know, we know . . . no excuses.  After all, when you were a student, you walked ten miles to jiu-jitsu class every day, in the snow, up hill, both ways after chopping wood for twelve hours straight while your mother was in the hospital battling cancer. 

That’s inspiring.  But unfortunately, inspiration doesn’t pay our bills or raise our kids.

We’ll see you when we have free time.    

Don’t expect all of your students to be “hardcore”

Don’t delude yourself into thinking most of your students will love jiu-jitsu as much as you do. 

Most of them won’t, and it’s ridiculous to expect otherwise. 

Not everyone is going to like your favorite movie as much as you do, nor is everyone going to share your passion for your favorite food. 

Why, then, would everyone who walks through your school’s doors be the BJJ addict that you are?    

Sure, you’ll have a minority of  acolytes who would inject BJJ into their veins if they could, but the majority of your students will see jiu-jitsu simply as a hobby.        

As an instructor, you should value these lukewarm students.  Not only would it be boring to live in a world where everyone had the same interests, but most of the time, these students will be paying a good portion of your salary.            



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