On Teaching Martial Arts – What Sort of Legacy Will You Leave Your Students?

What exactly will you leave behind when you are through teaching martial arts?

What exactly will you leave behind when you are through teaching martial arts?

“Have you ever wondered what your legacy will be when you stop teaching or doing martial arts?”

That’s a close approximation of the question I posed to the students and instructors in attendance during a recent black belt test I helped preside over. When I presented this question to the students who were taking the examination, I was admittedly surprised that my question seemed to garner the attention of the entire room.

Obviously, this is something that gives people pause, when they are confronted with their ever-present but not necessarily imminent mortality.

The question has been on my mind for many reasons, and I’ve given it a lot of thought recently. My motivations for puzzling out my own answers on the subject have to do partly with the fact that I’m reaching a point in my martial arts career where it’s time to start passing the bulk of my teaching responsibilities on to the next generation, and also partly with the fact that I simply think it’s an important question to ask yourself as an instructor.

And, I have to wonder… what is it exactly that I’ll have passed on during my time on the mat?

Seasons Change, And So Does Our Focus In Teaching Martial Arts

What do you want to be remembered for as a martial arts instructor?

What do you want to be remembered for as a martial arts instructor?

There are a number of reasons why your focus changes as a martial arts instructor as the years go by…

You might grow old (gracefully, we hope, as did Ueshiba and Funakoshi), you may face physical challenges (God forbid, nothing serious or life threatening, but the very real possibility of such a thing is something the pragmatic in me accounts for), your life situation may change, or you may simply have an epiphany regarding what you really want to accomplish during the remainder of your career.

The fact is, our instruction is a reflection of ourselves… our ethics and moral shortcomings, our knowledge and ignorance, our nobility and prejudices, our inner world turned right-side out.

Martial arts instructors tend to be iconic personalities, presenting an image to the world of what a martial arts sensei, sifu, sabumnim, guro, or coach is supposed to be. How ironic that our souls are laid bare on a daily basis through the lessons we attempt to transmit on the mat.

That such a reflection of our lives should be made public through the lessons we pass on to our students is not a thing that should be taken lightly. Still, it’s often something we give little thought to, all the while trudging through our classes as either lackluster automatons reminiscent of instructors long past, or perhaps, if we’ve executed the responsibilities of our chosen profession ideally, even as the source of inspiration for a younger, better generation of martial arts teachers.

At least, we hope that the latter is a challenge we’ve risen to meet before our time on the mat is done.

Mike Massie is the author of Small Dojo Big Profits and runs a martial arts business coaching website for new instructors and small school owners, MAbizU.com.


  1. Kurt Schulenburg on January 27, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Thinking about this really takes the whole idea of “curriculum” or technique out of the training picture. Do you really think that any one will remember you because of that awesome front kick?
    Suddenly, it’s all about those “soft” parts of the training, the ones that we too often only pay lip-service to because we only have so much time to really teach that Awesome Front Kick. Soft parts like self-disciplne and respect. Self-esteem, honesty and integrity.
    Things that ultimately will make a much bigger difference in the lives we touch than the Front Kick ever will.
    We’re really only using Martial Arts training as a way to build better people.
    At least, that’s the way I try to approach it.
    And, yeah, my front kick could probably use some work…

  2. Brent on January 28, 2009 at 3:39 am

    Great article. Gets the mind juices flowing.
    And nice comment by Kurt.

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