From time to time that old chestnut pops up on the internet about people who are n’t Black belts teaching Martial Arts and whether this is an acceptable approach or not. The main thrust of the two arguments are:-
You don’t need to be a Black Belt to teach!
The argument is that anyone can be a teacher of Martial Arts because it’s far more important that you can communicate well with people. Some systems proactively recruit junior students, in some cases with mere months of training experience to teach Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo or even Tai Chi for them to an unsuspecting audience and this helps them to grow their business or franchise.
Part of this argument is valid, in that in order to be a good teacher, you need to be a good communicator at many levels and in many different ways. In the past, I’ve seen people as high as 7th Dan, who technically were good at Karate, but were awful at teaching it and developing their students.
You need to be a Black Belt to teach!
The argument here is that in order to teach, one needs a certain level of technical knowledge and expertise, otherwise it becomes ‘monkey see – monkey do’ without any detailed technical depth of knowledge to back it up. As one progresses in Martial Arts practice, it becomes more demanding. Mentally with more things to learn, understand and develop and each year the person trains, they should develop new skills and enhance or even change existing ones. If they aren’t then they are simply doing White belt level Karate, even if they have been training for 15 years. I remember Vince Morris a well known Shotokan Karate 8th Dan asking us on a course about 35 years ago. “Have you trained for 15 years? Or have you trained for three years five times?” It took me a little while to understand the significance of his question, but after nearly 40 years of training, I find there is still so much more to learn.
People below black belt are unlikely to have the requisite depth of knowledge to be a competent and effective teacher, even if the syllabus that they teach is simplistic in the extreme.
Part of this argument is correct, that you need to have a long term exposure to Martial Arts and be a senior grade before you can hope to teach it, perhaps I should caveat that and say teach it with any degree of depth or knowledge. A Black belt 1st Dan or 1st Level, will have experience, albeit limited. Many years ago 3rd Dan was the starting level for a teacher.
What’s the reality?
In truth not only do you need to be an excellent communicator able to adapt to different learning styles, you also need to have a depth of technical knowledge and technical competence to back this up.
Martial Arts by virtue of what they are capable of doing can be dangerous for both the practitioner and also for their fellow practitioners if they are not taught correctly. This is due to the risk of poorly taught techniques causing severe long term chronic injuries to the practitioner or due to them injuring another student through inappropriate techniques. The other aspect to consider from a students perspective, particularly at the higher grade levels, is that in order to progress, its important to train with someone who is much better than you.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine, who was ranked in Karate at Shodan (1st Dan) level, he told me about a conversation, he had with his instructor. He asked what more would he need to learn to achieve his Nidan (2nd Dan) and the reply was that the only difference was to learn a new Kata (A Kata is a sequence of moves, like a fighting dance.) Clearly something was amiss there, as the requirement was only to learn a new sequence of moves that he could already perform. Those clubs that encourage non black belts to teach are the ones that are typically part of a large business or a franchise model and are more interested in ££££ than developing good, competent students with a wealth of knowledge.
So always ask what grade and experience the coach has with their Martial Arts. Don’t be fobbed of, by someone saying “my grade is Instructor.” If they say that, they are almost certainly not a Black Belt.
The other thing to consider is whether the teacher holds any recognised teaching/coaching qualification. As a minimum a good teacher must have a current First Aid qualification, hold an enhanced DBS disclosure, have instructors insurance to teach you (don’t forget that the student should also have their own personal insurance too,) have safeguarding qualifications and also hold a formally recognised external Martial Arts Coaching qualification. See the Martial Arts Standards Agency’s website for clear guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable for an instructor.
Coaching staff have a key role in establishing an appropriate coaching environment and creating a successful playing programme. All sports have to demonstrate that coaches are trained to appropriate levels and that the activity undertaken in the club reflects best practice in the development of young people. For example. coaches are required to ensure that young people do not train excessively or in conditions that may cause injury or discomfort. The emphasis within Clubmark is that coaches are supported in their professional development, so when new ideas or updates (e.g., LTAD) become available the NGB supports its coaches to understand and implement them.
Both coaches and students need to aware and mindful of what they are doing and who they are doing it with.