I didn't really expect this promotion. I didn't even know a promotion like this was possible.
I've been through belt promotions before. I thought about them, trained for them, expected them at periodic intervals. They consume much less of my attention now than they once did, though I can't say they consume none of it. But the point is, they're a familiar part of the landscape. I know what to expect.
I didn't expect a conversation late one December evening, when the owner of my school said "I've thought long and hard about this, and I think I'm done running the school. Would you like to take over?"
I'm sure I said something respectful, something suave, something that indicated I was surprised and honored and of course would be up to the task. My memories of my brain seizing up and just babbling incoherently for a few minutes are probably just the same type of false memories that lead Brian Williams to believe he had been shot at while riding in a helicopter.
Run the school? Me? Ridiculous. Sure, I've advanced tremendously from when I was a skinny white belt pushover. But I know what school teachers look like, and I'm not that. They look like John Kreese, the Sensei at Cobra Kai from the original Karate Kid movie. Or Master Ken from the more recent (and hysterically funny) Enter the Dojo web series. Or even Mr. Miagi. The point is, these people have something in common. A sense of absolute assurance and self-confidence. They radiate power and knowledge (even if they're sometimes wrong), and are ready to dispense unlimited wisdom (or at least ideas) to those around them.
Whatever qualities I may have, that's not one of them.
I teach, sure. I've been teaching for years. But mostly, because that's the best way for me to continue practicing and learning. A means to an end. And it’s not new for me to run a class. Or introduce a new student to the art. Or develop a new approach to instruction. Or maintain the school website. Or contact people about advertising opportunities.
But what exactly?
I guess when it comes down to it, it’s that I have a preconceived notion of what the owner of a school looks like, acts like, and does. And is. And I don't fit that preconceived notion. Never mind that I'm already doing many of the activities involved with running a school. I'm simply not a match for my mental image of the job.
Which embarrasses me profoundly to admit. Isn't this a point I constantly stress to my students? Don't react to what you believe your opponent will do, or should do. Be in the moment. Observe what they actually do, and move accordingly. Don't get hung up because the big guy is unexpectedly nimble, or the small guy is unexpectedly strong. Live in the moment.
So then who am I really? And what does it mean to teach martial arts?
At the end of the day, I'm a student of the martial arts. I come to class, and I teach, because I want to learn more. I like working with different body types because it teaches me something about these techniques. I like having people with different backgrounds, because it challenges what I know, or think I know.
So maybe I can't be the macho instructor who could take on a class of 30 students and knock them all on their backs without breaking a sweat. I can teach what I've learned about being skinnier than most people I face, and how to use technique to make it easier to face a larger opponent. And I can teach something about not teaching because you're filled with what you know, but because you want to learn. And if that's not what somebody is looking for, then they can always go elsewhere.
It's not perfect. It's not ideal. But it’s what I've got, and who I am.
If it works for you, then I'll see you in class, and teach you everything I can. And maybe you can teach me something too.