Martial arts come with a sense of fulfillment and confidence, but the reason for that depends on the individual student. The exercise, the skills, the meditative aspects, all of them can provide this feeling and some people enjoy all of it. I happen to be one of the people who enjoy it all, but the one thing that probably gives me more of a sense of fulfillment than anything else is the fact that I am trying to be a good role model for younger students.
A lot of people say that they don’t want to be role models, and that is simply a way of shirking responsibility for most people because they don’t want to think that young people around them are picking up on what they do (or don’t do) and what they say (or don’t say). A dojo is structured in such a way that senior students will often work with and assist the newer students, and this puts them in a position where they must be a role model.
When I practiced Shuri-Ryu in Illinois I eventually became an Assistant Instructor and often taught the childrens’ beginner-level classes, and I took groups of the lower ranking students aside during other classes to help them while my Sensei concentrated on the slightly higher ranks. When I stepped into this Assistant Instructor role it became very obvious to me that the white belts and the young kids were looking up to me because of my rank, knowledge, and skills and the fact that Sensei felt confident enough in me to allow me to teach and learn by teaching.
The longer I did this, though, I became aware of a sense of trust that developed between those new students and I. I wasn’t just some brown belt who helped them out once–instead, I was the Assistant Instructor who taught them their first class, helped them get that kata down, and answered their question about what to do about the school bully. Sure, I was becoming friends with them, but it wasn’t just that. By doing these things I was setting an example of what senior students should be like, and what young adults should be like and I would like to think that those students have retained those things that they learned from me–both in the martial arts aspect and the behavioral aspect.
For the most part I am usually the only student at the 6:30pm Adult Karate classes at my dojo, and when I am not the only student I am usually working out with blackbelts. Last week, however, Kyoshi Eddie Bethea (Hachidan) visited our dojo here in Scottsdale and taught a Combat Karate seminar that filled the room with students from Godan ranked adults to white belt kids. The class was great and covered practical self defense techniques, some of which were ones I already knew, some of which I didn’t, and some of which were new twists on things I had learned before. I was paired up with a young man who also earned brown belt in another style besides Shorin-Ryu but who hadn’t practiced in some time and we had a good time working the techniques and I helped him out on a few of them. In the middle of the seminar he ended up having his safety glasses broken (he has an eye issue that requires him to wear them) and I ran out to my car and grabbed my shooting glasses so he could borrow them and continue with the seminar. I didn’t think anything of it, but after class his dad pulled me aside and thanked me for being a good role model for his son by helping him out and letting him borrow the glasses when his broke. It made me feel really good and reminded me of why I enjoyed being an Assistant Instructor so much, and it was a great way to finish a great seminar.