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Choosing A Successor

Success brings a host of problems. If a Karate instructor becomes very well known and has many students, the issue of who will succeed him becomes a major headache. Unknown instructors do not face such weighty problems.

Who should be the successor?

First, I think it would be better for the instructor to select his successor. If he leaves the matter undecided and then dies, the students will have to decide, and this can cause ill will.

So, assuming the instructor will select his successor, who should he pick?

There are many possibilities, including:

1. The most senior student in terms of years.
2. The most senior student in terms of rank.
3. The student with the most students or dojo.
4. The most famous student.
5. The student with the greatest technical ability.
6. The student who is personally closest to the instructor.
7. The instructor's son, grandson or other relative.

Each of these choices presents problems. In many cases, once a successor is selected, whole groups of students will leave to form their own dojo or oganizations. Sometimes they will wait for the instructor to die, sometimes not.

Let's examine the choices. The most senior student in terms of years may be close in age to the instructor? What good is it to chose him? Another successor will have to be selected soon. A successor should be of the next generation, not the same one as the instructor.

The highest ranking student will probably be too old as well. Rank presents many problems. You sometimes hear instructors say that their own high ranking students have poor basics. People receive rank for all sorts of reasons. Ability to teach and technical excellent are not always the primary reasons.

The most senior students (in terms of years or rank) may move the way the instructor used to move decades ago. If the instructor has continued to work on himself and develop the art, there may be quite a difference.

The student with the most students may be a good businessman, but does that make him the best choice. What is most important -- quantity or quality?

The most famoust student may be a celebrity. I won't even go there.

How about the student with the greatest technical ability? He sounds good. But can be teach? Can he run a dojo?

The student who is closest to the instructor might not be the oldest or the most high ranking, or even the most technically gifted, but he will probably represent the instructor's teachings the best.

Relatives? This is the general choice when the dojo is a business or has property. The best way to preserve the family's assets is to keep them in the family.

Sometimes a son or grandson will be selected as the successor, even if his lacks Karate skills. Sometimes the instructor will ask the seniors to complete the successor's instruction. Sometimes this works, more often than not it does not.

So who to pick?

Of course, there is no easy answer. I feel it is in the nature of organizations to split and eventually fall apart. Organizations are not important. What counts is the relationship between instructor and student. All organizations are doomed to failure. Eventually they are run by administrators rather than practicing instructors. Eventually they collapse under their own weight.

I have an idea, why not appoint a board of directors to handle the succession and let them select a successor from among themselves. That sounds like a perfectly good idea. Let a committee make the choice. Of course I am joking.

As an instructor, I just hope that some of my students will continue to practice the art of Karate. Our style is not a brand that must be maintained. Karate is a living art. It lives in the lives of the students who practice it and apply it in their daily lives. Karate does not live in dojo, buildings, associations, or on paper.

Each student who continues to practice the art is a successor, and from the instructor's perspective, a success!

Pick all of your students. Hand the torch to each of them.


Charles C. Goodin