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Who Is Better?

Who is better: an instructor who brings five (5) students up to the equivalent of a Ph.D level or an instructor who brings one hundred (100) students up to the equivalent of a high school level?

Another way to say this is who is better: an instructor who brings five (5) students up to 9th dan, or an instructor who brings one hundred (100) students up to 1st dan?

Of course, any measure is inexact and subject to wide variation, but you get the idea.

Let's just apply some simple math. 5 students times 9th dan equals 45. 100 students times 1st dan equals 100. So the second instructor would seem to win based on raw numbers. And he certainly taught more students.

But it probably takes 1,000 students to make one 9th dan. So the 5 9th dan are worth at least 5,000 students -- maybe many more.

The problem is really not with math. The problem is with the term "better." Is one instructor "better" for teaching higher students or more students? Is one better than the other, or are they just different?

What did their students do with the Karate they learned? If the shodan used it for good, then their instructor was excellent. If the kudan did not use their Karate, or were egotistical, then what good was it to teach them?

Did the students teach other students?

Did the shodan go on to learn more from other instructors? Did they quit?

So it all depends. You cannot simply look at the numbers. You cannot simply multiply the number of students by their rank.

One thing is certain -- while it is possible for an instructor to "create" 100 shodan, it is not possible for him to create 100 9th dan. The higher the level, the more time it takes, and the more students you need to get to that one who can attain the level.

For all the students I have taught over the years, I have three active san dan. To me, that is a lot! Each san dan could run his own dojo. Each san dan essentially knows the system and can recreate it. San dan is a major accomplishment. But san dan is nowhere close to 9th dan!

Next month I will turn 50. Honestly, I feel that I can now begin to really practice Karate. Up until now, I have been trying to learn. Each thing that I learned was added to what I already knew (or thought that I knew). From my teen years until now, I have been adding and adding. Even if my physical techniques have lessened and become more focused, my mind went on adding.

Now I can lessen my mental load too. Now I can focus on practicing Karate without excess baggage. So now I can really start to practice.

When I went to Okinawa earlier this year, I brought so much stuff that I could barely make my way from the international terminal at Kansai to the domestic terminal. I had too much for the cart and things kept falling off. I had bags slung over my back, on the cart, I pulled one behind me... it was terrible! I looked like a crazy person.

Can you imagine practicing Karate like that? Can you imagine practicing Karate while carrying too much baggage?

When I finally got to Okinawa and put my things away at the hotel, I felt so relieved!

Sometimes less is better.

Back to the original question. One instructor is not better than the other. They are different. It takes a certain type of instructor to run a big school and teach hundreds (or thousands) of students. It takes another type of instructor to focus on a smaller group and take the students to a very advanced level. They are just different.

What really matters is whether the instructors continue to practice themselves. If they don't, rank and titles will be empty things. An instructor who stops practicing (unless he has a medical reason) is like a fruit that rots on the tree.


Charles C. Goodin