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Sensei's Role Is To Inspire

What is the Sensei's role? For most of my life, I have thought that it was to teach -- to teach the techniques, applications, body dynamics, history, culture, and traditions of the great art of Karate. I still believe that to be true.

However, I now believe that the more important role of the Sensei is to inspire the student to want to learn.

This is a bit subtle. I do not mean that the Sensei should be a cheerleader and work to encourage the student to learn. A Sensei could encourage a student many ways, by urging, by commanding, by shaming, by humiliating, by stroking and feeding the ego. Not all ways of encouraging a student are positive.

If a student is motivated by negative factors, his Karate will be negative. Period. Once negative, it is extremely difficult to change the student's outlook and motivation.

The Sensei must be very careful to positively motivate the student. The student must want to learn for the right reasons.

Should the student want to be high ranking like his Sensei? If so, that will direct his pursuit of the art. Should the student want to be powerful like his Sensei? Should the student want to have a fine reputation like his Sensei? Whatever the student is motivated by will shape and color his pursuit of the art and his training.

My senior friends have generally been motivated by a combination of their Sensei's skill and character -- the combination that makes one a Karate bushi.

The Sensei must be very careful to make sure that he does not get in the student's way. The Sensei should inspire the student and provide the basics of the art so that the student will reach the point where he can independently pursue the art.

To say it again, the Sensei wants to make the student skilled enough and strong enough to learn Karate himself.

I know many fine Karate instructors. I cannot think of any who got where they are by being taught each and every thing. They were not spoon fed Karate. Once they reached a certain level, they became so inspired by their Sensei that their pursuit of Karate could not be stopped. The difficulties of life, work, family, and a million other things, could not hold them back from pursuing their lifelong study of the art.

The Sensei inspires and the student strives. The best Sensei cannot teach a student who does not really want to learn. But once the fire of Karate burns in the student's heart, he can learn whether his Sensei is there or not. This is especially true here in Hawaii (and on the mainland), where many of us are separated by great distance from our Sensei in Japan in Okinawa.

When a student becomes self-sustaining, the Sensei has done his job. At that point, it does not matter whether the student pursues this particular style of that style. It does not matter. What matters is that the student has become alive to Karate.

That is the role of the Sensei.

Teaching techniques is important. Inspiring the student is the ultimate goal of the Sensei... or at least that is what I think at this particular moment.


Charles C. Goodin