There is a famous line in George Bernard Shaw’s play, Man and Superman (1903) that says “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” This was also made popular by the film Annie Hall (1977), in which one of the characters says, “Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”
Although hilarious in a drama or movie, these one-liners form the negative stereotypes about certain groups of people. Imagine if someone said, those who can do Krav Maga, do Krav Maga, and those who can’t do Krav Maga, teach Krav Maga.
If those who can’t do teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym… Then, who will teach Krav Maga?!
It’s not about what you can do, but what you can teach your students to do.
In this modern world of fast pace marketing and short attention spans, this concept can be difficult to swallow for many people. I have often discussed why someone should be an instructor in Krav Maga (or any martial art for that matter), but today I want to share some more profound thoughts on what I believe a great instructor should look like.
The quality of my teaching is not dependent on my personal skill, how tough I am, or how well I do Krav Maga. How well I teach is reflected in how well my students are understanding and retaining information, and how well they practice Krav Maga. I started thinking this way after watching a video clip by Tony Blauer about teaching self-defense. Although I have never had the opportunity to meet or train with him, his ideas have truly resonated with me, and I’m thankful. What and how I teach is more important because, at the end of the day, people learn Krav Maga so that they can be better prepared to defend themselves if needed. This means that how well I defend myself is meaningless if my students cannot defend themselves. For some, this may also be a hard thing to wrap their head around.
Many people expect that instructors should be phenomenal athletes, powerful, explosive, and fast. For many top level instructors around the world who I’ve met and trained with, this is the main point of their businesses: selling the image of top fighters.
Yes, it is important to stay in shape and be skilled as an instructor in order to set an example.
But fitness and skill alone does not a great instructor make.
Those who can teach, teach. What does it mean to be able to teach?
An instructor who dedicates him or herself to be amazing at Krav Maga, but doesn’t take the time and effort to ensure all their students receive proper guidance and also become amazing, are basically not doing their job properly. At this point of UTKM’s development, we have had numerous students with various backgrounds. Many have trained at other Krav Maga organizations or schools, or have practiced other martial arts, and we have been told that some instructors at their previous gyms do not pay much attention to them. Sometimes, students who come to learn martial arts or self-defense do not look tough, hardcore, strong, or move athletically, but I can see that they have great potential. It is sad for me to hear many students making statements that they were glossed over in the past, because that means their previous instructors have failed to maximize the potential of ALL of their students.
Don’t get me wrong, great instructors should be proficient at what they teach and should be constantly improving their skills. However, the fact is that not everyone wins the genetic lottery (myself included) that gives them freak athletic capabilities, like the kind you would only see in special forces. People need to stop creating and perpetuating this false image that great instructors have godlike physiques and abilities. It’s a terrible lie. When it comes to self-defense in the real world, it doesn’t matter how physically gifted you are because anything that can happen will happen, as Murphy would say.
An instructor’s quality of teaching is measured in his or her ability to pass knowledge and skill onto others. The goal should be to provide students with the physical and mental abilities to be able to properly defend themselves, and to adapt (within reason) to your students’ needs and wants.
Ultimately, a truly great instructor should want and hope that all their students surpass them in both skill and knowledge. This is an absolute because as an instructor, you cannot escape death, no matter how hard you try. Thus, if a legacy is what you really want, use your students to demonstrate it. If you can replicate yourself in your students, only 1000 times better, then you just might be a great instructor.
If you are a student, which instructor would you rather choose? (1) An instructor who is a world champion, but has never produced a single champion themselves, or (2) an instructor who is mediocre in practice with no grand titles, but has produced many champions?
The answer should be easy…
If you are an instructor, do you want to show off what you can do, or do you want to make others great?
Only you know.
Now, get out there, better yourself every day, and more importantly better your students.