December 4, 2020, Israel
Your teacher is in front of you, beside you and behind you. And sometimes he is your punching bag.
A teacher must be a motivational speaker, a motivational force.
A teacher must think long-term.
Martial Arts classes have a very high turnover rate, that means in plain English that the vast majority of students that sign up, put on a white belt and step on the mat, will be gone soon. This leads to depression and desperation on the part of the instructors. I know many top instructors who will not look at a student until he has earned a brown belt, until that point he is viewed as a waste of time. What is the point in investing in him if he is going to quit sooner or later.
Teaching is an art. In our system, IKI Krav Maga, there are instructor ranks and belt ranks. Some wonder why they need an instructor rank; after all, in their other system as soon as they earned their black belt they automatically became an instructor, so what is this need for duplicate ranks?
This very question belies the importance of teacher training. No, having a black belt does not automatically make you an instructor, not with us. A black belt is an indication of your personal skill, as a Krav Maga practitioner, as a fighter but it says nothing about your ability to stand in front of a class and train a group of students.
I have been involved in martial arts for most of my life. I have been involved in the learning process my entire life and I come from a line of teachers and rabbis. (as well as tailors and dressmakers and one relative who made horseshoes). I have seen and felt the challenges of being a teacher and I have been privileged to experience many great teachers.
There is one key element; motivational training.
I can still see all my teachers. I can see Rabbi Shaya Cohen's eyes light up and then look semi perplexed as he gazes up to the sky, contemplating a difficult passage in the Talmud. He of course understands the passage but he wants us to feel his thought process, appreciate the struggle to understand. I can see Rabbi Jacob Wehl of blessed memory staring intensely at his Talmud, already deep in thought as we students return from recess. His recess was studying the Talmud, because he is passionate about it. I can hear his voice as he speaks to me. He knows that I have become impatient with his little side talks, his Musser Shoomezes (Yiddish, little ethical motivational lessons) as I want to cover more ground in the books, turn more pages. And he says to me...Katz, mark my words, you will not remember the specific page of Talmud that we studied today but you will remember this lesson.
What he was teaching me was that the motivational talk was more important in the long run than the specific lesson plan of that day. Today I understand this. Today when I open my Talmud and struggle through a passage in Aramaic spoken in a Talmudic Academy in Babylon 1,700 years ago I am motivated by the words of my teachers. I may have forgotten the passage we learned that day but the motivation has remained with me. I study today because of those motivational lessons from decades ago.
A small academy in California, Beis Medrash Zichron Aryeh, and Rabbi Cohen is teaching a lesson in Talmud. We sit at the table, all of us seated around the table with Rabbi Cohen in the middle. We hang on his every word. There is no exam, there is no college credit, no points towards any degree, just studying as we say, "for the sake of studying". We study outdated laws but that does not matter, this is our tradition. And we spend hours, days on just the first page of this particular section of Talmud. And I wonder, why such slow progress. What I did not realize then I understand now; Rabbi Cohen was teaching motivation. His goal was not only that lesson for that day but to inspire us, to motivate us to see the study of these sacred texts as a lifelong pursuit. As it is written, For they are our lives and lengths of our days. He wanted to light a fire in our hearts, a fire that would never go out.
And I recall the story about Rabbi Heisler, our Torah teacher, a very quiet man, it was told that the last sound he heard as a child, every night as he fell asleep was the sound of his father studying Torah/Bible. His wise father wanted his son to be motivated to study for his entire life. He did not say...stay awake longer and study with me, it was more important for him to see how important the study was to his father. And indeed Rabbi Heisler devoted his entire career to teaching Torah/Bible.
I am an unusual Krav Maga instructor, I know this. I do not follow the pack, I am different and this has placed me in uncomfortable situations at times. I don't yell, I don't curse, I have no tattoos and I don't hurt anyone unless I have to. This is because I come from a different school of thought, I am an educator, my goal is your survival, not my personal image. Remember "Thou shall make no false gods"
Teachers may be admired but not worshipped. I understand that sometimes a little talk, a little "diversion" from training, will ultimately, in the long run, be more effective than doing that gun defense a few more times. In the long run it is the motivation that will make the difference. It is the motivation that will bring the student back to class.
Long before the concept of "Motivational Speaker" emerged, these men understood that motivation is the key to long-term success in learning and understanding.
I see humble men before my eyes, I see Rabbi S. Cohen, Rabbi J. Wehl, Rabbi J. Heisler, Rabbi M. Ganzweig, Rabbi M. Gottesman, Rabbi M. Fendel, Rabbi S. Wahrman, and I know that it is their motivation that keeps me going today.
In the Talmud there is an interesting, somewhat unusual, conversation between a father and son, "Rabbi Huna said to his son Rabbah, What is the reason you are not found before Rabbi Hisda, whose lessons are so sharp? He answered, Why should I go to him when he discusses secular (non Biblical) matters? (and he continues with a few examples that pertain to health matters). The father replied, Rabbi Huna teaches about health matters and you call these secular discourses! All the more reason you should go to him." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, page 82 A)
Krav Maga falls into this category, health, and I wish to motivate you to a lifetime of good health. As my teachers before me I will sometimes spend time on ideas and discourses that may seem irrelevant. It is my hope that in the future these motivational lessons will be appreciated and passed on. Light the fire!