Training Students From Other Systems:
An Instructor's Perspective

Having owned and operated a martial arts school for over 25 years, I have seen many changes take place in the industry. One of the most notable has been the student/teacher relationship. Gone are the days when martial artists stay with one instructor. Traditionally, students were extremely loyal to their instructor and would never consider seeking out another school or even worse, opening a martial arts school without their instructor's blessing. This is no longer the case and times have changed for better or worse. Today you can find a martial art school on every street corner and in every strip mall. With so many schools and styles available, prospective students have the opportunity to try a number of schools before finding one that suits their needs. As a martial arts instructor, I would like to take a look at why students leave their schools, the unique challenges they bring when entering a new dojo, and my philosophy of training experienced students.

Reasons for Seeking Greener Pastures

One of the most common reasons martial artists leave their current school is because they are dissatisfied. The reason for this discontent may be due to boredom, a feeling of not progressing and wanting to move forward, or a desire to experience a new style. Changes may have taken place in the school that no longer suit the students needs, such as a revisions in the curriculum and instructors, new or different teaching methods and scheduling. Some instructors lose their enthusiasm for teaching and the students can sense this shift taking place. Who hasn't heard of the instructor who delegates most of his classes to student instructors, only to make an appearance on the mat for the last five minutes of class?

Many martial artists also seek new schools because they are on a quest to round out their training. They may have studied at a school that offers only one style. I have long been an advocate of this current trend in martial arts cross training and have incorporated several styles into what I believe is a well-rounded system. Pick up any contemporary martial arts magazine and you will read about the importance of cross training. It could mean supplementing your traditional karate style with an art that emphasizes the throwing arts and grappling, or a reality based self defense course. Whatever it is you seek to learn, the variety of offerings is far more plentiful than it was thirty years ago.

Challenges Facing the New Instructor

Many students who come from other systems are respectful and open minded. They're ready to learn something new and have a sense of reverence for martial arts training. These students make the best transition because their attitude is in the right place. Somewhere in their previous martial arts training, they were taught properly and were able to embrace one of the true foundations of martial arts training ... humility.

Other students who, having left their previous dojo for one reason or another, still hold onto the their old way of doing things. There is nothing wrong with honoring and retaining what you have learned, but if you are entering a new school, understand that you will be learning new ways of doing things. This type of student is the hardest to teach because he or she is resistant and unwilling to adapt to a new art. I encourage all experienced students to retain the good things they have learned in their old system, while integrating mine at the same time.

We have also encountered new students who have received a variety of black belt degrees, trophies, medals and certificates, only to find out that all their awards are hollow. With all the years they have spent competing and taking numerous ranking tests, they can barely hold their own with even our newest yellow belt. They become angry and resentful when they realize that their Grand Champion status was only an illusion and that their former school took them for a ride and thousands of dollars in tuition and testing fees. The trophies from countless tournaments have led them to believe that they are invincible. These student are the hardest to retain because the sheer humiliation will usher them out the door.

Then there are the ones who come to a new school for the purpose of challenging the instructor or his system. While you may think this behavior is only exhibited by fictional characters in martial arts movies, these types do exist and have shown up on the doorsteps of many a dojo. These people have failed to develop the true attitude of a martial artist. They are easy to spot because all they want to do is spar and be paired up with other students so they can try to hurt them. They in turn have the most to fear, because they may very well be taught a much deserved lesson when stepping into a school where the instructor and his students know what they are doing and are able to deliver.

Students who were not taught good basics present a special challenge because the new instructor has to undo the mess created by the previous one. Their stances are weak and wobbly...their kicks are off balance ... they can't throw a punch with any shred of power. They may have learned many fancy kicks and complicated combinations, but they can't even execute a basic front kick properly. They were pushed along and fed new material when they couldn't even do the basics. They have developed very bad habits and now the new instructor has inherited the privilege of having to undo the mess created by another school. Some martial art instructors feel pressured to give new material to students when they can barely do the basics. Many times, the instructor has to walk a tightrope in terms of keeping people interested and coming back to the school. Western students may perceive that they are not getting their money's worth if they are not constantly learning something new. An instructor who has traditionally learned that a good foundation is essential, may feel pressured to giving the student newer and newer material. A good instructor knows how to strike a balance by teaching a good foundation and keeping the student interested. This type of student may not be willing to start all over again, unless they are true to themselves and realize that they can improve.

The Calasanz Approach to Welcoming Experienced Students

While there are many challenges when teaching people with previous experience, I welcome those students to my dojo because of the richness they bring to martial arts training. I have many longtime, faithful students who have come from other systems and their loyalty and contributions to my school have been phenomenal. I continue to get more students from other systems everyday because of what my system has to offer.

I am not of the opinion, as some instructors are, that the experienced student should forget all he or she has learned. I carefully look for the assets they have brought with them from another discipline, and build up their current strengths with my system of martial arts and fitness training. If I get a tae kwon do stylist for instance, he will have a certain way of throwing a side kick that is quite different from the Calasanz System kick. I don't expect this student to forget what he has learned, but rather show him another way of doing something. Now he has two kicks to rely on instead of one.

Our experienced student body is not limited to martial artists. We have many students who are dancers, for example. I enhance their skills by combining my martial arts expertise with their poise, balance and flexibility. There is no need for them to discard what they have spent so many years learning. I take this same approach with martial artists, dancers, body builders, boxers, wrestlers and any other individual who has spent time disciplining the body in any art.

I also place a great deal of emphasis on good, strong basics. I am a firm believer that there is no martial art without good basics. This means that stances, kicks, punches, blocks and evasion techniques must be learned, practiced regularly and never forgotten. I build good habits in all my students and feel that it is my job to fix the bad ones. I focus on teaching students to be skilled technicians rather than relying on brutality to accomplish their goals as martial artists. In order to gain that skill, they must begin with good habits.

I also encourage new, experienced students to take pride in the techniques that they know and do well. I don't want my students to deposit their ego at the door ... but rather come in with respect for what they have learned and for what I have to teach them. This mutual understanding and respect is the cornerstone of the relationship between the instructor and the student and the attitude we encourage all of the students here to cultivate.

"While there are many challenges when teaching people with previous experience, I welcome those students to my dojo because of the richness they bring to martial arts training. I have many longtime, faithful students who have come from other systems and their loyalty and contributions to my school have been phenomenal."