During a recent Kenpo class, one of the students asked “When do you start teaching?” The girl who asked is a pretty sharp 12 year old. She clarified to mean do all black belts teach or learn to teach. At the time of this writing, I’m not yet a black belt, but have been teaching for a while at our school because Kenpo is something I’m very passionate about. Students learn best from people who love what they’re teaching. Enthusiasm for the subject becomes contagious.
Being passionate for a subject doesn’t automatically make you a good teacher for it. Teaching is a skill, which must be learned, practiced, and refined, just like martial arts. In the Ed Parker Kenpo karate system, as part of the Green Belt pledge, it says “I shall obligate myself under the direction of my instructor to learn the skills of a teacher which will enable me to teach my skills in the prescribed manner outlined by Mr. Parker.” So, yes, learning to teach is in the system, but not really a test-able requirement.
Many students, though, begin to learn to teach much earlier. Teaching other people helps you to learn the material even better. We encourage some students to begin teaching before being on their way to Green Belt, so they do comprehend the information deeper. But also because some students, with a pension for teaching, have an opportunity to flourish in the skill and will, ultimately, become better leaders.
Teaching requires creativity and persistence. It’s one thing to show a student how and why the movements work. But it may be different to convey the idea in a way they understand or can also enjoy. Sometimes a student won’t understand the move the first way you show it to them. You have to be creative and come up with a new method, which fits the way the student learns best. Trial and error may be necessary to help different students learn different ways. To understand and apply the nuances of teaching is more than you can expect anyone to master on the road a black belt. It could take years to develop this level of teaching skills, especially without formalized instructor training.
The counter side, of course, is teaching isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t like to teach or some people just don’t connect very well with others. There’s nothing wrong with either situation. Being a good teacher isn’t a requirement to be a black belt. (Perhaps despite what the public believes.)
To circle back to the original question of when do you start teaching, the answer is when your instructor believes you know the subject well enough to help someone else. Whether it’s in martial arts or not, everyone has something they can teach. Everyone may not want to be a teacher. Those who do though, understand and greatly appreciate the students who want to learn.