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Webster’s dictionary has two primary entries for the word legendary:
1 : of, relating to, or characteristic of legend or a legend
2 : well-known, famous
Initially, I almost feel arrogant or facetious making a claim that I want to be a legendary martial arts instructor. I know that I am not attempting to really become a part of a folkloric legend, some sort of ninja of the night that frees the world of modern day travesties, such as smartphone addiction. Or, even a popular celebrity martial artist, such as the likes of Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee. But, when you really get to the core of this, I realize that there could be a third entry for the word legendary, in the context I am proposing:
3 : becoming worthy of legend, via way of impacting a person’s life to a great degree
That is what interests me. How can I be a legendary martial arts instructor? How can you be a legendary martial arts instructor?
First, what if you had the desire to be “well-known, famous” as the second entry described? From my other research and life experiences, I see a few things come into play.
If you are an everyday strip mall martial arts teacher, following the latest and greatest business consultant’s advice, you may very well make a reasonable living. But will the financial impact match the teaching impact? By offering a unique point of view, your teaching will not only penetrate deeper, but will become stickier, and easier to share. I am not encouraging you to make up a new style, words, or drills for the sake of being different. But, simply let your uniqueness shine through. If you are more verbal, faster, stronger, more analytical, more emotional, interested in the history of your art, or whatever – highlight that strong suit of yours and make it part of your unique point of view.
To become a well-known martial arts instructor, and perhaps achieve the status of “legendary”, you will need a large reach. By reach, I don’t just mean your active student base, but your entire audience. If you are truly passionate about your art, its benefits, and your unique point of view, reaching for a larger audience is paradoxically simple. The audience will come to you – if you position yourself properly.
If you set up shop in a cave on the side of a mountain, you may very well be the sagest of practitioners, but you are blocking the multitude from being able to access your gifts. With the dawn of the internet age, it has never been simpler to expand your reach. Here are a few ideas:
How deep do your teachings go? Are they purely for the physical? You may very well get a group of students into fighting shape over the course of a few months, but what else? What if they stop training? They would simply revert to their previous state, and it was as if you never impacted their lives – that is not legendary. Legendary would imply a lasting impact, one that stays even once the teacher is no longer in the student’s life. This is where it gets very interesting, and purposeful for a teacher.
For a popular instructor to have a lasting impact, their point of view and teachings must transcend the norm. There must be substance behind their communication and movements. There may be personal stories, experiences, history, and a collective wellspring of knowledge that enriches their instructions. Rather than just learning karate from this teacher, the student is led to a life where they are in control of their own destiny.
“Legendary would imply a lasting impact, one that stays even once the teacher is no longer in the student’s life.”
Let’s return to our third definition: becoming worthy of legend, via way of impacting a person’s life to a great degree. Having a large student base and consequently, a very busy life is not for every teacher. For some, they are placed in this world to transform a small group of individuals, or perhaps even just one person. Can they become a legendary instructor? Yes, through a combination of the principles that we covered earlier, and with deep caring.
As an instructor, you must have a personal mission statement or instructor purpose. It will be different for everyone. Mine is: “To help each student on their personal journey of self-mastery.” Yours might be related to going to the Olympics, it might be about character development, it might be about fitness, or self defense, or transformation. My personal instructor purpose guides everything that I do: from my curriculum, class plans, testing process, personal interaction, character assignments, and community projects.
It is not some mission statement that I wrote out one day after a seminar, just to feel like I was doing something. I know that my purpose is to help students remove the roadblocks to self-mastery, rather than just teaching them how to fight or defend a choke. I still teach the martial arts with integrity and a commitment to understanding the physical mechanics, the body’s anatomy, fitness, and even nutrition. But, at a deeper level, I know my students will not remember me for correcting their round kick. They won’t remember me for having them do push ups if they were late to class. They’ll know that their martial arts journey to black belt helped them to not only add a skill set to their toolkit, but remove the fears, inhibitions, and lack that once may have lied within. They are less dependent on others, and have found that, although it might sound cliche, the answers already lied within.
I was lucky enough to show them that. Maybe that will make me legendary from the perspective of one of my students. Maybe it will make me legendary from the public’s perspective. Only time will tell. I need to go get ready for my next class.
Do you know any legendary martial arts instructors? Please share in a comment below!
Michael Hodge is the founder & head instructor of Ultimate Bo, and teaches this art on the Global Martial Arts University. He also runs a kids-only private academy in rural North Texas.