Everyone has heard the old saying, “There are no Stupid Questions only Stupid Answers!”
I have to admit that at times, you will hear a question that just makes you shake your head but you have to be able to address the person in a manner that will educate them.
For the most part, anyone that asks a question is doing so to learn. They either don’t understand or don’t have the experience. It is your job, not only as an instructor but as a person. To try to help that person understand. Be polite, understanding and informative in your answer.
There is no need to shun the person or shame them for asking you a question.
Recently, I was asked by a none martial arts practitioner, “Do your students call you Sensei?”
To a martial artist, this is a no-brainer but to a non-martial artist it is valid. They might not understand that the term Sensei basically means teacher. He didn’t understand that all instructors of a Japanese martial art are referred to as Sensei unless they are a Master (Shihan).
Use questions as part of your teaching. There was a time that you could not ask a question of the instructors. You followed blindly and tried to absorb what was being taught. Now, for the most part, that era is gone. Instructors accept questions. Sometimes they are great questions. Asking for clarity on techniques or to understand theory a little better. The problem is questions that are off topic or distract from class. These might be annoying but treat them as every other question. Important! You need to try to answer them in a way that will bring the student back to centre and have them focus on the training at hand.
Another thing to remember is that some people learn in different manners. Some are able to see something and understand it immediately. Other will require reading about what is being taught while others learn by touch. If the same student is always asking questions than they might require a different manner of teaching to help them understand.
Remember if the question is never asked, will it ever be answered?!?
Now that we have covered “Stupid Questions,” how about “Stupid Answers”!
It is important as an instructor to make sure that you know what you are talking about. It is okay to stay, “I’m not sure! Let me check.” I have a digital copy of kata books on my phone. If in class, I have a student ask a kata question, I tell them what I think the answer is then I double check. Reference material is available for a reason. Use it! I am not going to tell anyone that my word is law. No one is perfect! I make mistakes and so does everyone else. Sometimes it is best to use the references available to you. Check for the answer. Let your student know that you are not 100% sure and that you will check into it. Now the problem is if you are doing this for every question. Be confident in your answers. You are the instructor for a reason. If you are always second guessing yourself, then your student will start questioning everything.
Don’t become a “Master Ken”! I love Matt Page’s character and the video series Enter the Dojo. Master Ken has become an icon in the Martial Arts industry. He is a representation of what is wrong with martial arts instructors. Master Ken is a “McDojo” Instructor. An instructor that promotes himself, has created his own style which is superior to all others and makes excuses about why something does not work. Matt Page said that Master Ken is the compilation of all the bad instructors that he has had over the years. Instructors that are full of themselves and are never wrong obviously make for bad instructors.
As a general rule of thumb, you should look at every question as an opportunity to teach someone something. You will get questions that will be annoying and out of left field but you need to be able to take these and turn them into teachable moments. Don’t shame the person asking the question because it will be you that looks bad. If the student asks the same questions over and over, then they didn’t understand the previous times that you explained it to them. Try a different method to answer their question. Remember, you are the instructor. Your job is to shape the minds of your students. Give them the tools they need to learn in a healthy environment.