I was recently having a conversation with some other martial arts instructors of various styles. One of the things that came up was the fact that, for the most part, along with the physical stimulus that training provides, one of the things that’d kept us involved for so long was feeling a sense of richness through involvement with the people and ideas of another culture. Now, I don’t want to say that this is or must be an interest for all students. But for us, in common, it’s been an integral part of our practice and, as such a priority in our instruction.
So how do we convey that to our students? As importantly, how do we convey that in a way that doesn’t diminish the reasons that each individual has for investing their time and energy into an activity that often has no reward other than that which the participant gleans?
Is it timely? Sometimes a moment presents itself. Perhaps a situation occurs, a movement or idea reveals itself and, in this time a historical or cultural reference is the perfect framing feature. It might give context for a way of doing things or for the evolution of a concept. It might, as well, give some insight into the mindset of those figures who had, at times, practical reasons for the design of their craft.
Is it enriching? For many students, having a deeper knowledge of the practice to which they have dedicated themselves gives them a greater sense of purpose. They come to see themselves as guardians of ideas and, in the most fortunate of instances, as researchers who dispel myths and contribute to the archive of developmental resources.
Is it relevant? Class isn’t the time to bloviate about all of your past accomplishments, about the awards you’ve won or the opponents you’ve beaten. Check yourself and, if it isn’t in service of the practice maybe keep it til you’re out having a drink with your buddies. Remember that your stories and the ideas they convey become part of the culture of your school as well.
Integrating history and culture into the practice of your students takes a real sense of scope and a strong concept of what you hope for your community to embody. You are shaping values in subtle ways. It can be tremendously enriching or it can be the “turn-off” that pushes hard training students out the door. Done well, it turns your students into teachers and re-creates the story as a living thing.