Friday, February 18, 2011

Guest Post: Why Do I Teach?

It's my privilege and pleasure to offer you a little something from a long-time and much beloved brother-in-arms.
He's an actor, screenwriter, film-maker (you may have seen his superb documentary AMERICAN JOUSTER), musician, swordsman and for many years a jouster at the various and ever-popular "renaissance faires" around the country.
He's trained other "knights" for the shows and even trained some of the real stars --- the horses!


Why do I teach?

 by Richard P. Alvarez

It is certainly not for the money.

I’ve recently started teaching again. A small group of my son’s friends – eight to be exact – requested I teach them classical foil and saber. The token fees they pay go to cover the use of the gym facility – I don’t make a dime.

So why do I do it? Probably for the same reasons that any teacher faces a student.

“We teach best, that which we most need to learn” – Richard Bach, from “Illusions.” Does this mean that I need to learn the basics of classical fencing? Well yes and no. Certainly I’ve acquired the knowledge of how to perform the basic movements years ago – and I have a shelf of dusty old volumes that outline various approaches to teaching them.

But the actual experience of imparting that knowledge to someone who has never experienced it – allows me to experience it anew. It forces me to see it fresh from their perspective - A perspective that I might not share or even be capable of imagining. And the struggle that they exhibit, along with the delight in their eyes when they ‘get it’ is a simple delight that I never tire of. So call it a ‘contact high’ if you will.

Teaching is not a recitation of known paradigms; it is an exploration into preconceived notions, and an illumination of hidden reservoirs of strengths. No area is off limits. The effort to find a metaphor that the student can relate to – pushes my own concept and understanding of a principle into areas I hadn’t even considered.  I can find metaphors in music, dance, most other martial arts and even driving a car.

“Do you drive a car?” The usual answer is yes.

“How long is it? How wide?” - I’ve never met someone who actually knows in inches the exact wheelbase of the car they drive.

“And yet, you know when you eyeball a parking space, if it will fit. You know where the tires are, underneath you. You know where the back bumper is, because hours and hours of sitting in that car has made it an EXTENSION of your body. When you get behind the wheel of a strange vehicle – you have difficulty making those judgments. It takes many hours to make the car an extension of your body. It’s going to take many, MANY hours to make the blade an extension of your arm.”

“AH” the light goes on in their eyes. And so they have come to an understanding of ‘sentiment du fer’  Sure, they get it. It’s not going to come easy. They won’t master this move in a few lessons. But if they work at it they will get better.

All of the Maitre’ des Arms I have had the privilege of studying with have been very creative souls. They were musicians, artists, mimes and quite often highly trained military men with combat experience as well. I loved learning what they had to share, because they loved SHARING it.

Knowing that I’m imparting knowledge to someone else, along with at least a little of the love I have for the art – gives me a sense of accomplishment. Planting seeds is a way to create. Planting the seed of knowledge is a form of creativity.

I teach because it’s one more outlet for my creativity. And we are closest to our highest, our truest natures when we are creating.

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