Tuesday, June 12, 2018


     When I was a kid, I taught myself to play the guitar. 
     I had a fool for a teacher and an idiot for a student. I taught myself lots of things that seemed fine in the context of 3-chord rock-and roll, but turned out to be real handicaps when I tried to play Bach.  

                         (Not my band; but I was in one just like it. Just add black leather jackets)

     I later found a wonderful guitar teacher, and he taught me a hundred little tricks and secrets that I would never have figured out intuitively, all by myself. For example, are you aware that you don’t have to blow into it?

     It’s very common in martial arts to have some kind of a skill-ranking system. That makes perfect sense. In many eastern martial arts, such as karate, ranks are often designated by different colored belts  (a system devised by Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, in the late 19th century).
     Quite often, there are many more students in a school than there are teachers, and the more “advanced” students are put in charge of the less advanced students. 
    Typically, The Sensei works with the highest ranking students, while a lower-ranked student is put in charge of the rank beginners.
     When a student works his way up through all the ranks, he/she is anointed a “teacher.”  Now, these “teachers” may be very good at DOING the thing they do, because they had a great deal of instruction and practice in how to do the thing they do. But few -- if any -- have any training in TEACHING.  For good or for ill -- and usually for ill -- they simply mimic their Sensei (sometimes right down to his/her accent!)
     DOING the thing and TEACHING the thing are two SEPARATE -- though closely related -- skill sets.  Having one of them does NOT mean you have the other.

     Here’s a little pop quiz for you. It helps if you’re a boxing fan, but you’ll recognize some of these names even if you’re not.
     QUESTION: What do Willie Pastrano, Luis Manual Rodriguez, Carmen Basilio, Jimmy Ellis, George Scott, Jose Napoles,  Ralph Dupas, Pinklon Thomas,  Trevor Berbick, Sugar Ramos, Wilfredo Gomez, Michael Nunn, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali all have in common?


     If you guessed that they’re all boxing champions, good for you.
     What’s the other important thing they all have in common?
     THIS guy.
    Angelo Dundee.
     He's the guy who trained them.

     Know how many professional boxing titles Angelo Dundee held, himself?
     Know how many times he was a top contender for a title?
     Know how many professional fights he had?
     Know how many amateur titles he won?

     Angelo Dundee did not become a great boxing trainer by being a great boxer. He became a great trainer by watching great trainers at Stillman’s Gym, and devoting himself to the art and science of training boxers.
     Dundee was not a "master boxer," or even a "boxer."
     You could say that Dundee was a “Boxing Master.”

     When I was studying under Maitre d’Armes Jean-Jacques Gillet at his American Fencing Academy, we weren’t there to become great fencers, we were there to become great teachers.
     Our definition of a fencing master was someone who could teach any person (young, old, male, female, athlete, non-athlete) how to use any sword (foil, epee, sabre, longsword, rapier and dagger, smallsword) for any purpose (recreation, sport, theatre, or earnest combat). 
     We used to say that a true fencing master was someone whom you could lock in an empty room with some strange kind of weapon he/she had never seen before, and by the end of the day, they could train you to wield it effectively.

    I’ve been self-taught and I’ve been trained by a pro. I’ve been a student many, many times, and a teacher for quite a while.  I can offer you this recommendation from my direct experience: If you want to learn something, don’t look for someone who knows how to DO it; look for someone who knows how to TEACH it, and do whatever they tell you to do. Get the best teacher you can right at the beginning so you don’t have to try to “un-learn” bad habits later.
   I wish someone had given me that advice early in my ill-spent youth.
   Would have saved my pucker.