There are two great benefits to teaching martial arts. One is the way that teaching makes you a better martial artist. It pushes you to improve your own skills. That was driven home to me the first night I taught classes--October 1, 1997. As I stood in front of a small group of young guys, I realized that they were looking to me as an expert, and if I made a mistake, I would lose their respect. The pressure to be perfect is intense for a teacher.
The other great thing about teaching is friendship. A few students along the way become much more than students--they become family. The first week I taught classes, two young guys came in to see what was happening. Richie Coulter and Chad Steinke were teenagers. Richie had a brown belt in TKD but was curious about kung fu. The photo shows Chad on left and Richie on right.
They took to the training and became obsessed, rarely missing a class. After four months, Richie said that he had already learned more from me than in 2 years of taekwondo. It was an amazing compliment and one I'll never forget. Over the next four years, he became a legend on the tournament circuit. I've seen him memorize a complex form and compete with it, winning first place among a large group of karate and TKD students, and all within two weeks! He was a natural.
I didn't know how to take Chad at first. In the early classes, he seemed a little resistant and kept comparing the art to karate and other arts. He developed as a martial artist, too, and brought me a lot of pride. Over time, I realized what a wonderful person he is with a huge, generous heart.
These two guys became like sons to me, but also, despite the age difference, like best friends. After Rich got his black sash (still my only one), he became involved in college, fatherhood, and the pressure to pay the bills. Chad began work, got married, and now is studying at Iowa State University. We still email each other all the time.
Rich came back after a long absence, only to tear his ACL while doing a sword form, putting him out of action for another year. He now lives in Pella and has put together a wonderful life with his son and soon-to-be wife. Chad came back to classes last year and it was a wonderful little stretch of time training together until he went to Ames.
These are the kind of students all teachers hope for.
I believe all teachers are disappointed when students join the class, become part of your school, and then suddenly vanish without even a goodbye or a thank you. It is one of the things that has disappointed me most about people. I give all students as much as I can. The ones who just vanish after becoming a student and friend don't quite understand the relationship.
This fall, ten years will have passed since Rich and Chad walked into my class. They pushed me forward, and helped me develop as a martial artist and a teacher. A lifelong friendship began that night, and we didn't even realize it.