By Professor Lynch
I have long believed that one of the most valuable aspects of martial arts training is the relationship between student and teacher. It doesn’t exist in any other activity or lifestyle in the way it does for us in the martial arts.
There’s no doubt in my mind that it has been an absolutely crucial component to my success.
My teacher plays a unique role in my life because he doesn’t always give me what I *want*, but instead gives me what I *need*. He provides me with what I require for my project of overcoming my own weakest elements.
By endlessly furnishing me with chances to learn, he has helped teach me humility and compassion and generosity. He teaches me how to love my students, training partners and my family more. He continues to teach me how to accept new levels of accountability, responsibility, technical ability…the list goes on and on and on. The things that I’ve learned from him I wouldn’t trade for anything.
For my part, it’s critical that I do everything I can to make sure that our relationship as student teacher stays intact. This is an ongoing process, and because he’s always asking me to revisit and reconsider so many of my creature comforts, I have to guard against my own resistance sometimes.
That means I can’t just toe the line. I have to deliberately keep myself on the “student” side. I do this knowing that he will do what he has to do to stay on the teacher side of the line, and together we keep the relationship alive and healthy.
The most helpful thing I discovered in my own career as a student is also one of the simplest. It goes like this:
You see, we’ve already established our relationship and we’ve already earned each other’s trust. I’ve accepted him as my teacher and he has accepted me as his student and we have both accepted the dojo floor as the learning space.
So I feel completely comfortable and confident in saying, “Oss, Professor!”
to just about anything.
Even when I think I might know something, even when I think I might have this situation figured out, it’s still “Oss, Professor!”.
And its not just because he’s always right. It’s because when he is teaching me it’s another moment of another day where he is giving something to me, where he’s taking the time and spending his energy for me.
So “Oss, Professor” is a way to show him that I’m grateful. And to show him that I am his student, and I am always willing and eager to listen.
If I were to stop saying that – or get argumentative or combative or snarky or sarcastic in the face of a suggestion – it would mean that our relationship had changed. Implicit in our “Oss” is an acknowledgement of mutual trust.
Plus I don’t really ever want to present myself to him in a way that says, “I got it all figured out,” because I certainly don’t. That’s why I need a teacher. If I start acting as if I know already – or if I know better – then it’s as good as saying, “Thanks, but I no longer need you.”
The teacher can be such a powerful role-model and mentor that I believe it’s very natural to want to be like your teacher. I know that I am actively emulating the way he approaches Jiu-Jitsu and the way he solves problems. I am always listening intently to the way he communicates his thoughts and vision for the world.
With all the years of trying to be like him, it is tempting to tell myself that I’ve “arrived” – that we are equals, that I’ve learned all the lessons diligently and that now he and I are the same.
It would be so great, I tell myself, because it would mean that I’ve gotten what I always wanted.
But it would also mean that I’ve lost what I always needed: a teacher. Someone who will always see a little more than me. Someone who will always hold me to an incredibly high standard. Someone who will always be the model that I aspire to. Someone who will continue to give and care and love and teach me to be a better person.
I am protective of that relationship. I believe it’s good for me, good for my family, good for my relationships, good for my emotional health. I learn from it daily. And it’s why I’m committed to this notion of humility and gratitude.