What is a “Good” Student Anyway?

gene-dunn-dojo-good-student-brazilian-jiu-jitsuI’ve always loved being a student.

I like learning new things, so being a good student came naturally for me. Plus having a teacher for a mom helped. I got to see all the work she put into her lesson plans; I got to see first hand how much her students meant to her.

(In fact, when I was little sometimes I would get jealous of how much time she’d spend focused on her students. She always talked about what a great job teaching was, and how it might make sense as a career for me one day. Always the good student, I’d have my answer ready: “Not interested but thanks anyway, Mom.”

At the time I thought she meant it was a good option because of the schedule and the pay and the benefits. But it took me a while to understand that she had experienced something very profound – that changing the lives of others changes yours, too. More about that in a moment.)

So I had a good model early on. And since I had always thought of myself as a good student, once I began in the martial arts, I naturally continued to think of myself that way.

When the instructor would demonstrate a technique, I made it my job to focus on the steps, listening and applying what was said.

Giving it all in class, I was perpetually pushing my body to do more – more pushups, more sit-ups, more of whatever exercise we were doing at the moment – because my teacher told me to push myself.

I mean, I had to live up to being a good student, right? That’s what I thought being a student meant, do what you are told, learn what is being taught, follow the directions.

You give your teachers your time and focus and in return they give you knowledge and skills.

So I always thought of it as an exchange. If I held up my end of the deal, they had to hold up theirs.

Put differently…that my teachers owe me something if I do what they say.

But as I progressed in the martial arts here, I realized that I wasn’t being taught in that way. It wasn’t just an exchange of attention for information.

There was something else going on. Something behind the information…

…something in the philosophy.

The funny thing about being a student is you can hear the same message over and over again, but once you change something inside yourself the message seems to change, too.

You can take away a new lesson:

  • That being a good student doesn’t mean blindly following the lessons, but being open to change.
  • That the teacher’s job isn’t to give you skill or knowledge or anything else; in fact, it’s your job to be open and take what they share and apply it.
  • That our teachers don’t owe us anything, but what we owe them is being open to growth, to change.
  • That we need to be open to what they’re sharing so we can focus on creating something new.
  • That when we pass what we’ve learned along to the next group of students who come along, we’re doing for them what our teachers have done for us. 

I’ve come to believe that a truly great teacher wants to help their student surpass them. They want to help the progression of change and knowledge. So to be a good student we need to let go of feeling like we’re owed something and focus on what we can give.

And not only that, but looking internally on what we can give up so we can hear a different message, so we can create a deeper understanding of the lesson.

The practice of helping others out rather than expecting something from them, makes a great difference.  It also might be at the root of my mother’s enjoyment of teaching and what she hoped that I would understand.

And above all I have come to believe that this synthesis of doing and understanding, of working hard and staying open, is truly what it means to be a good student.


Ms. Nova Parrish is a California native who has been in Brooklyn since 2010. She started at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a student and has been a dedicated staff member since 2012. She is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and brown belt in both Shotokan Karate and Muay Thai Kickboxing. She feels grateful for being able to share all the martial arts has given her with others.

One thought on “What is a “Good” Student Anyway?

  1. This post really connected to something for me. I do sometimes feel like I’m hearing the same advice, suggestions, recommendations and stuff all the time…but then one day I’ll be in class and feel like, “Hey, I’m hearing something different.” It has less to do with what’s being said and more to do with what I’m hearing. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *