I have many students with special needs. You may notice I did not place the often and in my opinion stupid “Quotations” in that phrase simply because.. well… it’s stupid.
A life spent studying and dedicating yourself to the martial arts prepares you for much in this world. You are confident, focused, often a bit more disciplined than most. What it does not prepare you for is how to teach. I know I have spoken about this before and suffice to say it is no easy task. There are many things that quite frankly only “teaching” can teach…. See what I mean… Dumb.
Over the years I have been given the opportunity to instruct young people that have had everything from quirks to all out conditions. From medical needs to mental challenges, from dietary considerations to, well…. what most would call nerds.
One such student came to me as a combination of several of these. Over weight, learning disorder, social issues ect… And when he first came to class, even with all my gained knowledge, I truly doubted I could keep him interested for longer than the two introductory lessons.
It did not start well. I am from the old school when it comes to running my classes and I expect the students to follow the orders they are given. Other conditions include penalties for say, dropping your sword or shield, swearing, or pretty much anything else I do not think appropriate. (The list is long but distinguished ;-)
My student did not take well to this at first. Was unable to perform a single push up (10 was often a penalty for an offense) Could not hold a Plank position for more than a few seconds. During sparing or more vigorous activity the student would get to the point of tears in frustration over their own lack of endurance or embarrassment in thinking the rest of the class thought they were weak.
The days and weeks carried on and my student showed up every week. Slowly though, I started to see a change. In behavior for sure. But also from the other students. All of them took pride in going through the sessions with each other. I must say that quirky, among other things defined this student. During sparring or even pell drills I would hear grunts and panting, groans and sometimes a battle cry! I would think to myself, “Wow, I wonder what theme music goes on in that mind?” Was it Ride of the Valkryies? Ode to Joy? Enter Sandman?
Over the years my student was still with me. Still learning and taking every challenge with equal amounts of determination coupled with a completely immersed fantasy of Assassin’s Creed and the Transformers, with a kick or two lifted from the Power Rangers! In other words, a delight to teach. Because it made me work outside of every box I had ever made. And kept me honest about knowing that I know nothing.
It often makes me wonder that the way to teach and be taught has only loose boundaries. Because the students that come are both unique and the same all at once. I often tell my students, “Be proud! You are a single special snowflake! Just like every one else…”
It is more than an honor to be able to teach students with special needs. Mainly because it teaches us as instructors that everyone has them, and the best instructor can adapt and bend to what the student needs to learn.
I guess that it is more than learning and dedicating to an art. More than learning all over again how to teach effectively and to make the art you love a part of you. More than making that love for it inspire your students to greater things albeit martial arts of just social confidence.
I guess that is what it will be like to be a “Master”….. See, still stupid.