What makes a good instructor? With Tony Carr

Tony Carr from Carr Goshinjitsu talks about his experiences in martial arts, and gives his advice on finding a good martial arts instructor...

So you want to learn self-defence, how do you find a good instructor? This is a universally difficult question to answer, here are a few tips.

It doesn’t matter how many Dans they have, either on their gradings or in the dojo (I've met many a Dan in a dojo).

It doesn’t matter how many tournaments or trophies they’ve won.

It doesn’t matter if they can do a flying kick and claim to be able to dismount a man on a horse with it.

None of this matters on the street, I studied Meibukai Karate for a number of years in my twenties, my Sensei was technically brilliant, he did have many trophies to his name, he did have a few Dans.

However, he would step away from traditional Kata and Tournament work every so often and teach us about self-defence, in a practical and sensible way.

In one of the first of such lessons he proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that he had experienced Street conflicts, the real test of mind-body and spirit, where each decision can be the difference between life and death rather than a muffed kata or a failed grading.

A young Karateka piped up “Sensei, what’s the most effective kick if you are fighting multiple opponents in the street”? We were expecting some suggestions like “Front Kick”, “Side Kick”, “Round House Kick” etc. Sensei paused, then simply told us of how he “Won” against some thugs in his youth, when he was faced by three muggers in South Africa, he used a two footed technique.

The lesson came to and end at that point and there was no time to ask further on the subject. A few days later a few of us were outside the Dojo, warming up. The young Karateka who asked the question asked three of us to pretend to attack him in slow motion, so he could try some kicks.

He tried combinations of front then side kicks, front then roundhouse, a fancy jumping kick with both feet, like a WWF champ, etc.

These were fairly easily avoided or parried and it became doubtful as to how effective they would be against a coordinated attack by determined muggers, out to seriously hurt anyone who put up resistance.

During the lesson we asked the Sensei to explain his previous comment about winning with two feet. He had three of us stand around him in the middle of the class, he began talking to us in a placatory manner, explaining as he did so that he would in reality he would be trying to reduce the tension and manage his fear.

As we began to relax a little, he turned to one of us and shouted loudly, straight into his face. Instinctively the recipient recoiled a step, Sensei pushed through the gap and bolted for the Dojo exit, temporarily vanishing into the darkness outside.

He returned a little while later and said to the class, “Life is not like the movies, we are not all Bruce Lee or Bill Wallace, fear and adrenaline can weaken the strongest mind and leave you vulnerable. Winning by both feet is about creating an exit from the situation, and escaping as fast as you can. It is better to avoid a battle and live to see another day than to he a hero and live on as a memory the day after”.

So my advice on Self-Defence instructors? Find one with real world experience, or at least find someone who has studied with those who have had such experiences, if all else fails, find an instructor who says that nothing you learn is guaranteed to work in the heat of the moment but can show you tangible evidence of it having worked in the past.

Above all, find an instructor who doesn’t fantasise about what they would do if their life was on the line. This way you are more likely to find a good one.