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The Power of Spirit

By Christopher Caile

I was meeting a friend at his martial arts school recently. While waiting for him, I looked in on a class. What immediately struck me was the teacher. He seemed just to be going through the motions.

He just stood there giving commands with no facial expression, except perhaps tiredness. There was no spirit in his voice or his actions. I thought to myself, “this teacher is failing his students.”

This teacher was forgetting that for each student in his class this was probably his only class of the day, his only encounter with that teacher.

It reminded me how important spirit and enthusiasm are. In teaching they are critical factors in attracting and retaining students. Even if the teacher has physical limitations, if these factors are present, they more than compensate.

The teachers we remember, those we look up to and are inspired by, are those who energized us with their love of their art, the spirit by which they taught and by the words and stories that inspired us.

Many years ago in Buffalo, New York, where I lived at the time, at the State University there was a teacher named Jake. Although he had a bad hip and walked with a cane when not in class, his classes were inspirational.

He taught on the University’s North Campus in a dark basement area covered with ribbed rubber mats. This was obviously not an ideal area, but when I visited there must have been 80 students there.

Jake’s magic was his personality, his spirit and his enthusiasm. His class was a bit old school with lots of repetition mixed with strict etiquette. He would lead class with a deep, bellowing authoritative voice, but also mix in humor and smiles. His speech moved through English, Spanish, to Japanese and some Korean.

Throughout class he motivated his students with his spirit, and his spirited cadence. He loved karate and loved teaching. It showed and his enthusiasm was infectious.

He was able to convey the feeling that each student mattered, and challenged each of them to do his or her best. He develop within his students an unstoppable spirit and drive to make them feel like they could do anything if they put the effort into it – all through the practice of karate.

This bred excitement, and students became more interested and were less likely to drop out.

I’m not talking about contrived methods for creating enthusiasm – a spoken creed, or the use of clapping in class. I’m speaking of conveying your own excitement and love for you art through your teaching. I’m speaking of your ability to inspire and challenge your students.

Teachers may have different ways of achieving this goal. Each of us is different. But, if you find yourself just going though the motions and not enjoying teaching, you are likely letting down your students. They will be less motivated and less likely to continue their studies.

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 43 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes judo, aikido, diato-ryu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

teaching martial arts, motivation, martial arts spirit, martial arts business

Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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