When an advanced student moves on

longsword sihouette
Silhouette of a longsword on the banks of Loch Lomond. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2012.

For some years now, I have been mulling over the decision I made about six years ago to take a break from karate in order to study historical fencing in more depth. I didn’t have the time or the finances to study both disciplines at the same time, so I had to prioritise one or the other.

With fourteen years experience of karate, and with my black belt, I decided to retire (temporarily, I hope!) from that art. My reasoning was that I should be able to return to it fairly easily at any point in time, and I expected to mature as a martial artist by broadening my studies.

However, I sometimes feel bad for stepping back from that organisation, and specifically from the club and instructor who gave me fourteen years of tuition, who taught me the rudiments of how a body can move, and who gave me the help and building blocks I needed in order to undertake a meaningful study of historical fencing (or indeed any martial art hereafter).

Similarly, sometimes I feel a little sad when my own advanced students move on: sometimes they leave my club to concentrate on university, or to deal with life, or to move to another country, or whatever their reason might be.

I never feel betrayed. I don’t see myself as the leader of a cult, and I certainly don’t want to lead a cult. I want my students to remain because they see value in studying and training with me. Any other point of view on the matter would be unhealthy, to say the least.

However, sometimes I see so much potential in students, and when they retire from studying with me, I feel frustrated that so much talent may go to waste, or that I never had the opportunity to help my student learn to shine. Sometimes I have hopes for helping my advanced students become instructors in their own right, seeing further clubs open up and more people begin training as a result.

But what I have to bear in mind, when I think back to the break I took from Shoto Budo, is that the skills that I learned from that organisation have not gone to waste; instead, they have allowed me to help many people reconstruct and learn our traditional European arts. I’m sure my karate instructor felt some sadness when I stepped back from karate to pursue historical fencing, but I know that it was his input for fourteen years when I was going through my teens and early twenties that prepared me for this task.

So I think to myself these days, when one of my advanced students moves on, that perhaps their skills and talents will not be lost. Maybe they can take what they have learned from training with me and use that knowledge to help another organisation, or to further the study of another art. Perhaps they will continue the legacy that I managed to pass along to them them, continuing to study a martial art in pursuit of personal development and the development of those around them.

So perhaps my loss is another organisation’s gain. I hope that I have continued the legacy that my karate instructor gave me: a thirst for knowledge and understanding of my arts, and a drive to become a better person through the study of martial arts. And I hope that my students receive this legacy from me and take it forwards, in whatever organisation, art or discipline they choose to follow.