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What makes a good teacher?

Posted on 15 January 2008 by chan

better teacher


This question has riddled me for many years. My perceptions have changed and matured over much thought and deliberation. The best way I can explain it is through some teachings I have had.


I was sitting in a small cosy three storey apartment in the middle of Antwerpen, Belgium. My mestre and I were conversing into the night, with comfortable silences and treasured words. The black blanket of the night sky, refreshed me, as the cosy apartment gave me warmth. But it was deeper than that, it was my masters words, of what he said, and what he didn’t say, that kept me alive.


I asked my mestre after much deliberation and thought ‘ Mestre, sometimes when I enter into the roda, I play against someone who I know I am better than. I know that I can win against, I know that I have a greater skill than. Yet, at times, when it is the time to fight, I hesitate. It is in that moment, that my opponents ego takes over, and I can see it in their eyes, that their pride becomes greater than their skill. And, they beat me, with their ego and agressiveness. How can I learn how to not hesitate?


My mestre, who was sitting comfortably next to the window sill, stared out into the night sky. I could see the stars twinkling in his eyes. He breathed calmly, looking at me and then looking again out into the infinite sky.
And all he said was three words:
“Tem que superar”
You have to overcome.


We rigourously held postures and repeated powerful techniques hundreds of times, I would sit in horse stance until my whole body hurt and sweat was dripping from every part of my body. Others would be doing their single movements they were working on, and do them repeatedly over and over, with slight re-adjustments time after time. Our instructor would now and again take his cigarette out of his mouth, and re-adjust your posture, or demonstrate how you should do a movement.


After an exhausting training session in a backyard, myself, a handful of students and our martial arts instructor went to a cafe. It was a crisp night, as we sat there in a polite awkwardness. Our instructor, was sitting there comfortably, with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other. For the shear stature of the man, you wouldn’t really look at him twice, as an actual threat.

Nor would you have thought that he has more than likely killed and or maimed several people with his bear hands. It is only when you look into his eyes do you know that you are staring into a black abyss of destructive force. I gathered up all my courage, and began to ask him the question that I had asked my capoeira mestre before.

This instructor, took a sip of his whiskey, a puff on his cigarette, and looked into my soul with his dark grey eyes and without a waiver he said:

You hesitate, you die.

From both of these great men, I have learnt the most amazing lessons, from just these single conversations.
But what it made me understand most of all, was what it was that makes a good teacher.


So let me now in turn ask you:

What makes a good teacher?

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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Ramsay Says:

    Chan this is a fantastic entry. I conntect with it so much because I was there when that kung fu phrase was being shot off at every training session!

    But from my part the best teacher I have ever encountered is in Buddhism. You know his name and he said this about good teachers:

    “They should be free of concern for money, fame and power. They should come from an authentic lineage and have trained in it thoroughly. They should love each student as if it was their own mother wallowing in a pit suffering.”


  2. chan Says:

    Thanks Ramsay
    Thankyou for all of your support.

  3. Jonathan Says:

    Chan, I think your post highlights that we will always have many teachers in life, and sometimes they may be there for a lifetime, or they may be there a short time but teach one single important lesson.

    In both cases, the state of receptivity of the student, and growing awareness by the student of their own preconceptions and prejudices can mean the difference between perceptions of a good teacher and a bad teacher.

    After all, you cannot fill a glass that has not been emptied first.

  4. chan Says:

    Thankyou Jonathan,
    your insight and most undoubtedly your voice definately has something to say that is worth hearing.

    I hope to hear more from you.

  5. Mariposa Says:

    Q: What makes a good teacher? A: A good student!!!
    Just recently I had one of my high school graduates initiating a discussion topic on the best and worst teacher (on my school’s group in Facebook). I did my story on the best and on the worst… And after reading my both notes – to my overwealming surprise – I have realized (20 years after!…) that I’ve learned useful skills from both!!!!
    With the bad teacher I’ve learned to protect myself with “selective hearing” – not letting her poisonous words even touch my brains; think about what I trully am (despite all her demeaning comments) and patiently allow other teachers to appreciate my knowledge and work regardless of her negative references… I imagine now why my intuitive attitude has been fueling her up, but now the same approach has helped me turn on positive and for my benefit complicated situations at work 🙂

    With the good teacher I’ve learned how time literally expands when you are organized and comitted to your studies. She trully loved her job and that has been transmitted onto us, without us realising! The feeling of joy, respect and waiting for unexpected (hard to imagine eh? Her classes were super organized and consistent, everybody knew what is coming next: but she would find time to talk to us about attitude towards women, poetry, family issues etc.) I found something like that when I’ve joined Capoeira – perhaps that is why I stuck to it so hard!!! 🙂


  6. chan Says:

    I am glad that you can relate to these stories through your own experiences. Sharing and learning together is what it is all about!

  7. Tom (soul capoeira) Says:

    chan man,
    during my time at school and S.C and NPIAMA i have begun to feel more comfortable with certain teachers merely because they understand me and i understand them well enough to build a sense of security and making a good teacher is not neccessarily who and what they teach but how.A good teacher will hav life experience which is an extremely important tool in teaching, and giving a student valuable tools in life will be more important than knowledge, heres a little quote, intelligence is not knowing but understanding :D. hehe. anywho a good teacher will be like chan hahaha !!! yeh man ur a good teacher……. 😀


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