Showing posts from September, 2011

5 (+1) Ways To Become A Better Teacher

In my other life I work in interactive marketing and I'm told that if you write lists in your blog, you get more "hits." I am tempted to joke about how I know how to avoid being hit, but instead, here's my list of 5 Ways to Become a Better Teacher - with one BONUS way!

These tips were developed with yoga and aikido in mind, because that's what I teach. But who knows, they might be useful for teaching sports, music lessons, even physics! 

#1 Develop Confidence in your voice and in your demeanor.
If you're having trouble with this, start with your voice and your demeanor will follow.

#2 Watch Your Students.
I'm always amazed at how many teachers get so wrapped up in what they are saying and thinking that they miss the very confused looks their students are giving them, or the fact that their students are doing some thing totally different than what they were asked to do. You can learn a lot about the quality of your teaching by watching your students. And certa…

The Mona Lisa Smile

In his book "Peace is Every Step," Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

"When I see someone smile, I know immediately that he or she is dwelling in awareness. This half-smile, how many artists have labored to bring it to the lips of countless statues and paintings?..Mona Lisa's smile is light, just a hint of a smile. Yet even a smile like that is enough to relax all the muscles in our face, to banish all worries and fatigue. A tiny bud of a smile on our lips nourishes awareness and calms us miraculously. It returns to us the peace we thought we had lost."

Remembering to bring this small smile to the face can do wonders, not only for our own mental state, but also for the way we treat others. But how much harder is it to retain this relaxed, calm state when engaging in self-defense?

I remember about 10 years ago watching Maruyama Sensei experimenting with this half-smile. I would see him in quiet moments at the side of the mat, smiling a little more, a little less, until he…

Gently and Friendly

I work for a marketing company, and one of our clients is owned by a Japanese firm. The Japanese owners recently introduced a new marketing tagline: "Gently and Friendly." The American division decided that this tagline, although it might be suitable for Japanese audiences, did not convey the way that they were driving, aggressive and technology-focused, and so they are using a different tagline.

I was thinking about this issue on the way home from teaching the first aikido class of the semester. Maybe this "tagline" would not be suitable for most martial arts, because it doesn't convey the driving, aggressive, "win at all costs" attitude that they want to portray. But perhaps "gently and friendly" would work for Kokikai Aikido?

Don't get me wrong, I don't think we need a tagline!  But it's fun to think through the idea... So,"gently" might represent the way we use less effort, staying as relaxed as possible.  "Fr…


Attention is precious. Our attention is like food that supports our purpose. There are significant consequences to how we focus our attention. If our attention is turned toward the purpose of being kind, being less greedy, being present for someone, our attention will feed that purpose.


I ran into a friend yesterday who is going through a painful divorce. It was difficult to see him this way. Once a champion bodybuilder, he had lost weight, his thoughts were scattered, he looked and sounded defeated. He was so wrapped up in his anger that he was unable to experience or appreciate anything else: not the caring of the friends who were offering support or the helpful advice that they were giving him, not the delicious food, or the lovely summer day. It sounded like he had been in this state for months, and it may be many months, or years, before he is able to resolve the things that are making him unhappy.

Maruyama Sensei has said that in the context of fighting, "being angry is like having your eyes closed." My friend is in a fight and the outcome is vital to him, yet he is holding onto his anger as if it will save him even though the opposite is true.

Why do we hold on to our emotions as if they were weapons? I don't have the answer. I just know that my e…

Float Like a Butterfly...

Shuji Maruyama Sensei has been characterized as being "like a cross between a butterfly and a piece of heavy farm equipment." When Rick Berry said this at a dinner celebrating Sensei's 35th anniversary in the U.S., it really struck me and has stuck with me these last 10 years. I was thus very surprised to see Thich Nhat Hanh described as "a cross between a cloud, a snail, and a piece of heavy machinery - a true religious presence." (by Richard Baker, in the introduction to Nhat Hanh's Peace is Every Step)

Each of these great teachers has reached a profound level of understanding about the capability of human beings. But Maruyama Sensei teaches Kokikai Aikido, a martial art, and Thich Nhat Hanh teaches Zen Buddhism, a way of peace and individual transformation.

Isn't this interesting?

Instructing the Instructor

Recently I attended a yoga class during which one of the students corrected the instructor. I'm sure she had the best of intentions. She is another teacher in the same studio, she has more experience, and she did it in a whisper where she thought others couldn't hear. Nevertheless, it was inappropriate.

As we gain experience in yoga, aikido or any "internal" practice, we inevitably face this impulse to "teach." Sometimes the urge is very strong. A little voice tells us that we are being helpful, that the instructor will benefit from our experience and knowledge. Unfortunately this is not the case. It doesn't help the instructor in question, nor his students, and it doesn't help us either.

First, consider how it feels for the instructor who is "corrected" by a student, especially by one with more experience. He may already be nervous with this person in the class. Now his fears are confirmed. His confidence is weakened, he may have difficul…

On Bringing About World Peace

"Peace must first be developed within an individual. And I believe that love, compassion and altruisim are the fundamental basis for peace. Once these qualities are developed within an individual, he or she is then able to create na atmosphere of peace and harmony. This atmosphere can be expanded and extended from the individual to his family, from the family to the community and eventually to the whole world."

H.H. the Dalai Lama
from the Foreword to Peace is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh