I heard a quote of Soke Masaaki Hatsumi saying “teach only 50% of what you know.” Without context, this might be viewed in a negative, as if something is being withheld to the detriment of the student. However, the reality is that in Japanese culture, it is to the benefit of the student.
50% Creates Strong Students that Grow
During one of my trips to Japan, I remember Shiraishi Sensei talking about not giving all the answers because it created “weak students”. The idea is that the student should find certain answers for themselves, because this builds their character and inner strength. It can also be more rewarding, like an explorer finding some uncharted land.
When you give a student all the answers, you are making them dependent on the teacher, and discourage their willingness to try new things. You limit theiri growth. Instead, they begin to look at things only in terms of right and wrong according to the teacher. In Japanese, wrong is translated as “chigaru” or “chigaimasu”; this literally means to be different – not to be incorrect per se.
By only giving the student 50% of the answers, you are giving them a foundation to find answers for themselves, and quite possibly, find different answers than the teacher has.
50% Gives you Opportunity to Learn from Students
Teaching only 50% of what you know – or better yet – what you think you know, also guarantees that you only focus on those things you’re absolutely sure of. Since so much of martial arts is subjective, by focusing on the 50% that is most essential means to focus on what is most universal, or most important. It can be looked as a quality control measure.
It also gives the teacher an opportunity to learn from the student; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown something in class, only to see a student do a version that is – by all accounts – better than what I demonstrated. If I looked at what I was teaching as a hard-fast 100% – that my answer was the only complete answer – I would miss the opportunity to learn from what a student had done in the moment.
50% Keeps You, and your students, Safe
There is also a much older idea behind this in Japanese Martial Arts; we as teachers give us the tools – or weapons – that could be used against us or fellow students. In modern times this is less of an issue or concern, but in older times where a student would challenge the teacher to a fight to the death over control of the school, it makes sense to keep a few tricks up your sleeve. We can forget sometimes that Ninjutsu, and indeed all true martial arts are born on the battlefield in mortal contest.
So if you’re an instructor, consider limiting teaching to only the 50% that is most essential to give your students opportunity to grow. And if you’re in class with someone, try to only help them half-way through a technique and give them the opportunity to find the other half themselves. Remember, 50% isn’t static; as you grow, your 50% will, and as your students grow – so will theirs.
What do you think about teaching only 50%? Leave a comment below!