Finding Flow, Part 2: The teacher

March 11th, 2010By Category: Arts & Entertainment

While engaged in a Capoeira Roda recently, the opportunity to engage a lower rank student arose. Having trained beside him on numerous occasions, I knew what he was capable of, and what his relative strengths and weaknesses were. He was in his late teens/early twenties, and although smaller and more inexperienced than I was, physically strong, and eager.   As most other members played with him relatively softly because of his rank, I thought he would be up for a higher challenge.

Entering into the ring, as is characteristic of Capoeira’s philosophy of Malicia, I threw a kick at him right off the bat to catch him off guard.  As I expected he would, he responded with sound timing, got out of the way, and came right back in after me. After that, we were engaged, and despite occasional gasps from onlookers for ‘close calls’ we both found flow. (I found it in my needing to balance aggressiveness with control, and wanting to push him. He found it in the game itself.) As we played, I kicked full speed, so that if he didn’t move, he would catch one to the face. Finally, when he left himself exposed during a kick, I quickly shoulder checked him, knocking him off his balance, but not off his feet. With that , a more experienced senior member signaled that he wanted to enter the Roda.  As soon as I threw my first kick, he slammed me to the ground, and then walked out mumbling something about my bad attitude. Although I could certainly understand the perspective of the senior (and as such took no personal offense to his action) the experience reminded me that there is another element that is also of utmost importance in finding flow- the teacher. Oftentimes, in the world of both sports and martial arts, it takes ‘two to tango’, and the instructor can play just as large a role in a student’s ability to find flow as the student themselves.

The unfortunate reality however is that not all instructors take the time to know and understand their students. Due to misinterpretations of their personalities and/or skill sets, many an instructor short-changes their own students ability to find flow (and consequently enjoy their training and stick with it) because they either over or (as I believed to be the case this time) under-challenge the student. As aforementioned in the last blog, the importance of this balance is something that I’ve come to know well from my competition taekwondo days. When I became a state champion in under a week after receiving my black belt, I was told to compete more at the state level to get more experience, but the fact of the matter is, even if only due to my youthful arrogance, after that win, state and local level competitions were uninteresting. As such, my performance became lackluster, and I was told that I had no business trying to compete at a higher level, which prompted me to go to Korea on my own to seek out the best. Unfortunately however, at that time, I was neither physically or psychologically prepared for the rigors of training full-time with world class athletes, and despite improving by leaps and bounds while I was there, I also got totally burned out. E

ventually, this lead me to believe that ‘I didn’t have what it took’ to be a high level fighter, (despite a room full of metals and trophies that would say otherwise) and to my retirement from competition altogether. Had I not come to Japan, and stumbled into action cinema by chance, this experience more than likely would have been the end of my martial arts career.  As martial arts instructors, (or teachers in anything, really) I think it’s always easy to fit students into generic, cookie-cutter molds and equate singular attributes such as age, stamina, fitness, or confidence with certain teaching styles. The great challenge however, comes in taking the time and energy to find the real person in your student; their strengths, their weaknesses, their fears and their passions. It is through this, and only through this that we can guide them to flow.

As my experience in that Capoeira Roda has shown, this is certainly not always the easy road to take, but as educational research scholar, K. Patricia Cross once put it, “The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate “apparently ordinary” people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people.”

Chuck Johnson is an internationally recognized martial arts action film actor and author. He currently teaches martial arts and action in Tokyo and Saitama, Japan and his next film Sukeban Hunters will be released this summer. Chuck’s Action Demo Reel

Author of this article

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is a Martial Arts Instructor/ Action Film Actor based in Tokyo, Japan, and Michigan, USA. He has been teaching for 16 years, holds ranks in Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira, and Karate, and is an experienced bodyguard. He is also a member of the Screen Action Stunt Association, and Society of American Fight Directors. Additionally, he has 10 years of ELT experience, and is the developer of Phat English, a system that uses specialized hip-hop music to teach the subtle nuances of GAm English pronunciation. For more information, visit or follow Chuck on twitter at chuck_n_action

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