Insights and Training Tips from Tactical Arts


Insights from the Tactical Arts Academy

Top 10 Qualities of a Great Filipino Martial Arts Teacher



Whether you are looking for a teacher or striving to become one, there are a few traits that you should look for when considering what makes a great instructor. If you are looking for a teacher, then it is in your interest to find one that is best prepared to help you with your goals. If you are a new instructor, then your training is not done. You can now focus on developing teaching skills that will allow you to give the best training experience to your students.

There are numerous qualities that comprise the makeup of a great Filipino martial arts instructor. Some should be given and others take years to develop. There are a few standards that should be prerequisites for an instructor. These are qualities such as professionalism, integrity, and care for the student. The focus of this list is to identify the top qualities that relate to teaching and developing skills and knowledge in the student. Here are 10 qualities to consider.

A great teacher...

1. Is an authority on the art.

Good teachers know the subject they are teaching, but great teachers are immersed in what they teach. A great teacher is an authority on the art because they have dedicated the time and effort to master the skills and study subjects related to the art. They are real subject matter experts. When they have a great depth of knowledge and understanding, much of what they know has been internalized. Because so much experience and knowledge has been internalized, they draw on more information, both consciously and subconsciously, when teaching you.

2. Is actively growing in the art / teaching the art.

A great teacher has passion for the art, and is actively engaged in learning more, improving his skills and/ or improving his ability to teach the art. He is still captivated with the art and invested in it. Without that engagement, the art can lose it’s life and the student will suffer.

The student brings excitement to training, but the teacher must also inspire the student to keep him driven toward his goals. This is especially true when training is tough and improvement plateaus. When the teacher is still active in the art, this inspiration comes naturally. The student will have a model to follow, and the teacher will have new insights to share.

3. Challenges you the right amount.

You must have challenge, pressure, and intensity in your training to grow into a well rounded martial artist. A great teacher pushes you out of your comfort zone to improve your skill. He does not demand that you meet standards that are completely out of your reach or beat you down in a humiliating sparring session. He gives you the right amount of challenge to facilitate growth. He trains you to manage intensity with successive doses of it. He gives you room to stumble and fall under pressure so that you can learn and grow from failure as well as success. A great teacher finds the balance of challenge, pressure, and intensity that will be the right for mix each student.

4. Has experience teaching all levels.

A great teacher knows how to teach beginner, intermediate, and advanced students. Teaching beginners can sometimes be very demanding on an instructor, and some of the best teaching skills can be honed by instructors who teach a lot of beginners, but a great instructor has experience teaching all levels.

By teaching all levels, an instructor faces a wider range of teaching challenges, because of that, he develops more skills and tools for teaching. By being exposed to students who need different levels of instruction, ranging from gross mechanics and simple concepts to subtle nuances and tactics, an instructor will develop precise language and specialized exercises to convey those lessons in more effective ways.

An instructor that is familiar with the path a student will take long term will be able to optimize each step along the way. This means he can help students avoid pitfalls and create habits that will complement advanced skills rather than lead to conflicts or dead ends in the student’s progression.

5. Focuses on application.

The Filipino martial arts have a lot of great drills. Flow drills are dynamic and can really help you get into the moment when practicing them. By themselves, some drills can be really fun to practice, but drills are just tools for learning and developing skills. We have to progress towards application. A great teacher will not allow students to get lost in doing endless drills. He will use drills to advance the skills and understanding of the students. Ultimately, he will progress training towards applying the techniques, not just getting good at the drills. After all, though the training is part of the fun, we train so that we can do the art.

6. Can teach you both the technical details of the art and how to fight with it.

Some people specialize in one or the other. A great instructor knows both. Sometimes students of Kali are really gifted at understanding, connecting, and memorizing all the technical details of the art. Often they are the ones who remember everything and help others when it is time to review. Other students are sometimes less concerned with the details, but they are good at sparring and enjoy the fighting aspect of the art more so than trying to learn every nuance of each technique.

A great teacher has a mix of both of those characteristics and can draw from his understanding of the technical details as well as his understanding of how to fight with it. The technical details behind the art should reinforce its application, and training should make them simple and more accessible. Long flows and detailed series of techniques with numerable variations can sometimes become nothing more than a memory game. These types of training tools can be used together with application oriented training drills that make them valuable. A great instructor can convey the technical details of the art in a way that allows them to be internalized not just memorized. When the technical details have been internalized as a part of your natural movement, they will support you when you apply the art in sparring, force-on-force drills, and self defense situations. A great instructor knows how to bridge your skills from techniques and drills to real fighting skills.

7. Coaches you to improve your performance.

A great teacher gives both positive and negative (corrective) feedback often. To make improvements, especially as a beginner, you need someone to help you see what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. A great teacher sees what you are doing, identifies what needs to be corrected, and communicates that to you in a way that gets results. This requires good communication skills and the ability to analyze both your movements and your understanding of the material being studied. Without regular coaching and feedback, you will waste time and create bad habits.

8. Has an organized method of teaching, lesson plans, and a curriculum.

A great teacher has a method for teaching you. He has a method for how he demonstrates, how he lectures, and how he uses drills that are designed to promote learning. He uses a particular method to teach, because he has found that it gets the best results.

A great teacher plans what and how he will teach you. By planning, he teaches with progressions wherein new lessons build on previous lessons. This enables him to teach with cohesion and clarity, which allows students to retain more and understand more.

A great teacher balances structure and discovery learning methods in a way that promotes learning that is appropriate to the student’s level of understanding. Beginners need more structure in order to grow quickly. Intermediate and advanced students need less structure and more opportunities to explore and discover the connections and subtleties of the art. To find this balance of structure and open ended learning and to be effective as a teacher, there needs to be a method, plan, or approach to teaching. All of this can be organized into a curriculum.

A curriculum allows there to be standards. After teaching several students the same material in the same organized manner, the teacher can expect a certain level of proficiency from the students who undergo that same training in the future. This can lead to a set of standards that can serve to gauge how effective his teaching is. It also creates the opportunity for the teacher to refine his teaching methods and the curriculum content after testing them on many different students. As the teacher becomes more familiar with the progression through the material, he will also be better prepared to adapt the curriculum to each student.

9. Can teach the physical skills of applying the art, and the mental skills required to be successful.

Learning Filipino martial arts takes a lot of time and work. Training sessions can range from light and playful to strenuous and painful. A great teacher will train in you the physical skills as well as the mental skills that you need to learn and apply the art. He will help you develop a successful mindset. He will teach you how to be mentally tough, not only for training and applying the art, but also for coping with life challenges that derail training or threaten your self-esteem and drive. He will teach you how to keep fighting, even when you appear to be losing. The best techniques in the world will not work without the right training and the right mindset. A great teacher will give you both.

10. Teaches you how to practice, how to learn, and how to grow.

A great teacher not only teaches you how to perform techniques and how to do drills, but also, he teaches you the mechanics of learning. He teaches you how to analyze, how to cultivate skill, and how to explore on your own. He sometimes illustrates everything you need to know. Other times, he may not give you all the details, but he guides you to find the missing components. By doing this, he helps you develop critical thinking skills. Critical thinking skills will allow you to develop beyond just what you are given.

Ultimately, the teacher should try to give you the opportunity to become better than him. He shortens your learning curve based on his experience. He helps you avoid pitfalls as you progress. He gives you guidance and resources that allow you to flourish.


If you are looking for a new teacher, first, vet the qualifications of the instructor and ensure that the art, style, and general approach is right for you. Make sure the instructor is capable of giving you the access and training you need to meet your goals. Then, take a deeper look into the qualities of the instructor and his programs. Remember, there is more than one way to teach effectively. Not all teaching methods or curriculums are obvious in their approach, but all of them will have some type of structure or planning behind them. Consider the ten qualities listed above and take a look at the program to make sure you will get the most out of your time.

If you are a new teacher, still developing your teaching skills, see if the list above gives you some areas to improve. Many of the topics above include a lot of depth. The more you put into it, the more your students will grow.

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