A Good Teacher Needs to be a Good Student

A Good Teacher Needs to be a Good Student 

About 6 months ago, my instructor, Grandmaster Park, said that it was time for me to test for 8th dan. 8th dan is another way to say 8th degree black belt.

I have never been one to seek out rank. I don’t really believe in training for rank, I just love training. But, when Grandmaster Park say it’s time to test… you test.

He gave me the option to test with my good friend Master Zang, which was a nice surprise. Grandmaster Park also allowed me to bring a group of exceptional students from our dojang to test for ranks under him as well. So, a crew of nine from our school, Master Zang, and two of his students went to Toronto to test under Grandmaster Park, along with about nine of his students.

Now, when I test my students, I tell them exactly what is going to be expected of them. We even have them go through four black belt test prep classes to make sure they get everything lined up and ready, so that their test runs as smoothly as possible.
Grandmaster Park did the same for my students. He gave them each a detailed list of patterns, self-defense, board breaking, etc., that they would be expected to perform in order to pass.

With me, though, it was a different story. All Grandmaster Park gave me was a handwritten list that was impossible to read. When I finally was able to ask him what it said, he replied simply: “Don’t worry about it. It’ll be okay.”

Since we were testing for the highest ranks of the day, Master Zang and I were the last to go. I spent all day studying the tests that came before me to try and figure out what Grandmaster was going to have me do for mine.

When my turn finally came, things started out smoothly. But then, Grandmaster asked me if I had my self-defense scenario prepared.

“Yes sir,” I replied.

I didn’t. I never even knew about it.

Apparently, one of the things Grandmaster Park scratched on that piece of paper was for me to prepare what is essentially a choreographed fight scene, like one you would see in an action movie. I, of course, had nothing prepared. But I didn’t come this far to not make 8th dan.

So, I grabbed one of my best students, Tyler, and told Grandmaster Park that not only was I prepared, but that I worked out the scenario with Tyler and asked if I could perform it with him.

“Huh?” Tyler said.

“Just do what you gotta do,” I whispered. “Punch me, kick me, grab me, choke me… whatever you’ve gotta do.”

Tyler just stood there, stunned.

Do something.” I said, through my teeth.  

Eventually, he did, the test went well and, of course, I earned my 8th dan.

I tell this story because I think it’s funny, but more so because it illustrates something that I believe in deeply: in order to be a good instructor, you must also remain a good student. This is something I tell all of my white belts (new students) when they’re first starting out. While I was preparing for 8th dan, I was Grandmaster Park’s student again.

As a teacher, I have to be able to remember and understand what it’s like for my students to struggle. The worst things that I teach are the ones that came more naturally, because I never had to struggle through them. The things I struggled with on my journey are very easy for me to teach because I had to overcome so many obstacles to get over them. It helps me figure out what issues and challenges students will be facing along the way, so that I can prepare them better.  

It takes a long time to get to an eighth-degree black belt. Close to 40 years. But, the public doesn’t seem to care much about what degree black belt I am. Instead, they’re concerned with whether I am a moral and ethical person, and if I am teaching their child well.

My journey to 8th dan allows for me to do that. Very often, white belts will be intimidated by how long or intense that journey can be. But, I can function as both teacher and student. I know what the goal is. I know where you’re going to be one, two, six months, a year down the road.

There’s kind of a duality. White belts are at the bottom looking up, going: “I don’t think I can do it,” and I’m at the top going: “you can definitely do this.”

Trust me… I can get you there.


Master Gorino’s Tae Kwon-Do offers a trial program for individuals and families in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding areas that allows you to get a feel for the different classes, meet our instructors, and experience our dojang. It’s a great way to see if Tae Kwon-Do is right for you. To learn more or to sign up, register online or call (716) 836-KICK (5425) and a member of our team will follow up with you on next steps. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals. Pil-Sung!



Your browser is out of date. It has security vulnerabilities and may not display all features on this site and other sites.

Please update your browser using one of modern browsers (Google Chrome, Opera, Firefox, IE 10).

WordPress Video Lightbox