Physical Training Feb 2010
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From the Teacher's Corner 4:
Love and Fear

copyright 2010 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved

Topic: Whether it is better to be loved or feared.

The following anecdote comes to me from a friend of mine who told me about an early teaching experience of his.

Case #1

When I first began teaching and had opened up my own dojo, I had a wonderfully skilled student whom we will name Patrick (not actually his real name). Patrick was a single male and in his early twenties at the time. He was very skilled, a teacher’s dream come true. He had a great sense of coordination and was physically talented. Whatever I taught him in terms of technique, he picked up easily and quickly. I didn’t have to struggle to make him perform techniques correctly. He was enthusiastic and energetic. Naturally, he became the star pupil of the dojo.

Problem was, he knew it too. Being the best in the dojo, with no better student to aspire towards, he gradually became arrogant. Being better than everyone else and knowing that he was more skilled than everyone else, he started telling people what to do in terms of how to perform the techniques. At the time, I really wanted to encourage his independence and his growth so I did not put a stop to this. I did not want to squelch his growing confidence.

Now that I think back on it, I was too green an instructor at that time. I should have put a stop to it right away. Instead, he took my lack of action as a green light to continue what he was doing. He started developing his own ideas on what the techniques meant and how they should be performed, and he started telling the students his version when he instructed them on a certain technique here and there. The other senior students started to resent Patrick’s growing authority in the dojo and came to me to complain. Eventually, Patrick stopped listening to what I had to say, convinced that he was right.

Finally, I pulled him into my office to have a talk. He did not like our talk and didn’t agree with what I had to say and eventually, a couple of months later, he left the dojo. Now, in retrospect, while I feel that I brought him along nicely in a technical sense, I failed at the same time in teaching him in a moral sense.

Now I think it important to make sure each student knows the limits and boundaries of how far they can go in terms of their behaviour in the dojo. I have not had a similar recurrence since.

While there are many lessons that could be pulled from this case, for the purposes of this article, I will focus on one. This is actually a common situation with beginning teachers in any field of expertise. We fondly remember from our student days teachers who inspired us, who helped us along the way, who cared for us in one way or another. Naturally, we want to help our students and to be similarly remembered by our students, for being kind, for being nurturing, for guiding them in their growth. And therein lies the potential pitfall.

Being a beginning teacher, it is hard to be tough on your students. You didn’t like your tough teachers or your mean teachers. Some were too strict, others too hard. You hated their class, their style of teaching. And you are determined that you will not become like them. I am not like them, you say to yourself. I will teach my own students much better.

What usually happens is that we try hard to be the very antithesis of what we detest. And in the trying, we swing a little too much to the other side. We are too kind, too gentle.

At the time, I really wanted to encourage his independence and his growth so I did not put a stop to this. I did not want to squelch his growing confidence.”

What happened in the case of Patrick above was that the teacher overlooked the brewing storm that was Patrick. A model student in the technical sense, easy to teach, easy to achieve success with, a monument to your teaching skill. But while the technical prowess was developing in leaps and bounds, so too was the ego and the pride. In the quest to develop this student, too many other issues were allowed to slide; conveniently ignored, swept under the rug so to speak, left to be dealt with at a later date.

Confrontations are difficult under the best of circumstances. Beginning teachers are idealistic. It’s not a bad thing. We need that idealism. It’s what drives us forward, day after day. Otherwise, we would pack it in. But it’s easy to get lost in that enthusiasm and idealism.

“Instead, he took my lack of action as a green light to continue what he was doing. He started developing his own ideas on what the techniques meant and how they should be performed, and he started telling the students his version when he instructed them on a certain technique here and there.”

The student has started to lose his respect for the teacher. The teacher is a push-over. I can lead this class my way. And if unchecked, pretty soon, he will. The teacher has lost control of the student. With no moral compass to guide him, the student begins to create his own ideas and his own fictions on what the art is and how it should be done. Once the student starts to believe he can run the class, it will be difficult to rein him in. The teacher’s aura of authority has dissipated and this is when the student loses respect for the teacher.

How to avoid this situation?

I was thinking about this problem, turning it over in my head. Coincidentally, my youngest son was watching Star Wars (Episode 4) at the time and I was in the room when the scene comes up where the Imperial officers have their meeting on the newly built Death Star. And I overheard this exchange:

How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.

The first words that popped into my mind were: “Exactly!”

I guess one line of thinking would be that without some sense of fear, there is no respect. Fear and respect.

Well one thought led to another. I had read those words before, used together before, somewhere. Machiavelli!! Yes, yes. From my days in POLI 291, Political Theory. I pulled out my copy of The Prince and looked through it. Presto! There it was, in Chapter 17.

"From this arises the following question: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other; but, because it is difficult to combine them in one person, it is far better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. One can make this generalization about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well, they are yours. They would shed their blood for you, risk their property, their lives, their children, so long, as I said above, as danger is remote; but when you are in danger, they turn against you. Any prince who has come to depend entirely on promises, and has taken no other precautions, ensures his own ruin; friendship which is bought with money, and not with greatness and nobility of mind is paid for, but it does not last, and it yields nothing. Men worry less about doing an injury to one (ie. offending one) who makes himself loved than to one who makes himself feared. The bond of love is one which men, wretched creatures that they are, break when it is to their advantage to do so; but fear is strengthened by a dread of punishment which is always effective. "
Chapter XVII
The Prince
Niccolo Machiavelli
1532 A.D.

Very interesting. In the case of Patrick, perhaps this is what he needed. Will it work with everyone? I don’t think so but this is my opinion only. As a teacher, sometimes, you need to encourage and to inspire. Other times, as we say in school teaching, you need the hammer. Some students respond better to encouragement. Some like positive reinforcement like praise. Some need to be inspired by just a word or a novel concept. Others need to be cajoled. Some need to be pushed and prodded. And for some, negative consequences (real or imagined) are a driving force.

Is one technique better than another? No. It is just a matter of correct analysis, judicious use, and timing.

Encouragement… The hammer…

Love and fear.

For more information on The Prince:
For more information about Machiavelli:
Online text of The Prince:

Mr. Tong has a Master’s in Education in Curriculum Studies.

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