Once I thought I was wrong…

Years ago when I had a “real job”, my boss “NJ” used to have a sign on his desk that read:

Once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken.

It was a reminder that since he was the boss we probably should listen to him. And for the most part we did. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred he was right. And on the rare occasion when he was incorrect, he was still right.

I remember one time when we had an argument about the location of a certain place. He swore up and down it was to the south, when in actuality it was to the west. After he realized his error, he still maintained it was to the south, and there would be no more to say about it.

End of story.

Years later we laughed about that day and how stubborn he was and once again with a wry smile on his face he reminded me, “You know once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken…”.

As an instructor it’s not fun being wrong… however I admit it. I’m sometimes wrong mistaken  and that’s ok (just don’t tell my wife). As it’s said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough”.

I spend time with my assistant instructors to promote their growth as teachers, and explain that it’s ok to be wrong every now and again. It’s part of being human. It’s how you handle it that’s important.

My friend and brother in the martial arts, Sensei Jason Nichols one night  made a small error teaching kata. A confused student questioned his error to which he smiled and said, “Thank you, you’re right. My mistake. I’m allowed one mistake… just one”. This was a gracious way to admit his err but provide correction at the same time. He did not dismiss his student nor punish them for their insubordination.

By contrast, I distinctly remember as a white belt being taught a certain way to do a kata, and then being told a few months later that I was doing it incorrect. Yet, it was the same instructor who’d given me conflicting information. When I politely questioned him about it, he scornfully denied the former teaching. That was typical of the attitude at my first dojo. The sensei was NEVER wrong and as students we should never question, just blindly follow and say “Osu!”

As both a lifelong student and teacher or karate, I believe it’s important to admit mistakes when you make them and give the correction immediately. Failure to do so and then contemptuously denying it undermines your student’s trust in you. You’re students aren’t stupid, and you’ll come unstuck.

My advice is to admit your errors immediately. Every time you make an error, it’s an opportunity for you to congratulate your student for being so observant.  Make it about them and you’ll create longer and stronger relationships built on trust.


6 thoughts on “Once I thought I was wrong…”

  1. I truly believe Jason that when we are wrong we should own up to it and learn from it and also be able correct them timely and with class because our students are watching us and they will emulate that which we teach them.
    As instructors we talk a lot about humility thus we should show humility when such situation should arise in front of our students.

  2. Over the years, I have run into people who I like to refer to as “unteachable”. These are the sensei, instructors, students, parents, friends, etc. who will not be corrected…ever. Unteachable people are on a road to self-destruction as they will never alter their course, and end up compounding their errors. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer being right, but not if I’m the only one who thinks so.

  3. I agree with Mr. Stanley wholeheartedly and my students know they can (politely) question me if I say something that they feel is not correct, or seems in conflict with previous teaching they’ve received. I am okay with being human. They respect me, and I appreciate the opportunity to correct an error. What I do not ever condone is another black belt questioning or criticizing another instructor’s instruction in front of students. I have had that happen from another black belt, senior in rank, but far junior in years, correct me in front of a color belt student. It was embarrassing to be dressed down by a 16 year old Sam Dan (at my current age of 51), just because her belt number was lower than mine. That isn’t cool, and I will never correct my junior black belts in front of a student, ever.

  4. I always turn it in to a but of a game if a student picks something up by saying….yes, I did that deliberately just to see who was paying attention. They love it haha

  5. Hi all,

    Instructors can make mistakes, students can make mistakes, we are all humans, as long as the mistake is rectified, where is the harm. I have studied karate with Japanese Sensei, if you have a question or not sure about something, you always ask / seek explanation at the end of the session. you will be pleasantly surprise of the response. the bottom line is we are here to learn, as part of the learning we make mistakes, even if you are an instructor with x number of years of experience behind you. Willing and listening is the key to success. oss.


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