Teacher is a tool

Once, I asked Mestre Edan, a capoeira master and the teacher of many great capoeiristas worldwide, about the key quality that transforms a student into an extraordinary capoeira player. His response was unequivocal: “To be an autodidact.”

An autodidact is someone who is self-taught, acquiring knowledge and skills independently, with a self-directed approach, and without formal instruction or guidance from traditional educational institutions.

This brings to mind another insightful conversation with Mestre Cueca, a student of Edan:

A teacher is just a tool, an instrument. A good student understands that they control the teacher, not the other way around.

There is no such thing as a good or bad teacher. Just like a knife, it’s neither good nor bad. It’s the hand that holds the knife that determines the outcome.

In the skilled hands of a surgeon, a knife can save a life in an operating room. Conversely, the same knife in the hands of someone lacking control can end a life on the street. Between these extremes, countless possibilities exist, from making a sandwich to carving a statue from a piece of wood. The student must grasp this concept about the teacher.

Certainly, not all teachers are equal. Like knives, some are longer, shorter, or sharper. A student must learn how to use the instrument and understand its limitations.

Moreover, a student must learn how to take care of it. “If I have a great knife but leave it outside for three weeks in the rain and on the ground, it becomes rusty, no longer the best knife. I need to learn how to take care of it and protect it.”1

While not all teachers are equal, a good student can extract the most value from each one.

A teacher is just a tool. Learn how to be a good student.

Further reading

1. As I interpret it, this also applies to personal relationships between teachers and students. If, at some point, these relationships are not well-maintained, they might become “rusty.” The good news is that there’s usually a way to improve them.