When you stand in front of a class, there is going to be a mix of experience levels and capabilities looking back at you; believe it or not, where your experiences and capabilities fit in the overall scheme of the class is immaterial. That's pride and it is often driven by a need to feed ego, not to fuel learning.
Ego is the enemy of sharing and without sharing, you have nothing to offer as a coach. Nobody needs you to be the best martial artist or fighter because, ultimately, neither of those labels matter. What matters is who is the best teacher, not who is the most experienced or the best competitor. I have learned over the years that if I have tacit knowledge of a subject, I don't even have to practice it any longer to still be of value to those I am coaching. It's much more important that I can make that knowledge tangible to my students, not whether I am "better" than them. That doesn't matter.
The only thing that truly matters is the balance between your ability to externalize concepts you may have internalized, and in a manner that is accessible and inclusive--not whether you can line every single student up and beat every one of them in a fight. Because if that is the type of coach you are and the type of school you run, good luck to you; it's not going to last and neither are you.
Good coaches are good problem solvers, in my opinion; they don't complicate things with emotional issues that should probably be resolved over beers with a buddy or in a therapist's office with a psychologist. Bringing your insecurities onto the mat or into the ring is the last thing you should be doing.
If you are creating ego-based problems for yourself by worrying about whether you are the apex fighter in your club, then you're going to find that the environment is not fostering the type of growth all good martial arts instructors seem to draw out of their students. If it's all about you, they start to wonder why they are even showing up.
It can be difficult to reconcile, but it isn't about you and it probably never will be ... even when your name is on the business cards. It's about the students on your gym floor training and if you can stay focused on that, it all starts to make sense. You realize that you don't build a great club by tapping out students--it's about how you tap into the greatness that's in your students that makes your gym stand out.
To do that, you have to be willing to concede that there are better athletes, competitors, and martial artists in your midst.
As much as I hate to bring Bruce Lee into the discussion, it works for illustrative purposes. If I asked you to name the top five things that come to mind when I say his name, your list probably doesn't look much different than mine.
2. Martial arts.
The order will be different and a couple of the points may change, but there will probably be some overlap with two or three at a minimum. He was ripped, he knew martial arts, he was a good actor, he was proud of his heritage, and he was an amazing teacher. It's that last point I want to elaborate on, though; without it, his legacy would be much different than it is. Likely, it wouldn't be much of a legacy at all.
In his movies, Lee was able to distill what he had learned as a developing martial artist and work them into the scripts. In the end, you can see that he wanted people to fall in love with the art and focus less on the martial; he wanted to use the combatives as a lens to see a greater truth about human nature. And that's why he is remembered so fondly.
Nunchuks are cool and all, but Bruce Lee gave everyone something more valuable than that--he gave many of us agency over our own martial arts development through his example.
The greatest people, historically speaking, are exemplars of teaching and the wisdom incumbent in being labelled as such. Bruce Lee was most definitely a sound instructor, which made him one of the most memorable martial artists of all time. Part of that was in his approach to learning and, more importantly, sharing that knowledge.
You can actually witness his personal development in how he answered questions, defined himself to others instead of letting them define him, and in the roles he played in the few movies he was able to complete before his death. I'm not adding anything to the Bruce Lee mythos, nor am I trying to, but I want to focus on one part in particular.
We were all able to witness him learning, then learn from him, only so he could learn more (for our benefit, if we were paying attention). It's an amazing standard to live up to as martial arts instructor, let alone as a human being. Bruce Lee embodied a humorous observation I have heard about the profession of teaching. It goes like this:
"Teaching is a classroom full of people watching as one person learns the material."
Never is this truer than in martial arts. Every time I stand in front of a group of aspiring or accomplished martial artists, no matter how much more I may or may not know than those I am speaking to, I always learn a little bit more than what I knew before about whatever I am presenting.
With that perspective, it matters very little to me if I am teaching a room full of elite fighters who swim in the shark tank of competition every weekend or a bunch of weekend warriors who can't wait to get back to their couch for Netflix and a beer. I'm there to learn; they're all there to observe, then glean what they can from the process and carry on. I hope that makes sense. It's not me putting me first; it's me getting better at coaching before the very eyes of the people I am attempting to coach.
That's why who's better doesn't factor into it. Who's better in the broadest sense of the art you're practicing doesn't make much of a difference if nobody can teach what they know to the others. Creating opportunities suddenly becomes more important than who has the most trophies, the darkest belt or a wall full of certificates.
You're only as good at instructing as your ability to make those things disappear during a class. Much like pride.