Experts have to make themselves special. “Who are you to teach me?” is the rational question of a discerning consumer. Accordingly, SD/MA (self-defense and martial arts) instructors find ways to reflect expertise: certifications, ranks, or stints as violence professionals. Awhile back I wrote a piece called “Power By Proxy” warning students of the tendency to thoughtlessly surrender power to chosen gurus, believing in the osmotic absorption of their instructor’s perceived potency. But that dynamic is almost always a two-way street; it’s not just students at the altar of assumed badassery. Martial training aims to empower, sometimes requiring resources held by these experts who, logically, must have more power than their students. This reasonable assumption often festers, producing a toxic social ponzi scheme: the power hoard.
For many instructors, the power hoard begins as a quiet addiction: they start drinking their own kool-aid. Suddenly, their power over students is all they have and they need it. What else are they when there are no more bones to break, ranks to earn, or competitions to dominate? So, they make people like them as special and different as possible because, surely, power is a finite resource. Besides, the more power they have, the better they can use it to help students, right? Their charges need them to be powerful so they can benefit others!
I’ve seen power hoarding dynamics so often that I didn’t notice it until I felt myself start exhibiting them. I started very quietly assuming that I was somehow different than students who’d grown up in less volatile environments or hadn’t spent time professionally babysitting inebriated adult adolescents. My few stories made me feel powerful as I watched students’ reactions to my narration. It felt good to be special, even if my being special had nothing to do with making them stronger.
You see it everywhere. Youtube videos explain how helpless women are; coaches sell their training as the only path to power; instructors chortle as they condition students to weakness and humiliation. Every once in a while, I see it in person: an instructor egotistically punking someone. I went to an active shooter seminar where one instructor threatened to “kick the shit out of” a student after spending most of the day overcompensating with her sport grappling background. Later, I performed a gun disarm on the instructor and explained to her that the weapon was out of battery. She hadn’t known what “out of battery” meant…at an active shooter seminar. The worst exhibition, though, was at another (surprise, surprise) active shooter seminar run by former military operators.
The main instructor began showing footage of shootings without much analysis as part of a ploy to evoke emotional reactions from students. When role players stormed the safety briefing, a student was publicly humiliated for ineffectual resistance, though hiding and running weren’t great options. Throughout the scenarios, participants were prohibited from resisting the shooters physically, told repeatedly how often they “died”, and sent into tactically improbable scenarios for which they were conditioned to fail with little regard for the effects. Within 2 minutes of the final “lockdown” drill, I was outside the staging area, waiting out the end of the scenario. We’d been told repeatedly that we couldn’t leave because, apparently, this was an active killer situation on a submarine! I was reminded to go back in, literally toward a couple of well-armed murderers, after achieving the theoretical goal of both the exercise and the situation it sought to simulate: getting away alive. Upon reentering, a commando loudly informed me that I’d been shot dead while sprinting away. I kept running. My mindset is simple: you’ll have to prove to me I’m not immortal. I understand how significant crappy conditioning can be and refuse to let it in. I also know at least a couple of people who found out they’d been shot when they stopped running so the realism angle wasn’t compelling. Why it made sense for me to pretend I was dead was beyond me. At the end, our central trainer offered the icing on the cake: “too many of you died, more than any other group; but, you know, good job.” Most of the experience was a power hoard. Lines were drawn between high-speed operators and mere civilians; resistance was restricted, prohibited, or punished; students were reminded more of failures and “deaths” than anything else. All we learned was these guys were badasses and we weren’t. I see the same things in everything from Krav Maga intro classes to MMA tutorials.
If these dynamics existed in environments without stacked decks, my attitude would be different. But most self-defense participants are tacitly acknowledging weakness and handing experts power to shape them. Anything that doesn’t fit directly into empowering them is bullshit. These are folks, sometimes with open wounds, who are making themselves vulnerable. Stop making yourself special because you’re supposedly better at violence. If you’re special, so is their future attacker, current abuser, or other threat and it *will* make it harder for them to move. With that said, it’s an understandable phenomenon.
The road to power hoarding is wide and well-lit. All it takes is some unexamined epistemology and a class of neophytes. For example: you want an attentive respectful class. Occasionally someone’s skeptical, disturbed, or even bored by your content or style. Their disrespect threatens to derail the learning of others. So, in a moment of irritation, you show them just how misplaced their self-superior attitudes are. But, in doing so, you’ve failed. A professional conflict manager, so skilled he’d been empowered to teach, couldn’t handle a minor blow to the ego or see past a façade to a student’s needs? You’ve dis-empowered one student and likely alienated several others. Depending on the crowd, this will read as obvious insecurity and/or petty tyranny. Or, worse, they’ll assume that “this is just how powerful people are” and look to become petty tyrants themselves. If you’re not careful, this becomes a trend. You’ll leave squashed students in your wake and collect acolytes, eager to bask in your glow.
To my fellow “experts”: get over yourself. A friend, well acquainted with lethal conflict (because that’s the only reason to listen to someone, right?) always balked at the idea of anyone being special because of a title, rank, former job, or violent history. His response? “Who cares what you did a decade ago? What are you doing NOW?” I take that to mean: make sure whatever you’re doing is contributing, no matter how “special” you are or were. True teaching is much more about empathy than knowledge or even experience. Get better at it so you’re adding value beyond “guts and glory” stories or endlessly reminding students of membership in a martial clique.
Be human and vulnerable to your audience. Use your power to continually show and tell students they can be just as capable as you remember yourself being. Many instructors tacitly or overtly communicate that their students could never “take” them. This is laughable (no one’s found monopolies on physics nor mortality) but students pick up on it and think you’re another species. You’re not. Show them that so when they meet someone more dangerous than you, they’ll remember that everyone bleeds. Be secure enough in whoever you are (or were) that you don’t need to maintain the invincibility aura. If you’re worthy of your status, knowing that even they can beat you will make them stronger, making you more valuable.
To the schools, make the accolades mean something. If you’ve got tokens or talismans, make them empowering to students and not just reminders of gulfs between social strata. Focus on creative problem solving and not paint by numbers solutions. Stop punishing people for being better than they should be. Power isn’t finite; share it. Hoarding power doesn’t make you strong, it comes across insecure and needy. Show students how powerful they can be, it can only make you better.
Anecdotes – nearly all of us use them but not necessarily strategically. A good story, told at the right time in a class can be an excellent teaching method. It can allow the abstract to become concrete and can help a student gain an embodied understanding of something which was, up to that point, just theory. I have met few coaches who do this better than Tony Blauer; he is a raconteur but his stories are never self-aggrandizing and nearly always deployed to lay down mental blueprints that his students will be able to draw upon when needed.
So, stories have their place in a coach’s arsenal, but this does not mean we have carte blanche to hold court with hyperbolic tales of our ugly altercations on the streets, simply because a memory is triggered in a session we are facilitating. Often these narratives are more about reinforcing our credentials than helping our students to learn whatever is the focus of that lesson.
Don’t Forget the Scaffolding
To acquire any complex motor skill, a coach will be obliged to use ‘scaffolding’ – that is he or she will begin with a simplified version of the technique or principle to be mastered. Those who learn to ride bikes have stabilizers, those new to the pool have floatation devices. In time, they are removed and the training protocols increasingly come to resemble the final performance criteria. This happens in nearly every coaching arena I know…except in the combative arts. Too often, we have grown men and women, claiming to be prospective lifeguards with an invisible polystyrene shark’s fin strapped to their back and day-glow arm bands (see what I did there with my well-timed analogy? Too much?).
If we are to be true to our professed goals (to make our students safer) then we need to incrementally remove the scaffolding until they at least have a decent chance if they are thrown in the deep end. This, again, requires well planned drills – there are ‘latch-key’ teachers out there who plan their lesson on the way from the staff room, minutes before the class is about to begin. They sometimes brag about their ability to improvise – most are decent enough people, but terrible teachers.
Meet Them Where They Are
Finally, I try to always keep in mind that the root of the word ‘education’ is ‘educare’; it means to ‘draw out of’, rather than to ‘stuff into’. So many coaches think of their students as empty vessels waiting to be filled. Remember the hackneyed zen-tale of the acolyte who must ‘empty his cup’ if he is to learn what the master has to offer? Apart from a waste of good tea (which, as an Englishman, I find deplorable), I’ve never liked this story because it suggests that a good student must abandon their own wisdom if they are to progress. Being humble and coachable is one thing, but we should not ask our students to abandon their scepticism and current understanding of the world.
We must meet them where they are and build on what is already there. I hear too many reality-based self-defence coaches pronounce that ‘we are predators’ and that we ‘already have all the knowledge that we need to defend ourselves’, only to then go on to do everything in their power to overwrite the instincts that lie waiting to be uncovered. As Rory Miller and others have pointed out, a poorly-trained student is less equipped to deal with a violent assault than someone who is operating just from instinct. If what we are teaching does not increase the survivability of those who train with us, we have an ethical responsibility to step aside before we do any more damage. This may sound harsh, but a good teacher doesn’t shy away from the truth, however unsettling it might be.
Any decent lesson has a ‘starter’ to wake up the grey matter, the ‘main body’ of the lesson, where most of the heavy lifting takes place, and then a ‘plenary’ which provides a condensed summary of the ground covered…so…
Here are 6 things we might want to avoid as self-protection instructors:
We shouldn’t dominate the training space and mistake teaching with learning.
We shouldn’t coach unprepared, or without a clear set of objectives in mind.
We shouldn’t replicate inefficient and outmoded ‘technique-driven’ coaching.
We shouldn’t tell self-glorifying stories with little or no coaching value.
We shouldn’t leave ‘drill scaffolding’ in place, when it is no longer helpful.
We shouldn’t overwrite good instincts and movement which our students already possess.
Instead, we might consider adopting the following 6 strategies in our coaching:
Be the ‘guide on the side’ and help students arrive at an embodied understanding through hands-on experience.
Work from well-planned, innovative lesson outlines that offer solutions to clearly articulated problems.
Investigate and apply a principle-based, constraint-led training method.
Use stories as a purposeful learning tool which empowers those we work with.
Systematically remove drill constraints and create opportunities for progressive pressure-testing that more closely aligns with real-world conflict and violence.
I read 2 really good books on my last holiday, ‘Beyond the Picket Fence’ by Marc MacYoung and ‘Principles Based Instruction for Self Defense’ by Rory Miller. Both are packed full of goodies that I intend to use to improve what and how I teach. As you should know by now I am a lifelong autodidact and advocate of continual professional development. Passionate is a word others have used to describe my relationship with learning.
The martial arts and self defence worlds are disparate and diverse and many weird and wonderful things exist there. There are plenty of opinionated, if not always necessarily informed, people out their including some who love to voice their opinions on social media. A recurring topic that always amuses me is discussion, criticism, whatever of peoples ability to teach _______ (insert style/art).
Very often those commenting teach by virtue of having gained a black belt in _______ (insert style/art). They have no knowledge of pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching children), or andragogy (the method and practice of teaching adults).
Before we go further I am not in any way advocating that every black belt complete an honours degree in teaching, far from it, but they should at least explore a little on the subject and not just assume that they can now teach. Most of us have experienced good and bad role models as we trained and we adopt and reject what we like or do not like. Learning ‘on the job’ is important, but teaching others requires more than just observing others.
Very recently I have seen criticisms, including school yard name calling, between childish members of one clique of members of another clique escalating to threats and challenges to fight. Its not the first time. Basically each group criticises what, sometimes how, the others teach. Basically its a cyber monkey dance and the Howler Monkeys are making themselves heard. Sadly it is mostly noise lacking in substance as their emotions override what little critical ability they posses.
Is it necessary, no. Is it entertaining, hell yes, its a car crash on the web and its live. The thing is there are too many in our industry with closed minds. The have reached the top (in their opinion), they are black belts and often a good number of dan grades too, they are instructors who run their own club and have their own students. The king and his subjects (its nearly always men btw). Unhealthy.
I teach, I am a 4th dan, I have a great instructor team, we regularly discuss variations on techniques, we regularly show each other different ways of showing things, share teaching tips. It a group of open minded people and a very health atmosphere exists where we learn of one another and the students. We all share the desire to get better at what we do. Healthy.
To this end we are writing our version of the instructor development course that I helped Rory to write, we have delivered it 3 times in recent years and each has been a learning exercise. So I have drafted an outline, take a look;
Ju Jitsu Instructor Development Course (JJIDC)
Instructor – Noun – A person who teaches someone.
This JJIDC course is for those people who would like to become instructors in Ju Jitsu and acceptance onto the JJIDC will be at the discretion of the senior instructors. The training will combine dojo based training and online based learning activities. The criteria for passing the course will be clear to all and support and feedback will be provided.
The classroom activities will be assessed using continual assessment in class and the online component will have testing built into the individual units and modules with progression dependent on achieving the set pass rate.
There will be three strands:
Junior Instructor – This is open to junior Black Belts.
Assistant Instructor – This will be open to seniors from Blue Belt.
Instructor – This will be open to senior Dan Grades.
The online course is currently being constructed and we are writing the full instructor course first then working backwards to assistant and then junior, we currently have 5 modules each with 6 units with inbuilt testing. It is pretty ambitious but with the people we have around us we are confident we can do this.
Why go to all this trouble, why not? Its about being professional in our approach, it is about setting high standards, it is to enable us to provide the best possible learning experience and it is what, ultimately, sets us apart from the howler monkeys.
Having a black belt does not make anyone a teacher, it never has. Being a teacher does not make you a black belt. Being either a black belt or a teacher is a particular set of skills and each set exists on a continuum with excellent at one end and terrible on the other. Using this as a model we can see the following:
A is an excellent black belt and excellent teacher.
B is an excellent black belt but terrible teacher.
C is a terrible black belt but excellent teacher.
D is a terrible black belt and terrible teacher.
A few people are naturally an A, unfortunately many are a D, the rest of us are somewhere in between. Of course most of us would like to be A, many think they are, especially the Howler Monkeys. The thing is there are lots of different instructor courses out there but there is no overall quality control, no gold standard. So its time to step up and see what we can do, its a challenge but an interesting one. Anyone interested in chipping in please do either by commenting below or emailing me. First we are focussing on our Ju Jitsu instructors so that we can be better as a unit but the basics and principles are universal.
So ignoring the noise in the jungle we will quietly focus on our continual professional development with the ultimate aim of improving our students learning experience. Meanwhile out in social media land the Howler Monkeys will continue upping the volume with little regard to substance. Life goes on.
PS. Male howler monkeys are famed for their deep, powerful roars, which are among the loudest noises made by terrestrial animals, and may help them compete with other males. But, alas, species with the most developed vocal organs also tend to have smaller testicles.
It was more luck, than chance that had made me turn when I did; a second later and it would have been too late. Maybe, subconsciously, I heard the collective intake of breath from the others who were watching the attack unfold. Maybe it was some ancient instinct that told me shit was going down. All I know was that I turned back from writing on the whiteboard to see all the other kids in the class staring open-mouthed, while Mike pranked the trainee teacher.
It was almost the end of a beautiful career – I sent for the Deputy Principal, ignored Mike’s wails of protest and continued my lesson on the use of the semi-colon without the photocopied worksheets that were sitting on my desk. Even though the hatchet was, it turned out, a blunt prop from the Drama department, I was pretty sure that this kid was about to be expelled and I was going to be applauded for my courage and restrained use of force. Instead, I was reprimanded, had to arrange a meeting with Mike’s parents to apologise and was told in no uncertain terms that the remainder of my placement would be contingent upon not assaulting any more of the students in my care!
That was my introduction to the world of teaching back in 1995 and, against all the odds, I am still in the trenches and trying to make a difference. It is a job I love and, while some days it feels like I am trying to pass kidney stones while running through a stand-up routine and completing my tax returns between sets, I wouldn’t trade for any other career on the planet.
Teaching matters and a good teacher does far more than beat the finer points of grammar into future generations. If you want to do the job well it is a demanding, exhausting and unforgiving career which takes a lifetime to master. There is a reason why those in education must undertake postgraduate training before they can teach in their subject of expertise. You can be the world’s best doctor, gymnast or martial artist, but that doesn’t mean you will automatically be a great teacher too. Teaching is a craft which requires more than lip service, and that’s why I get a little pissed off when I see half-assed dojo delivery or Grandmasters preening their egos, without the first clue of how to inspire their students to realise their own potential.
If self-protection instructors were to invest just a fraction of the time into developing their skills as a coach, as they do in perfecting their combative techniques, the industry would be so much better off. Students would progress faster and enjoy their training more, while instructors would have more faith in their curriculum and provide learning opportunities congruent with their professed reasons for teaching in the first place.
So, what pearls of wisdom have I gleaned from more than two decades as a front-line educator? Well, let’s assume that we are starting from a position of subject matter expertise, rather than open that can of worms! Here are some of the considerations I try to transpose from the classroom to my own self-protection seminars and training classes.
Be the Guide on the Side
First, aim to be the ‘Guide on the Side’ rather than the ‘Sage on the Stage’. Just because an expert is able to demonstrate a skill and lecture in granular detail about the finer technical points needed to replicate it, it does not follow that anything has been learned. This is the fundamental flaw I see in poor coaching – the assumption that we learn by being shown; in reality we learn by doing, experimenting, playing and refining from experience. There will, of course, be a phase of instruction that will be didactic but as a rule of thumb, the learning occurs once the teacher stops talking and the students try to meet the drill objectives – assuming they know what they are!
Fail to plan, Plan to Fail
Unless a coach has a clearly defined set of goals, objectives and a lesson outline that will allow them to meet those objectives, the training will always be sub-optimal. The reason teachers find planning so frustrating is because it is bloody hard! It requires a real clarity of thought and a toolbox of training methodologies. The reason why McDojos have their students march up and down in rows, mindlessly repeating paint-by-number motor-patterns is because that is the fast food equivalent of a nutritious educational experience. It is easily replicated, requires little explanation and looks like work is being done. If the objective is to get a little fitter, learn to obey authority unquestioningly and earn a new belt every few months, the training protocol is entirely fit for purpose, otherwise it’s just empty calories and clever marketing.
Use the Right Framework
A decent teacher doesn’t adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach because we are not all one size…or one build, one height…you get the idea. In truth, the best teaching model I have come across is 1:1 Socratic mentoring, but this is not a business model that scales. Instead a decent self-protection instructor needs to find an approach that doesn’t just produce lines of clones who will succeed to the degree that their attributes happen to mimic their sensei. For those of you familiar with motor-learning pedagogy, you may have picked up the buzz of ‘constraints-led coaching’ and ‘principle-based learning’? While I haven’t the time or space to outline these methodologies here, I would encourage you to look into them if you are not already using them in your practice.
There are at least four specific reasons this happens and the same four reasons are why no one should be surprised.
Reason One: Training touches emotional, monkey brain places that are rarely activated inside the context of close, deeply physical personal contact. In our current society, the only other socially acceptable activity for this is on the dance floor at the nightclub…which also frequently ends up in sexual activity because biologically, it’s supposed to. There’s a reason the majority of people who take to the dance floor are young and/or single – it’s the human form of the animal kingdom’s mating dance. The level of personal contact and give-take behavior in martial/combat arts training carries a strong parallel to the dance floor. It feels like, to the social-monkey brain as a mating ritual.
Reason Two: Training can tap at the windows of the primal survival stress response (SSR). What we often reference as the Lizard brain can lift an eyelid in subtle activation. Not enough activation for the person to become distinctly aware of the experience though, which means s/he is unlikely to notice. If the student does feel the tremors of adrenalization, it is equally unlikely s/he will understand the experience for what it is (as most people have not had a personal experience of having their SSR fully engaged).
Why is this a contributing factor to a potential sexually charged interaction? Remember F/F/F stands for flight, fight or freeze. There’s actually a fourth F: flight, fight, freeze or fuck. The drive to get laid is high on the radar when adrenalized, once the Threat has passed anyway.
Back to the dojo with this explanation. We have lots of little, minor adrenalization episodes occurring in the context of Reason One and the potential for a strong drive to procreate gets reinforced by the SSR.
Reason Three: Attention. How many adults get a weekly experience of someone who pays close personal attention to a developing skill set? Close enough to offer subtle corrections and positive reinforcement? How many people in your life are standing on your personal sidelines cheering your small accomplishments? I’m not talking about the overt signatures of a rank testing.
These are the momentary successes during class. A punch improves, the footwork smooths out, a difficult technique finally clicks and the instructor smiles and nods. Maybe, there’s even verbal recognition and a reinforcing touch on the shoulder. A hungry place inside human desire for recognition/support gets fed by a “badass” authority figure. The instructor gets a perk out of this interaction as well. The student beams back, clearly happy to have earned an accolade and the instructor’s own status is reinforced.
This is a great recipe for presumed closeness or positive escalation in the relationship. It isn’t as if the student runs home gushing about how the instructor is madly in love with him, or her. It is a gradual and semi-conscious increase in expectation between one or both parties in the dance.
Reason Four: This is my last one for the article. It is by no means the last one worth discussing. Being an instructor in martial arts is the one profession in which you can guarantee others will bow to you. There are overt and subconscious expressions of power, strength and authority in this role. Power that can be easily abused and power that can be easily attached to in a parasitic sort of way by the student who doesn’t want to discover power; opting instead for just borrowing the instructor’s by association.
These four reasons can be in play without conscious awareness on either the student or the instructor’s behalf. Whether conscious or not, the dynamic will play out until light dawns on the unraveling integrity of all parties involved and the ripples reach out through the student body and the community.
There is an apparent deleterious impact on the business potential of the training center if the ripples reach broadly enough. Students leave, new students shy away and if there isn’t a sharp correction, the trajectory reads like a crystal ball predicting the dojo’s doors getting locked up due to lack of payment on the lease. No one wants to face the repercussions of a failed business, no matter how valuable the life lessons from the experience may be.
And as true as that is, perhaps the more critical failing is in the meta message: in this place where you are invited to learn strength and power, strength and power will be misused.
There is enough of that across our cultures and post-modern societies. Most people who become professional instructors do not enter the profession to abuse their authority or seduce their students, but it happens. The results can create trips to the therapist’s office when the mat might otherwise have been therapy enough.
Talking about this reality in our profession is one of the necessary steps to changing it. So…there you have it. It’s out here, in print, out in the open. Do with it what you will.
In the martial & combat arts industry there is a dark corner in the back of a closet full of skeletons that many of us know about but don’t want to acknowledge. If the topic comes up, it’s in a small group, away from the students of the gym/dojo and in horrified, hushed tones.
Yes, I am being dramatic. On purpose. Because it’s important and we should be talking about “It” – and often.
IT is the rather robust occurrence of Instructors and students falling into the sweaty arms of romance and sex. I know of two relationships in which an instructor dated a student and the experience ended with a lot of happy people, marriage (or committed relationship) and happy little babies. I know of significantly more than two instructor/student affairs ending badly.
As an instructor and school owner, I have a simple rule for my coaches and instructors: the students are not your dating pool. Because I know of these two relationships that ended happily, I know it’s possible. My rule comes with a caveat to the instructors…if you think there’s something brewing between yourself and a student, come talk to me first. I am not interested in being anyone’s dating police. I am interested in protecting the physical and emotional integrity of the training center, because these things happen:
Example 1 – Student flirts with instructor – instructor flirts back (for sport, naturally). Student schedules private lessons. Lots of grappling happens. Sweaty grappling turns into sexually charged wrestling and then a kiss and then more. Backstory? The instructor is married. The student gets pregnant. Rumors fly through the student body and the culture of the school takes a big, unpleasant shift.
Example 2 – Student working hard for the next rank test schedules privates with all the instructors. One male instructor (female student) crushes on her. Schedules more privates and starts training as a student in any class she attends in which he isn’t also teaching. Students start to complain that when he teaches, he only helps her – only offers her correction – ignores the rest of the class. She’s married, he’s getting a divorce. Other students are super surprised to meet her husband at an event because they all think she’s dating the instructor. And then they actually are (seeing one another) and the husband finds out and there are ripple effects through the gym. She stops training and the school loses a solid instructor because the head of school sent him packing.
Example 3 – Student flirts with instructor, instructor flirts back. Instructor wants to do this “right”. They have coffee, during the day – no formal dates, no touching, etc. Just getting to know each other. Both are single and the instructor thinks the relationship may have potential and wants to keep doing it with integrity. He keeps the rate of motion slow and gradual. The student gets pissed by the slow rate of motion – wants the status of roping an instructor, and accuses the instructor of sexual harassment…to everyone at the gym, loudly. The instructor never quite recovers his reputation and the student continues to train in his classes and openly defies him, ignores instruction and makes comments to training partners that “he’s an idiot, he doesn’t know what he’s doing”. The head of school hides in his office.
Three examples of so many stories I have heard that I have, frankly, lost count. Almost everyone I meet who has trained for any length of time, has a story of someone they know (or their own story) that has had their training interrupted or terminated because of a distorted emotional and physical relationship in the student-instructor paradigm.
Let’s clean out the closet and talk about it. There are at least four specific reasons this happens and the same four reasons are why no one should be surprised.
Part 2 will be in the March issue of Conflict Manager.
Ok…..so first off….let me just say….I’m no “expert” in the field of martial arts…..both as an instructor…..by grade….or by competition…..in fact…..I’m a fucking dot on the landscape.
But….what I am….is both an observationalist (if that’s even a word)….and those that know me will tell you….I am brutally honest when it comes to methods and opinions on both my heritage, what i have passed on….and what I see being taught to people.
As an instructor…..people will be listening to you…..if you tell somebody from the off that the best way to deal with a certain situation is to poke them in the eye….then that’s what they’ll do. So you have to be very careful here.
If your heritage isn’t as glamourous as some…..then just be honest…there is no shame in not having as much experience as Grandmaster World Champion Johnny Spinnykick…..as long as you can teach what you do actually know…..and draw from your own experiences.
Otherwise you are lying to your students….and yourself.
Remember…there are also great fighters who cannot complete a full syllabus or teach…..so….that sort of puts you on an even keel.
I was lucky in the sense that I had fantastic points and continuous fighters and full contact instructors around me, namely Nigel Chappel, Dean Jones, Craig Ratledge, Stuart Watkins, Christopher Price and Ashley Brace…..totally on top of their games who I could learn from.
Then there was the full contact Muay Thai side, Karl Price, Tyerone Houston and Inmo Bob(Bob Spour). Then the self protection side , again Inmo Bob(Bob Spour) and John Mcaleese and Anthony Tex Wales Wilson.
Now you may not have heard of any of these…..but…after wanting to up my game and searching out who were the best in each of these fields…..I have to say…..the people named above knew their onions.
So my teaching methods, my training methods, competition methods and mindset ended up becoming my interpretation from what I saw from them all.
But that still limited me in my teaching ,if a student asked me a question that i was uncertain how to answer….then I would go to some of the named people above…and seek it out Sometimes they knew….sometimes they didn’t. Either way…..the person seeking the answers from myself would be told the truth…..it’s like this….or….I don’t know.
Just because you don’t have the answers…or your peers don’t….doesn’t make you any less of an instructor…..asking someone elses advice, picking their brains…..also doesn’t make you less of an instructor. But what does….is when you say this is what you must do….when the reality is you don’t have a fucking clue.
The worst part though….the biggest liars….
They are the ones that tell a person…or a parent you are ready to compete…or your child is when the truth is they aren’t.
I have seen people go from never being able to throw a punch get entered into a competition within six weeks of joining a class. This is absolute fucking crazyness.
6 weeks? Let me tell you something……although the competitions are relatively safe……this is a stupid idea for all. I honestly think event organisers should have a minimum training requirement to keep the standards…but that’s just me.
Yes…we know that proper youngsters won’t have the same skills as the experienced…..but….I personally don’t like to see kids out of their depth where a winner emerges….but still have that feeling inside of what the fuck did I just watch.
It brings down the calibre of the event.
So…..one…..don’t blow smoke up anybodies arse…..and two….don’t give in to a ranty parent who thinks their child is ready to compete. The same can be said for the older generation…..the young dumb, full of cum testosterone fuelled teenagers and early twenty somethings that have something to prove. Your job is to know when they are ready….and to tell them so.
If they aren’t ready…and you tell them so and they get upset about it…..tough. Too many instructors out there are too willing to risk their own reputation,club reputation and to put on a mediocre show…..all in the name of political recognition……and for kickbacks from the event organisers.
Once upon a time…..I would go around different clubs to test myself…..to see where I was at……sometimes I was asked to instruct at different clubs…..and what would happen most of the time…..I was beating people at their game…..and these people were apparently champions somehow. Now i’m not bigging myself up here….what I am infact bigging up…..are the methods that my instructors and fellow students passed onto me.
Sometimes…..after competing against me, even refereeing matches…..people joined my classes for my approach…..
The approach that I took was one where one….I didnt want to let myself down….two…..I didnt want to let my instructors and peers down…..three…..didn’t want to disrespect my sport…..and four…..I didn’t want to let my students down by blowing smoke up their arse. Which unfortunately too many people do.
Now…all of the above is the competitive side……but what about real life? The playground stuff……the outside a pub or in the queue down the chipshop? A.K.A……Self protection. Again……you should only ever draw on what you know to be fact….not assumption or bullshit.
There are a million and one different martial artists out there today selling their brand of self protection….. Again…..I am no expert…..but……if I say to somebody this will work every time….that in itself is a lie…..the correct method of explanation would be to say well this is an educated guess of what could work for you as it is something I have either seen work for somebody else….or I myself have done this.
Don’t dress shit up…..say it how it is.
Just because you have a box full of spanners in the shed doesn’t make you a mechanic…..you have to get out there and learn your trade. I’m not saying go out there and start a fight with somebody so you can see how long it takes to choke somebody out or lay them flat on their back. What I’m saying is……don’t be saying you’re a self protection expert or teach self defence when the reality is you don’t go out at weekends and still live at home with mam and dad.
Respect your sport
Respect your art
Keep your students safe
But above everything…..
Keep it fucking real!!!!
I am often asked that question. Can someone who hasn’t spent years fighting teach you anything about self-defense?
Well aside from the first glaring error that fighting is not self-defense, the answer is “It depends.” It depends on something very specific. Below is my answer to someone who asked this very question.
The answer lies in the information, not necessarily the teacher.
What is important is that the information is accurate, legit, complete, applicable and all kinds of other words that go under the general heading of ‘good.’
If it’s bad, it doesn’t matter how much experience the teacher has or doesn’t. It’s still bad information.
If it is good, it’s less important that the instructor has experienced it first hand.
I had a friend, who was shipped to Afghanistan. One of the problems with IEDs (improvised explosive devices) is — if they don’t kill you — they can flip the vehicle. The armour on the Humvees has gotten a lot better, but flipping and rolling is still an issue. The Army, as part of pre-deployment training, has you get inside the cab of a Humvee that is attached to a giant ‘flipping machine.’ You are then rotated over and have to practice getting out of a ‘rolled vehicle.’ After you get that basic skill down, they start training you in different scenarios (half flips, one of your guys is wounded, this door is jammed, etc., etc.). These different scenarios, acquaint you with realistic possibilities and challenges you will face if it happens to you. In short, they teach you how to think and function under these circumstances.
Do you think the guys teaching that course have been blown up and flipped in a Humvee? Do they have to have been?
What is important is that this situation happens. It is a known problem. Here are the conditions. Here is the most effective training in response to that. If it happens to you, this is what you do. We’ve got proven, stable and reliable data people who do this have a much better chance of survival. In short, what matters is the information, not whether you’ve been blown up before.
To be clear, this information and training is based on data collected from people who have been there. It also has been vetted by those same people. Not just one guy, but a lot of experienced people.
The information is not a “well, I think this is what happens” by someone who has never been there or doesn’t understand the subject. As a friend of mine once put it, “Do you know the actual problem or are you just guessing?”
To be continued next week.
There is a very popular learning model often referred to as the “conscious competence learning matrix” that depicts the stages of learning and competence in skills performance. It is arguable who originated the theory, and there have been several variations since its widespread use beginning in the early 1970’s in the U.S. For our purposes, I will present a general version:
Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence
- The student is not aware of particular skills or knowledge at all
- The student is not aware that they have a deficiency in the skills and knowledge
- Condition is often protected by denying that the skills or knowledge are even important or needed
Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence
- The student gains awareness of the skills and knowledge
- The student is aware of their deficiency in the skills and knowledge
- The student is aware of the importance of the skills and knowledge
Stage 3: Conscious Competence
- The student can perform the skills at will reliably, but still has to think about it and focus to perform well
- The student understands the importance of the skills and their performance and puts in the requisite practice to maintain capabilities
Stage 4: Unconscious Competence
- The skills become natural and can be performed without focusing and thinking about them directly (many of the skills of driving a car are good examples of this)
- The student has practiced and repeated the skills so much that they don’t even have to manually recall and decide to use the skills, the brain will run the skills as a default program when the need arises and the student may not even be aware fully that they performed the skills.
Stage 1 is the hardest one we fight against in the firearms and combatives communities. There is nothing as impenetrable as the belief that simply being exposed to and/or shooting guns or rolling on a mat makes you competent. If you doubt people think this way, go work in a gun store for even a short time. There are a tremendous amount of people who own guns that legitimately believe that an NRA basic pistol course at a gun club is representative of everything that firearms related training has to offer. I would even go further and say that a majority of average gun owners may believe that. The same thing is present in gyms and dojos populated by individuals who have never really engaged in deadly level violence. That belief is definitely an example of unconscious incompetence. Because they are not truly aware of what is out there, they deny it’s importance if you try to explain it. Unconscious incompetence all too often is accompanied by an unwillingness to listen. And, sometimes, there is just not fix for that until it’s simply too late.
Getting yourself or someone else past unconscious incompetence requires, at some point, listening to the possibility of something greater. You must be ready to accept that maybe there is more out there than you are aware of, and that it is very important information that you should know. The first step out of that state of ignorance is the acceptance of the ignorance or lack of capability. I loved one aspect of teaching basic concealed carry courses when I used to do a lot of them, and that was watching unconscious incompetence fail on the range. By safely allowing their belief system to fail, repeatedly, they are left with little argument to continue to embrace it. Learning can occur; if only through failure sometimes, it can occur.
Stage 2 is where the student acknowledges a few things that are required for improvement to happen. First, they acknowledge that there are skills and knowledge out there, they acknowledge that the skills are important to goals they have, and they also acknowledge that they have a deficiency in these skills. Acceptance is the first step, as they say. It is ONLY at this point that the student is ready to learn and willingly will receive instruction and or practice.
Stage 3 is the where the beginner begins to have some successes in skills performance. A key change here is that the student accepts and embraces the importance of the knowledge and skills. It is very important to note that no one will reliably retain information that they do not deem important (generally speaking). The more important someone deems a skill or piece of information, the higher the chance of them learning, retaining and practicing it. It’s just a fact of adult learning. Therefore, in order to achieve the level of conscious competence, the student must first understand the importance of the skills, and next must practice the skills to be able to perform them.
At this stage, it still requires focus and thought to perform flawlessly. This means that the student is definitely not ready to begin stacking skill demands together, as we refer to advanced training. If it still requires concentration and thought to successfully perform isolated skills well, success will rapidly decline as skill demands become complex and stacked together all at once. The answer here is keep practicing and keep returning to train with someone who can offer positive feedback.
This is where the skills become like what some refer to as “second nature”. For the student/practitioner, this is the goal. If you train the skills properly enough times, you WILL reach a point where you will be able to perform the skills without actively concentrating on the performance of the skill.
When you first learned to drive a car, you probably were not very skillful when it was time to accelerate or stop. I’m pretty sure all of us nearly gave our teacher whiplash the first time we stepped on the brake pedal. Today, I am confident that you probably step on the brake pedal so gracefully that you do it literally hundreds of times a week and do not even notice that you are doing it. That is unconscious competence at work. The skill is ingrained and so well practiced that you can not only perform it without focusing on it, but your brain can actually make the decision to employ the skill without your conscious, active attention to the decision making process.
How did this happen? It was at first the realization that you weren’t that good at it and that you really needed to be. Next, it was the repetition, over and over, just repeating the act until it became smooth. Smooth will become fast. The important point right now is to realize that unconscious competence is the result of proper practice. This is what instructors and teachers mean when they say that the fundamentals should be trained until they become automatic.
I will say it again. It is my belief that the non-conscious performance of an individual can not be taught, bought or gifted. You’ll hear me say this repeatedly: training and conditioning around the fundamental skills will allow technique to naturally develop. This is true. This is why we must move past the “kata” type training and move into conditioning around fundamentals. It is not the perfection of a movement that we seek. No. It is the capability to perform the movement and yet observe, assess, correct and adapt to any changes happening in your environment at the same time. Performing a movement perfectly under predictable conditions is not the pinnacle of accomplishment. Performing a movement correctly and effectively under unpredictable changes in variables and environment while maintaining self-control and the ability to synthesize new incoming information are the true mark of accomplishment in skill level.
The “Fifth Stage”
There have been several suggestions for a “fifth stage” that is centered around articulation and teaching. It is worth discussing very briefly here. The fact that skills become automatic inherently means that little concentrated thought is put into their performance. It has been argued that it seems impossible to articulate or teach something that you are not consciously making decisions about and performing. This can be true. I have met many people who are awesome at tasks, yet can’t explain how they do it to save their life. If you are going to be a teacher, you need to reach a fifth stage of reflective unconscious competence, and have the ability to analyze your skills and knowledge retroactively.
I would also argue that there needs to be at least a minimum amount of this utilized for self-defense purposes, because post-event articulation is mandatory and may decide your future in very life changing ways. Self-awareness and self-control are the two major components for this fifth stage to happen.