Jungles, Tigers and Dragons – Garry Smith

Certification is not the answer, credible certification is the answer. The MA/SD world, to say nothing of all our affiliated fields, firearms, survival, you name it, abound with training opportunities complete with certificates. If you choose carefully you can soon wallpaper your whole house with them. You can sign up to more certificate baring course than you can shake a stick at, just think of how your portfolio will grow, your customers and potential customers will swoon to see just how qualified you are. Or will they?

Well there are different schools of thought on this of course and I will nail my colours to the mast early on here, for me its quality not quantity that counts. Personally I look at the validity of the awarding body not how many tigers or dragons are on the certificate. Certificates of attendance or of no value to me unless they count towards ticking off Continued Professional Learning hours and even these do not signify that any learning has occurred, just that you filled some space for some time.

I once attended a course where strict conditions were laid down regarding qualifying. Pre course reading was required, every person must deliver a presentation and perform to a certain standard. Many did not achieve the set standards, some fell embarrassingly short, everyone passed, some had no presentation and ad libbed very badly, they all qualified as instructors. I felt sold short having put a lot of effort in and felt that the qualification, and the very nice certificate, were not worth having despite the course being good in every other aspect.

I have taught for years in Further and Higher Education, I have marked thousands of essays by pre university and undergraduate students. We had standards, the had to be adhered to and if you did not meet them you failed, end of, and yes I failed people. Of course I gave them the constructive criticism to help them address the failings and resubmit but if an essay failed to meet the mark I failed it, not the student. Having said that one student submitted after the deadline, despite numerous reminders, the essay he submitted was completely plagiarised, I went through it with him and he went from absolute denial to admitting it via many gradual changes. I failed it, he never went to university, sad but if you draw a line in the sand you have to keep the right side of it.

So for all the subjectivity involved in marking academic papers and it is inevitably there, criteria exist and they have to be applied to all. So it should be in any system of certification but as we know, the unregulated nature of the martial arts world together with its many factions, styles and politics makes this virtually impossible. If I wanted to I could qualify as an instructor online with no end of organisations as long as the cheque does not bounce. I can take courses without verifying who I am or where I am and print off the certificate afterwards, I am reduced to being a url and a visa payment.

To be honest even the Sport England coaching course I completed with a recognised governing body lacked any academic rigour, I together with colleagues submitted short essays, never received a mark and not a word of feedback, none, but we passed. A vindictive person would see the course as a money making scam, especially when you have to re-take the same qualification every three years? Really, Good job I do not have to retake my degree every three years. I put a lot of work into that course, then for the test we were all left in the same room with no invigilator to happily discuss our answers, not cheating, we would not do that.

You see in the MA/SD world there is a complete absence of anything approaching a goldstandard, it is a jungle out there and whilst there are undoubtedly some great courses there is a lot of utter rubbish too. Often we cannot see the trees in the jungle so dense is the growth. The cult of personality is strong here too and often that is what sells, reputations, however hard won, together with black belts, regardless of the number of dan grades, do not a teacher make. Here is the killer though, of those who can teach, how many can design a curriculum that provides a coherent learning package, how many understand the need for and value of academic rigour? Well, anyone have any answers?

Well I do, sort of, or at least I am working towards one with people I trust. There is a need for a generic instructors training programme with teaching and learning at the core. Style, system and politically neutral, accredited as a programme of work based continues professional development and with a rigorous quality assurance system completely integrated throughout the course. This programme should be based on work based learning and include time limited online examinations, ongoing specialist tutor support and have a credit system that is equivalent to certificate, diploma and degree level study. This may be too much for some but a series of vocational qualifications from entry level to masters degree level can provide accompanying units and the step ladder onto the main programme.

This would necessitate bringing together academics and violence professionals in a collaborative partnership so that we can cover all the bases. This is a teaching qualification open to all regardless of rank and association. It is a stand alone qualification intended to professionalise standards, its value lies in the fact that it is externally accredited by a leading university that specialises in teaching and learning, the certificate, is far from a wall hanging and has international currency.

CRGI has the network of violence professionals and then some, we have the link with the faculty of teaching and learning, talks are at a very early stage but there is focus on building a model that is robust and attractive. The best thing is this is a student centred model with an incredible knowledge-base already established, we are already piloting leaning packages in bite size chunks. Also we are not in uncharted territory, I certainly have been here before and the university in question has similar programmes already being used for major organisations so the model exists.

The question is a simple one, is the industry we are in ready to grow up, to evolve and step clear of the jungle. Will people be able to resist the pull of the tiger and dragon infested wall hangers and the accompanying cult of personality? Well they are not mutually exclusive but if I were looking to create my unique selling point that distinguished me from all those who pass a belt, however skilled they are, the are not qualified as teachers and that is what we do, we teach and our students learn and the vast majority of people out there, with the very best of intentions, are winging it.

It is time we made some changes.

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