Instructing Vs Howling – Garry Smith

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.

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