Thinking about teaching and martial arts and fighting and what I really believe.
Martial artists are among the worst teachers because most have so much untested ego vested in it. I read something interesting lately that compared martial arts to the S&M/B&D scene. The difference being that people into bondage and stuff are aware of what they are doing to each other and have safeguards built in. They tend to be very explicit about boundaries. They deal with the power dynamic right up front.
There is an often unrecognized power dynamic in martial arts. The sensei/student relationship, especially with some of the weak egos who are drawn to martial arts (more analysis of that on request) is ripe with dominance. Everyone recognizes this. Where else in America would it be socially acceptable for one person to call another 'Master'? But there are some more subtle threads in this as well. Conflict is about dominance. Sometimes for one participant it is about survival, but even there the threat is trying to dominate. Don't read a value judgment into that. I like numbers and surprise and scary-looking equipment because if I can dominate psychologically there will be no need to dominate physically, and physical domination is where people get hurt.
In a martial arts class, stripping away the window dressing, you have one alpha male (who may be an alpha only in that one context) attempting to teach others how to be alphas. You should be able to see the problems with that and predict some of the outcomes: the teacher who wants tournament winners but savagely 'demonstrates' on students who are doing well against him; instructors blindly imitating what they think a 'wise warrior' or 'man of knowledge' would look, act and talk like; the pretending to spiritual secrets when physical skills start to fade...
If you are an alpha teaching someone to be an alpha, you cannot keep your position and be successful as a teacher both. The math doesn't work. That may have something to do with the arcane hierarchies that are invented.
Fighting is also hard to teach. It is about breaking people. You can dodge that as much as you want, but the essence of a martial art is how to do damage to another human body. The problem is that if you actually break people, you run out of students. You have to teach fake stuff and you have to teach a lot of fake stuff to safely acquire the real stuff. Then you have to keep the real and the fake stuff separate in the student’s heads. Then they need to be able to access the right stuff, the real stuff, when they need it completely disregarding the fake stuff that they learned it with. That is not an easy thing to teach. Really, really hard in fact.
It is even harder if the instructor doesn't really have a clear idea of what he is teaching- obedience and respect (what I think most parents really want when they sign up little kids for lessons) are exactly the wrong mindsets to instill if you don't want your children victimized. Mindfully learning to crush a throat is incompatible with compassion- no matter how hard you visualize or how deep your meditation on your skills, if the first time you break someone's bone or make them scream it bothers you, you weren't honestly mindful- practicing violence to acquire a peaceful nature requires a willful blindness. Practicing violence to be safe enough so that you and others can live peacefully is an entirely different matter.
To top it off, and this is entirely from my point of view at this stage in life, most instructors don't teach right. Not necessarily poorly. I mean that they are neither teaching what they think they are teaching or what the student is expecting.
Some teach like it is a product: "I have a skill, I must give you that skill. That is teaching." I don’t see it that way any more. That mindset winds up in one of two similar places. Either:
1) A rigid precision where a perfect technique looks and feels a specific way. Hell, I don’t move the same way or even think the same way in different fights. What makes a good punch a good punch is a huge mash of power generation and distancing and target prep and conformation that you only have partial control over. Rigid precision is neat because you can work for decades on minute details and always feel like you are progressing. It’s just that applying it to fighting is like measuring something with a micrometer that you need to bulldoze. It is sharpening a sledgehammer.
2) Trying to clone the instructor. You will never be me. You will never fight or think the way that I do. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. My duty as an instructor is to get you to fight better than I do. To survive and win in situations that I might not and I really don't give a damn if you look like me when you are doing it. If I try to clone myself in you and you don't have my strength or speed or will, I am dooming you to fail. It's a flawed platform. Unless you are extraordinary in your own right it won’t work (an extraordinary student can make great progress despite a shitty instructor).
To me, the teaching process isn’t a commodity. I have little to give you. Learning is growth. Teaching is guiding growth. That is all. I need to work with the student as they are and lead them to the place that they want to go (ah, the place they want to go? Or the place they think they want to go? Or the place they need to go- usually three different things.) Even if they have a talent I lack, as an instructor and strategist I should be able to teach them how to exploit it and build on it.
This works at the apprentice level or with private students. I love doing it with seminars because it just becomes a big “here’s something to think about and play with for a year or two” and benefits everybody. The dynamic can be awesome. But what I like to teach could never be a system without becoming a product. Once it is systematized there are things inside and outside the system. There becomes a right and wrong way. Not, like in real life, grades of effectiveness from, “Damn, that was sweet!” to “So, I bet you’re feeling pretty stupid right now.” (That's the verbal scale, the physical ranges more from 'nothing happened' to ...some pretty horrible stuff. A coffin for yourself is not the worst possible outcome.)
Most of the people I work with are serious martial artists and most have some deep damage (sometimes damage they have been trained to think of as strength) from that. Healing is growth and can be learning. It’s very organic.
It’s also not for everybody. Sometimes the expectation of what the relationship should be really gets in the way. If you really want Master Po or (who was the guy in the Karate Kid?) you probably won't be happy with a smart ass in boots who keeps telling you 'you already know how to move' and 'sailing through the air is fun!' and 'what were you feeling when you did that?'
Deep learning is growth. It's not about increasing information- what you know- so much as changing who you are. Sometimes, often, you can't even articulate what you've learned. It bypasses a lot of that verbal level of your mind. A student and I sat down with a notebook once after class- she’d mentioned that she always brought a notebook and never wrote in it because there weren’t any words. Sitting down and looking for the words it was over two pages.
That’s not the kind of teaching that people are usually used to or like- but the part of your mind that thinks in words is somewhere between useless and counterproductive in a fight. It’s not you anyway, it is just some words in your head.
So, I’m not teaching here. There are a couple of people I roll around with. Growth may happen. It’s all good.