Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Many things are kind of coming together right now. Not some big life change, just lots of little pieces and insights and conversations that all seem to be gelling in one general direction: teaching methodology and tribalism and the hows and whys of stuff.

It was a long plow, but I finally finished reading Robert Humphrey's "Values for a New Millennium." I have quibbles, and the ConCom stuff Marc and I are working on puts a huge amount of it into a clearer context... but it is, as Gwenn pointed out, not a fairy tale, but an ethical system that makes sense and may underpin all other ethical systems.

Within that, there is the problem that what underlies all other ethical systems would make sense. What Humphrey wrote makes sense...and there is no identity value in common sense. No tribe says, "We are special because we gather water" they define their culture and identity by what they gather water with.

Within martial arts and self-defense, knocking people down is common sense, but how you looked when you knocked the bad guy down defines the system. Effectiveness is the goal. In my opinion effectiveness is the only thing that matters... but the hoops you get through to achieve effectiveness are the identity, the system. And it doesn't take very long for the hoops to matter even if they no longer get you effective. Identity, especially in things that will never be tested, seems to be the bigger power.

And so, when he got a chance to apply his observations to the educational system, Humphrey's sons had spectacular success with students who "couldn't be reached". And spectacular success did not matter a whit when it came to renewal and approval... because if your identity is tied with a dismal system, spectacular success is change, and the human brain is wired to resist any change to the tribe, even if the tribe is imaginary.

ConCom explains why success will inevitably cause a negative reaction...but will that help navigate and change the fact? Or will it only give us the comfort of knowing 'why' when the ship starts to sink?

Non-teaching becomes described as 'deep teaching.' Or people who trick and confuse and lie to their students until the student rejects them and goes on their own are extolled as 'coyote teachers.' People are told they are taught to be tough and strong while simultaneously being required to bow and call 200 pounds of ego in a fifty pound sack "master."

How many have ever sat back, with the entire system or even individual techniques and just really examined what they are learning and why? Soul-searched to find their personal original purpose in starting on the path and checked to see if the path still serves the purpose? Picked out the things that simply don't work (and yes, there are some things that you will be told or believe that you must do wrong now to know how to do right later... does that even make sense, really? Can anyone name one of those things that couldn't have been taught the right way from day one?)

Have you ever had to unlearn things as you progressed?

Somewhere in this mix, there is the matrix of all the things that make learning less efficient than it has to be.

Here's a paradigm for you: In every martial art I respect, one of the goals is to move as efficiently as possible. The ideal is 'no wasted movement'.

Where is the striving for no wasted movement in teaching? No wasted time, no wasted words. No disposable concepts. Just efficient teaching.

And maybe I'm starting at the wrong end. Maybe there has to be an art of learning developed first.

(Lots of thanks to one of the long-time readers for getting me thinking in this direction today. I didn't want to bring her into this without her permission, since some of these posts that get a little to close to identity issues get inconsiderate...but I'm grateful.)


Master Plan said...

This one and the last one kinda seem to get at the same point, or A same point, for me.

Most folks get provided a map to the territory, or at least old there is one, when they start MA\SD and have no ability or reason to assume the map is not accurate, and more importantly they often don't have much ability to find out if it's accurate.


IF violence is rare AND most MA\SD students are 'average' (which almost by definition they must be) THEN most MA\SD students will not have the ability to evaluate the integrity of what they're learning.

Lots of folks crave power for lots of reasons, MA\SD happens to be a fairly good venue for that, credulity of students, vagueness of precepts, inability to test certain assumptions, but not much more so than various philosophical\religious\spiritual groups.

And of course lots of folks crave acceptance validation, rather than effectiveness. Or, maybe, belonging\validation IS effectiveness for them. I don't know that it's any less valid a reason to pursue martial arts. Or what gets presented as 'martial arts'.

Certainly creates a lot of confounds in the teaching\providing of product part of teaching\instructional methods in martial arts however.

Jake said...

Hadn't heard of the Humphrey's book. May have to check it out.

I've been trying to do a deeper thought process on what I'm learning and why. And how I'm teaching what I'm learning. Which is not always the same thing.

I think the idea of no wasted movement in teaching is an interesting one--I don't know how it would play out. A wasted drill for one student is key to another student's learning. That's one of the big issues I see with group classes; you have to present to the group, which means you have to hit a whole bunch of material that may not be valuable for everyone. Or at least, may not have the SAME value for everyone.

Spending a lot of time asking questions about why I do what I do, and where I started.

Developing a model of learning is great, but that starts WAY outside the training space (for most). I see a lot of students with preconceived ideas about how to learn, and deprogramming some of that stuff is hard.

Random thoughts off the cuff. Probably more later.

Joshkie said...

A possible answer to your question, "Maybe there has to be an art of learning developed first."
Every person learns differently, or has a different understanding of how they learn best. What works best for one might accualy hinder someone else.
So there might not be a system persay but just an understanding of how we learn, and this would need to be under stould by both the student and the teacher to be effective. This understanding of how we learn would then need to be incorperated into what ever system of instruction was set up.
There allready is a lot of books on study habits, memory retension and the like for both the physical and mental aspects of learning.

This is how I would proced.

Anonymous said...

The whole concept of groups forming identity almost exclusively by characteristics which are NOT basic human functions (carrying water, etc) is both an enlightening moment and a "no-duh" moment. Really makes you think about how the thigns that separate us us mostly minor details which are outside larger, more fundamental human needs.
As for teaching all the knowledge right away, i'm still trying to wrap my head around that. Don't students need to know certain thigns first? What good is teaching calculus if the student doesn't know algebra? What good is teaching a student how to do a wrist lock when they don't understand how to keep their balance while someone is pushing them? Granted, human movement might not be as complicated as mathematics, but isn't there still some appropriate order of learning?


Mac said...

AWB; get the student to realize how they learn, how that effects them (relationals) and tools to output that information and you'll create not only understanding, but success.

Scott said...

I maintain that the internal martial arts are apophatic. They are unlearning. The cerebral cortex inhibits other parts of the mind in order to open up all sorts of options, but this process is too slow and refined for martial arts.
There are many many tricks for getting around this problem and they all have drawbacks. Since all methods have drawbacks, all seekers of the true way will find ways to discard methods.
As for tricks, people tend to get hooked on the one that worked in the heat of the moment. You have the benefit of having a lot of heated moments. World-wide, ecstatic possession by warrior gods is one of the big tricks for getting that cortex out of the way.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Getting people to understand how they learn is vital, more so I find these days. Making sure that how one teaches adds to that, otherwise they get in each others way.

Flinthart said...

I'm reading backwards, having bumped into your latest post and been intrigued. But I'll offer an answer.

Yes, I've had to unlearn. I was taught many throws in judo-fashion as part of my first introduction to a traditional ju-jitsu style. I accept the value of the teaching: it makes sense to introduce a newcomer to throws in a way which minimises the harm to training partners and to the thrower, while still allowing the principles to be absorbed.

But there are certain elements which should be rethought. Keeping your feet together, for example. It's a good way to teach the student to centre themselves under the other person's centre of gravity to make the throw. And it's a good way to teach them the need to lower their own centre of gravity. (I'm specifically thinking of o-goshi, as an example.)

But - I'm 191cm. And with my feet together, performing a hip throw against someone whose head comes up to my armpit is... well, not so easy now I'm 45. And over the years, the feet-together thing has resulted in a hell of a lot of strain on my knees, which hasn't been good for me.

So I unlearned. It's not the 'feet together' that's important. It's the centring action, and the lowering of the centre of gravity. I can achieve the same result far more efficiently with my feet a little wider than shoulder-width, so long as I stay on the centre-line of the person I'm throwing.

It took a fair bit of unlearning. And now I'm trying to figure out how to pass it on to my own students without destroying in them the necessary habit of centring themselves for the throw...