Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Teaching, Training and Conditioning

I may be going off into my own private language of non-standard usage, so bear with me.

I see distinct differences between teaching, training and conditioning, with different uses and pitfalls for each.

Teaching is passing information from brain to brain. I can tell you that 'colors are how our eyes perceive different wavelengths of light,' or I can teach you the formula to convert celsius to fahrenheit. Teaching can be entirely cerebral.

It can go wrong in a lot of ways. There isn't always an automatic reality check, for one thing. I can give you the formula to convert to celsius, but if you calculate incorrectly it doesn't mean anything. A wrong number at the pure teaching level is just a squiggle on a piece of paper that doesn't look like the squiggle the instructor wanted. I can tell you that the earth is round or the earth is flat, and outside of a handful of professions, whichever you believe will not affect your life or anyone else's in any way.

Because there is no reality check, there is no inherent difference between good and bad information when it is taught. As long as it stays at this level, you can get a child to believe almost anything. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are teachings. Most of what we think we know, most of what we have been taught, may be no more true. Because most of the things taught are not tested.

And this becomes dangerously bad, because we then believe these things we were taught are important. Sometimes worth killing over. You can be taught, as an obvious example, that your religion is objective truth, all other religions are lies created by an evil Adversary and killing over this is a duty...

You can feel very sure about your beliefs at this level, but you cannot be sure...any more than a child's insistence in the Easter Bunny makes him hop.

Teaching, though, allows us to transmit a huge amount of information, and to think through connections that would take lifetimes to try out in the real world. It allows us to imagine possibilities and juggle symbols. And teaching compounds over time. The questions that inspired Aristotle's "Metaphysics" have been outgrown.

Validity does not imply truth, however, only internal consistency. And bullshit can compound like any other information.

Training is guided practice in how to do stuff. I can tell you the celsius formula, but you have to put pen to paper for a while to become proficient at it. I can tell you what to do if you are ever attacked by a right over hand punch from a taller person... but if it is only taught, not trained, you will think and not act and you will eat that slow, clumsy punch.

Sometimes training has a touchstone to reality and sometimes it doesn't. This is crucial to understand. Training always has a touchstone (unless you are really doing it wrong) to something. You train to move a body by moving a body. You train to swing a stick by swinging a stick. If the touchstone is or simulates reality closely, no problem. You hit a guy hard enough, he goes down...

It goes to shit when the touchstone doesn't mirror reality. You hit a guy lightly or miss him entirely and he goes down because he is 'supposed' to... Or you spend your hours training against the way the instructor imagines bad guys attack instead of the way that they do attack.

It can also go bad when the metrics are wrong. When you measure success (one form of touchstone) by a poor standard. How a technique looks is not a tenth as relevant as how it feels on the receiving end, but if 'proper form' is measured against a picture you will get, and I have seen, instructors who pick themselves up and say, "You didn't do that right." Or, to dust off an old memory, I once choked a wrestling champion unconscious. When he came to, he explained to me that he had "won on points" before he lost consciousness.

Training is critical, though, in teaching us how and when to move. And when done right, it gets us used to the conditions we will face.

Conditioning affects a deeper part of the brain. It is how animals learn. In many ways, it is how we truly learn. We are creatures of sense and motion, constantly watching the world, constantly affecting the world. A part of our brain, the one that learned stove-hot, is always watching what we do and the effects it has.

Do this and things get better, do that and things get worse. X hurts, Y feels good? Do Y. A flatworm, with a single neuron works this way. Under immense stress, we might freeze, thinking about what has been taught. We probably, for the first several incidents won't remember our training. We will respond with our conditioning.

"You will fight the way you train" is a lie, and I am just as guilty of mouthing it as any other instructor. You will respond to any high-stress, low-time stimulus the way you have been conditioned.

Conditioning is natural and has an automatic correlation to reality. Your form is good and you see the center of the target disappear in a ragged hole. Your form is poor and your shots don't connect, dissatisfying and embarrassing.

But conditioning can go wrong even under good intentions. If you yell at the poor shot, increasing the embarrassment, do you empower the conditioning? Or do you instead condition the student to avoid the situation altogether, to avoid you? Conversely, if the students always win in scenarios have you 'programmed for success'? Or conditioned the hindbrain to know that results are always good and effort and judgment are wasted resources?

Under bad intentions...
We have all seen the instructor who makes an example of any student who does well. Training to win but conditioning to lose. The hindbrain remembers, and learns/knows that losing is a safer strategy than winning. That's screwed up, and the ultimate example of training to fail.

Conditioning can be complicated as well. Even simple organisms will move towards pleasure and away from pain, but a child can be conditioned to some mighty strange definitions of pleasure and pain. Confuse the two in just the right way and a child can be groomed into an eager and permanent victim. In individual cases it is not automatic that rewards are as we expect.

Three avenues to make your students better- teaching, training and conditioning. All have uses, all have potential pitfalls. The most important thing, IMO, is that the approaches be congruent. That what you teach and train and condition all work via the same tactics to the same goals.


Flinthart said...

That's an interesting analysis. I've never thought about the process in that fashion, and I think you've expressed a valuable idea. I'm gonna steal it.

Scott said...

Thanks Rory. Excellent point, that reality checks are very important.

They are usually available if you look for them. Celsius and Fahrenheit, per your example, are calibrated by freezing and boiling water. If you know 0 to 100 and 32 to 212 are the ranges, you can maybe spot miscalculations.

Safe play with friends, e.g. paintball. laser tag, bjj, seems to have the most bang for the buck. Taking head shots in practice seems like a bad idea; brain's my 3rd or 4th favorite organ. ;-) Practicing the unsafe stuff with gear seems reasonable; hit the heavy bag, practice alternating knee drops on the medicine ball, push the heavy prowler for takedowns, whack the tree with the stick, suplex and slam the heavy sandbag, wave the knife through as many iterations of the X pattern as you can in 10 seconds....

Anonymous said...

Great post, Rory, as always. I have learned much from your blogs. P.S. Planning to attend your seminar when you come to Canada at the end of April. :)

- Azar

Hertao said...

I don't have anything useful to add here. But, awesome post! That helps me clear up some stuff in my head!

Charles James said...

Simply, thanks for this one.

Randy said...

One of the ways I evaluate a school/art/instructor for validity is:

1) what are the claims about training, and the stated goals of an instructor/school

2) what are the methods used to enable those goals, and fulfill the claims

If 2 can reasonably support 1, things are viable. If they don't, things need fixing (or avoiding).

Anonymous said...

Come to Ireland Rory!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely lovely. The end point of congruence towards a goal is such an important "stand back" and reflect perspective if you are helping people advance their learning of a thing.

Everything has a purpose, because in defining it we actually create it as such. At the same time, we add so much of that to our world that what is in our heads is a creation. Therefore nothing (as we comprehend it to be) really has to be the way it is. Interaction with what we have defined is critical to redefining the world for ourselves. It is the birth of conviction within each of us, and that work is the actual cutting of saplings in our immediate path as we make our Way.

Too esoteric maybe ...but I think if you have not sat down to figure out why your doing something, then what are you really doing?

-Billy G.

Scott said...

Feeling a bit contrartian:

Teaching is about putting people in situations which cause/trigger the collapse of illusions.

Training is giving people exercises which reveal aspects of their true nature. (often apophatic).

Conditioning is about creating unconditioned spontaneous responses to situations- as they actual are.

Travis said...

Rory- should 'experiment' have a category? Maybe it's a subset of 'training'?

Scott - I'm pretty sure you can not condition for an unconditioned response. If you conditioned it in then it's conditioned; if it's not the response you conditioned for then, well, your conditioning didn't work.

Scott said...

Conditioning is a pretty sticky subject. I want us to discuss this part in much greater detail because it seems like Rory is asking that we be way more aware of our conditioning because some of it may help and some of it may hinder.
Predators want us to have only conditioned responses that they can predict.
That's a clue because if we can accurately predict what dangerous situations we want to manage/control at high speed then we can plan our conditioning well. But that's an assumption.

Most of my students, most of their lives are not dealing with immediate violence. 98% percent of what I teach/train is for daily life, not emergencies. 2% conditioning, very, very important, 98% unconditioning. Thoughts?

Rory said...

Everybody, thanks and cool. Steal away, not sure about Ireland but Scotland is scheduled for May, and I think Billy is channeling the good parts of Augustine.
Travis, I think experiment is a subset of learning more than teaching.
Scott, at first I thought you were just being contrarian and playing word games, but your clarification for Travis brought some other stuff, important stuff, up. A lot of what I try to do is less about instilling new conditioning (though there is some of that) as trying to deprogram bad conditioning. Not bad conditioning, inappropriate conditioning. People conditioned for years to be good people have to let that go to be good animals. Sometimes you have to reject your conditioning to get along in order to really live. Surviving is part of it, but living at a better level is the more important part.

Ymarsakar said...

One of the most annoying things taught by one instructor I know in aikido is the fact that she wants you to fall from a joint lock throw in a specific way, so that you end up rolling forward, not backwards. The thing is, a person rolls with the technique depending on how the technique is done, and in that situation, it allowed or required a back roll. But it was the "wrong roll" in her view, and then she tries to correct the thrower's form to ensure that he can throw in such a way that the person can "roll" out of it the "right way".

This is a complete waste of time that took minutes that could otherwise be devoted to real training. It is the perfect example of form over function. The function of safety is ignored in favor of requiring that students 'roll' in a specific fashion, not that they do whatever they need to to assure their own safety. A person that can break fall and roll out of techniques based exclusively on how things feel at the moment, is a skill they can't even teach you, yet they go about trying to change it so that it conforms how things "should look".

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ButchCountry said...

hey I don't know if you are still actively blogging , I was searching google for the difference between training and conditioning and your blog popped up, I am not as gifted with words as you so I hope you do not mind, but I put a link to your blog in my wordpress post i am working on, my post is not about training and conditioning, it is actually an alternative blog and i needed the definitions for my readers, so if you are still active and you want me to remove that link from my post ( i did not copy or paste any of your work, just left a link is all ) all the credit goes directly to you ( I do not steal or commit perjury . so ya, your link is not on my blogspot blogger , just the wordpress . fire me an email if you wish me to remove your link.