Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Punishing Success

Heard a story last night. In various forms I have heard this story many, many times. It is a piece of something that Asher and I are discussing so I want to think about it here.

Currently, the man is an instructor in his martial art of choice. The story happened several years ago when he was a talented novice (he would never use the word talented- he is far too modest, but I have seen his appetite for work and if he trains this hard at this age he would have been called 'talented' when he was young).

He was the only student that day and the instructor invited him to spar. He still speaks with awe of his first instructor’s speed and skill (I would bet that he has far exceeded his instructor, but we never see our own growth clearly). The instructor toyed with him, a fast flurry (ah, I thought, you tried that trick with me- spiking the OODA loop). Again and again.
The kid was good, though. He thought about what was happening, made a plan, and executed the plan. He tagged his instructor solidly.

His instructor did nothing right away.
The next time there was a class with more students he called the young man up ‘to demonstrate’ and proceeded to beat the hell out of him. All, of course, to teach. No evil ego-bound payback here.

The message was received. Not just by this student but by all of the students. The student, now an instructor in his own right, sincerely loves the art. Decades later he still justifies and defends what his instructor did.
You can’t justify it.

The purpose of any combatives is to teach you to effectively apply force to another human being. It covers a lot of levels and one of those levels is to figure out what is going on, make a plan and execute the plan.

He did that. He did it so well that he almost knocked his instructor down. Not only did he do what he was trained to do but he specifically did what that instructor had taught him. What would have been cause for celebration with my students (and the first time you nail your instructor is a very good thing!) was a cause for punishment bordering on –no, bullshit- clearly abuse.

Do you really believe that the lesson learned that day didn’t stick in the back of this man’s mind? Wally Jay says, “Pain makes believers.” It also conditions people more deeply than almost anything else. It only takes once to learn that the stove is hot and it will take an act of will to touch the red hot burners again. It only takes once to teach a student that success is punished, that winning is pain and humiliation. Winning.

There’s a lot of tactically and technically screwed up things in that particular style, but those can all be overcome or adapted. But this- beating your students so that they are afraid to win unless it is on your terms, and your direction, your way…

I don’t even have words for the disgust that I feel.

How many martial artists have been through this? I have, fortunately always from an instructor I already had some contempt for and I could see where he was hiding behind the rules… what lessons would I have taken away if I had been a na├»ve kid who thought this was IT? How many students are being taught to win, but conditioned to loose? Do the teachers even realize it?


Anonymous said...

The one distinction that is necessary is the distinction between a student being a success and a challenge from a student. The difference is usually non-verbal. Challenges must be meant, because what we do in the dojo muat have limits placed on it at all times. Usually, and especially with newer students, that limit is a person, the instructor.

Anonymous said...

You hit the instructor or senior in our group you get props. The point of the instructor is to help the student surpass him, not keep the student under him.

As and instructor if you get hit by the student you get two things, a "job well done" for teaching and an incentive to train harder.

Coming from a traditional karate background this was something that was foreign to me, but I got over it.


Anonymous said...

I've been through it. In situations like this, the teacher does not realize it (which is no excuse). If they realized it, they would make it clear enough in advance, and students wouldn't dare fall out of line.

The average dojo is a dysfunctional family. Some people never grow up.

Anonymous said...


sad but true.

Some months ago I finally switched to a MA I'd known for years but isn't quite my cup of tea. The main reason: they're a healthy family.

Ferran [BCN, Spain]

Anonymous said...

this is one area of my training where I have been very lucky, training with you and with the YMCA in Salem, I have had nothing but constructive feedback and motivation to always better myself.

thanks again,
Nurse Ratchett