Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Making Sensei Happy

I touched on this in the book.  What we are teaching is rarely what we think we are teaching, and that is largely because of our ego. We assume we are teaching something right and true, so do the students for that matter, and so they give us what we tell them to give us.  Like trainers in any field, our students don't necessarily give the best answer, they give back the answers we have given them.

In the end, when you come at your student with an attack, he will defend the way he has been trained.  He won't run, even if that is clearly a better option. He won't pull a handgun he has hidden under his gi, even if it would be prudent and justified. 

There are levels to this. Who decides what is right, what should be recognized as competence and rewarded?

In a self-defense class, the 'end user' is the student.  The students are the ones who will or will not be kidnapped, raped or murdered as a consequence of what they learned.  The people who decide what is 'right' and what should be rewarded (with rank or trophies or...) are the senior members of a system or the tournament judges- people well removed from the delicate place where rubber meets road.

It goes beyond martial arts, though and into every aspect of our society.  In much of our lives doing a good job is not rewarded as well as giving the impression of a good job.  I'm coming to understand (I'm a little slow, this may not be new to anyone else) that big bureaucracies and government run on paper, not on results.  A spectacular success does not have as much impact as a spectacular report about nothing at all.  Good organizers are not promoted as readily as poor organizers who document great organized systems. No one looks at the systems, they look at the documentation.  In some areas (a job I held once comes to mind) even the audit system designed to check this has become a friendly game of "I'll show you my cherry-picked examples and you show me yours and we'll award each other certification."

The 'good' students are the ones who make sensei happy.  The 'good employees' (and future upper-level management) are the ones who make the present upper-level management happy.  It has taken me a long time (and it is quite disturbing to my INTJ nature) that dedication, insight, hard work and even brilliant success aren't the keys to being in a position to change things. Success is not what the people who make those decisions, the ones many steps removed from the line, value.

At street level it is important- dedication, insight, hard work, compassion- all lead to the occasional brilliant success of a life saved or turned around, bad stuff prevented, good people safe to walk the streets.  But do it for yourself. Do it because it is the right thing to do.  Do it for the people who live with you at that street level.

Just be aware that the smiling face of someone freed; the person who you got to in time and has a chance to live are all messy and meaningless to the people who decide what is right and wrong; what will be rewarded and punished. The clean sheet of paper (with no typos or misspellings) is more real to them than reality.


Molly said...

I worked for a company once where our division had the best numbers in the country - largely due to a single therapist at a single nursing home that had excellent outcomes, matched with unsurpassed reimbursement.

I covered for her once. The paper trails had no correlation to the actual patients. When I pointed the discrepancies out to a supervisor she said - "oh X wouldn't do that, She is one of our top therapists." Part of the reason I've ran my own business for 10 years.

David R said...

The classic one that I have seen many times is the accreditation award that is nominally for excellence but is really for ticking the boxes.

Here in the UK in our Legal Aid system they introduced a alleged badge of excellence called Legal Aid Franchising. Supposedly you could only do legal aid work if you had a franchise thereby protecting the consumer by ensuring that only the competent could do this work. Problem was that all the franchise measured was the quality of the administration work, not the quality of legal advice. It was possible to get a really high score and thereby get the franchise whilst getting every piece of legal advice wrong.

I have noticed that this sort of accreditation badge is very popular with bosses of a certain rank. Like merit badges.

Jay Gischer said...

Yes, this is so common in my world, the high-tech engineering world that one of the standard questions we ask a new boss both directly and via "reading the tea leaves" is "How will you measure success?"

The thing to remember is to do a good job anyway. You'll feel better, and who knows, maybe someone will notice.

Mike Panian said...

I see this too. I think that the important part is what you do with this realization of the power of the appearance. You could become cynical and aspire towards the recognition that comes from the appearance. Or you can decide that it is important to be among the people who think that substance matters more. Holding yourself to a higher standard is really challenging and humbling and it can be lonely. But it feels better in your heart to try. Its an interesting position to be in if you realize this as a martial arts teacher. How do you teach and not be full of bull? Help students to think and learn for themselves. Test against reality. Acknowledge that at some point you cannot really know certainty. Its about the persistence and the endeavor more than anything else.

Ikigai said...

It's a tough truth, but sadly you're right.

When teaching martial arts, I begin in the traditional way. Slowly demonstrating and explaining techniques and having students 'repeat after me.' But as they grow I have them break out of that mold and defend themselves naturally, be it against clubs, knives, or open hands.

There are still 'please the sensei' barriers, but I feel it at least approaches whats best for them and not whats best for me as a teacher.

Rory said...

Molly- Yeah, this isn't limited to MA or LE, it goes on everywhere when the paper is easier to check. It has a very real cost, though. The taxpayers (or whoever) wind up supporting good ideas or pretty reports instead of actually solving the problem. How many noble ideas have become enablers instead of aid?

David- Yeah. I'm still not sure of the ethics of presenting specifics from previous employers, but if people knew how many of the certifications were pure, unadulterated horseshit I think they would be appalled.

Jay- 'reading tea leaves' even the people who are doing this don't realize it. If they did, they could answer the question straight.

Mike- That's the big ethical challenge. What's important to me is important to me. That will always be at the personal level, real pain and real blood. But it irks me that people who see things that way will be systematically denied promotion to the strategic level. People who solve problems are often considered too unpredictable to set policy. It is a shame and a waste.

Ikigai- you see it, the first steps on empowering you students. That's excellent. Have you given specific permission and made them practice solutions that have nothing to do with what they learned in class? That's harder. Not a criticism of what you are doing now. Just one of the next possible steps.

Mike Panian said...

In my work I have come across a concept that is interesting and useful. The concept is called Panarchy. It is a theory of adaptive change. The concept is actually quite involved and there is a technical book about it (Panarchy by CS Hollings.). But among the concepts in it:

There is an cycle that all adaptive systems transition through. It consists of 4 phases that grade into one another. R = pioneer phase...a period of rapid expansion of new ideas, expansion into new lands and so on K = increase in complexity and competition among the systems components. K selected individuals out-compete R selected species (who are better at initially managing difficult environments). But then K selection results in greater stability to the point of rigidity and unresponsiveness. Resilience to problems declines until the system collapses. What occurs next is the Omega stage where the old system is broken down. After that in its low state of complexity there are opportunities for innovation. This is where Alpha selection occurs. This is where innovative solutions develop and new system approaches take root. Then the pioneers (who get off on the cool new way) take the idea and run with it. And so the cycle goes.

This seems to occur in all complex systems and at multiple scales. So the component parts themselves might be a complex system in their own right (like people).

Long winded and obtuse perhaps but but one thing I have walked away from in my studies of this concept... There seems to be people (or species or systems) that are better at one part of the cycle than others. So problem solvers and innovators excel in times after chaos where opportunities are high, resources are available (from all the broken up parts) and resiliency of that base state is high. And in times of challenge people turn to them. At times in the "K" those of us who think in an Alpha or R manner, get outcompeted by those who "understand the system" better. In this state the emphasis is on rules and using rules. Its not that they understand the system really. They know how to take advantage of things competitively better than others. Then there are the revolutionaries. The destroyers. And finally the truly creative and divergent.

I am built to be kind of problem solver and innovator. I am always focused on practical solutions and realism and I am creative. I do not suffer fools or what feels like smarmy competitors easily. But I have found some sense in the way of things when I realize that my time is during and after the crises and not when things are all working.

I do a lot of thinking about knights in my martial arts and in life in general. I actually think that Knights really exist. You know a knight when you see them from the values that they hold to. They hold to values for no other reason except that its the right thing to do. For that reason they are often alone. But I think that there are several "orders" of knights. They all have some characteristics in common. But the orders are somewhat different from one another and match, roughly the phases of the adaptive cycle. Each with their own purpose, they are the people that hold the cycle together, each excelling in their respective purpose. They also each have their time.


Steve Perry said...

I hear you saying that doing the right thing for the right reason, regardless of what authority thinks is a choice you sometimes should make.

I'm good with that.

But on a purely pragmatic level, if you make sensei unhappy, odds are you might not learn what you need to learn to have that choice.

If you go to study a subject -- any subject -- with somebody who knows and maybe can impart it to you, then isn't that why you are there? Because he knows and you don't? If you don't think you should be doing it his way, then why would you bother?

At some point, yes, you will have enough of what your teacher has to offer that you can choose to go or stay. Until you do, why would you elect to make him unhappy with you? Isn't that counterproductive?

I get this now and again from newbie writers. They make a mistake they don't know about but I do, having made it myself and paid the price for the lesson. So I point it out. Maybe you don't want to say it that way because editors will stop reading when they see that.

Yeah, yeah, they heard me, but they are gonna do it their way anyhow.

Fine, my path isn't the only one, lot of folks have found other ways that work just as well. But I have seen a lot of them on your road, and so far, *none* of them have made it. And the reason you came to see me is because I've been up and down the mountain without breaking my leg, isn't it?

Maybe it isn't your job to keep me happy, but it isn't your job to piss me off, and if that's what you want, there's the door ...

I'm not saying that you should accept authority at all cost. But you needn't reject it offhand without considering what that means.

Narda said...

Thoughtful post.

I often say that 'What I'm being taught, and what I am learning, are often two different things.' The teacher, I suppose should know this, but so should the student.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Perry has more than a truth brewing in his posting. Mastery of the basic elements of any craft is essential. A student who does not develop a deep appreciation and mastery of the English language, for example, can only have a showy and superficial understanding of e e cummings. She is unlikely to understand the nuances, the deep waves that flow in the language. Worse, a superficially educated student may abandon mastery and pursue a self-made discipline. A 100 in a 100,000of those students produce profoundly creative work. Many other bounce from quasi-discipline to quasi-discipline, announcing the uniqueness of their own uncontestable experiences along the way. And never modestly...

Bobbe Edmonds said...

There is a lot I could add here, but the biggest thing, in my opinion, would be a combination of these three:

1: What the student is training for

2: What their level of tolerance is

3: What their age & life experiences are

The first is easy: Everyone joins a martial arts school for different reasons. I started in my teens because I wanted to hurt people, plain and simple. My reasons changed as I got older & more experienced, but the reason I STARTED was to inflict pain on others. So I looked for arts that were advertised as "brutal" or "savage".

The second, "level of acceptance", is literally what your reality breaking-point is. How much bullshit will you accept as true before you say "Now, wait a minute..!" I have met quite a few people who are willing to swallow a truckload of crap without gagging for an instant, as long as the source was wearing a black belt.

The third is more helpful if you're older, maybe with a good marriage and a couple of kids, a steady job and close friends. It's not impossible, but you're much less likely to fall victim to the wrong kind of teacher, at least for very long, than if you're a young guy with no attachments and more mentally susceptible to suggestion from something exotic like martial arts. You have to admit, if you want someone to buy into your way of thinking, get 'em young.

*Cough* "religions" *Cough, cough*

I have a solid self-image, coupled with a definitive goal for my training. I don't like techniques that require hyper agility or flexibility. I don't much care for the aerial dogfighting that arts similar to Tae Kwon Do advocate, so I don't bother with them. I'm averse to force-against-force collision techniques, and I hate systems that advocate "toughness" over "intelligent training", as found in many of the Japanese styles. So I gravitate towards teachers who have the same intentions as I do, and listen to what they say is correct. Then I evaluate it against my own logic, to see if I agree with it.

For example, Herman Suwanda was a great teacher, but I didn't agree with everything he taught, nor did I bother to try to remember much of the "conditioning" training he advocated. Too mystical for me, and far too destructive to one's own body for much payoff in return. My own abilities lie in fluidity, sensitivity and balance in motion, and that's what I look for in a teacher.

However, it takes quite a lot of bad experiences to come to this level of self-awareness. I need back surgery now because I wasn't this intelligent when I was a kid.

As to Perry's point: That's true, I suppose. But something that isn't being said is the psychological damage, maybe even physical as well, that you are doing to yourself by training with someone who you know in your heart is bullshitting you. You may want the knowledge bad enough to stay with an abusive or untrustworthy teacher, but what price will you pay in the long run? It may prove to be far more expensive than you originally anticipated, and furthermore you are in serious danger of passing the same abuse on to your students unknowingly.

How will you know the difference?

After training with a few such knowledgeable, but untrustworthy teachers, I decided it was more than my integrity and mental equilibrium was worth. I don't care how great the technique of the teacher is, if he's a sunofabitch, I won't go near him. At least I can look at myself in a mirror the next day without shame. To me, that's priceless.

Some people might say to this, "But look at what you miss out on!"

To that I answer, "Look at what I gained!"

In this day and age, martial knowledge is much more readily available to the general public than it was back when I started. You can find good training without sacrificing your dignity or your respect to some loser with a good side kick and nothing else.

Rory said...

It's interesting to turn this around and look at it from the student's point of view, but it has very little to do with what I said.
As a teacher, are you teaching what you think you are teaching? Do you have enough of a baseline to even know? If not, what is your source and on what do they base the idea of 'good' or 'correct'?
On top of that, is the student making you happy? Or making themselves effective? Much as we like to believe those are the same things, I've seen to many students punished for even once coming close to matching their teacher.
If someone is coming to you to learn how to survive, and they hit like a mule and have no control, do you teach them control first, so that they are safe to practice with, or work to preserve the power and intensity that is really what they need? Think about that one carefully, because if you try to have it both ways or come up with the safety excuse, the training is about you, not about the student's need. That, of course, is different if the student wants to learn spirituality or to play nicely with others. That's not what I teach.

Get it yet? What is your mechanism when this goes into an area you know nothing about? For me, my experience on rape and hostage survival is nearly non-existent; domestic violence experience pretty low. I can teach how to break people, how to hurt people, the strategic uses of the two, when each is generally contradicted...blah, blah, blah... but when it gets into specific strategies and nuances of, say, rape survival, I have to be up front with my students that I've never done it and may well be blowing smoke out my ass. I need to tell them, as much as they are always supposed to be questioning, do so especially here because I am fumbling in the dark, too.

From what I've seen of most MA instructors, this ignorance extends to almost every aspect of violence beyond a grade school fight in the play ground. As instructors (and as several posters saw, it extends everywhere) who decides what is good? How? Based on what? Most importantly: Are the solutions based on the requirements of the problems and the needs of the students? Or are the solutions based on the comfort of the teacher or "ease of reporting"?

Bobbe Edmonds said...

>"It's interesting to turn this around and look at it from the student's point of view, but it has very little to do with what I said."<

I beg your pardon, the title of this post was "Making Sensei Happy". Were you speaking of his wife? Otherwise, what you said was neither student nor teacher specific. So I don't think you can dock any demerits on me for taking that stance.

>”What is your mechanism when this goes into an area you know nothing about?”<

Three little words:

“I Don’t Know”

This is the teacher’s first rule:

“First, start with the truth”

If you don’t know something, how in the world can you teach it? I don’t try to bluff my way past my students, many of them have much more vast experiences in various fields than I do. I teach what I know in my heart to be true.

>”If someone is coming to you to learn how to survive, and they hit like a mule and have no control, do you teach them control first, so that they are safe to practice with, or work to preserve the power and intensity that is really what they need?”<

You are speaking as if the two are mutually exclusive, they are not. You caveated control “first” so they are safe to play with…If they aren’t, how do you propose to teach them? Who do you have training with you that will gladly (or at all) cross hands with them? I sure as hell wouldn’t. What sort of lesson would I walk away from, if at all, with? “Big guys can wale the shit out of me”? I knew that in second grade. What will captain power shot learn? “Golly, I sure hit hard”?

Power and intensity aren’t the only ingredients, at least in my opinion. If they hit like a mule but have no control, how will they hit accurately? How will they recover from an error of over-commitment? How do you get them to chain their combinations together in a way that delivers the mail without missing the box?

Maybe I'm looking at this wrong. Nobody comes to me to "Learn how to survive", as you put it, I'm not a survivalist. I teach advanced martial arts, not trapping and living off the land. I don't think I have what it takes to teach something like "Survival", even in the narrow confines you have worded it (unless you meant something else, and just put "survival" in there as a cover-all phrase). I can, however, teach them to think and act simultaneously, while under extreme stress. I can teach advanced body mechanics and sensitivity at close range when dealing with an aggressor. Which is exactly what I advertise.

Back to our hypothetical student:

Generate power? If they do that already, half the battle’s won. I won't need to re-teach it to them.

Keep intensity? I don’t know about others, but I didn’t sacrifice any of mine to be able to “tone it down a little”. There is a difference between intensity and intent, you know.

>”What is your mechanism when this goes into an area you know nothing about?”<

Three little words:

“I Don’t Know”

This is the teacher’s first rule:

“First, start with the truth”

If you don’t know something, how in the world can you teach it? I don’t try to bluff my way past my students, many of them have much more vast experiences in various fields than I do. I teach what I know in my heart to be true.

>"because if you try to have it both ways or come up with the safety excuse, the training is about you, not about the student's need."<

What do you mean, come up with the safety excuse? When is safety an excuse? I’m going to have to get MAJOR back surgery as a result of what that kind of thinking produces. As a teacher, you NEVER neglect safety. It isn’t about me, it’s about the people who have come to me for instruction and put their physical welfare into my hands.

That includes in the classroom as well as out of it.

Two questions:

1: I've never heard of safety in martial arts training dismissed as an excuse. May I ask what is YOUR solution to this scenario, since you have ruled out both the one that is the most sensible and the one that is the most appropriate simultaneously?

2: The power punch - no focus student isn't the ONLY student in the room with needs, especially if he's expected to interact with his fellows. Seems like there would be some sort of standard with which to get most, if not all, the students on roughly the same page so that they all get home in one piece after the fistcuffs start. See #1. My question is: How are you measuring what the student's need is? What he/she tells you? Where they live? Type of job they hold? Are you suggesting that the teacher should try to foresee the bulk of the student's supposed violent encounters and project the type of training they need?

That seems a little farfetched, if it is. If it's not, then I repeat:

How are you measuring what that student needs?

Is it by your standards of life? Or theirs?

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Whoops, forgot to cut after I pasted in that last article. Sorry, ignore it.

The paste mistake, not the article.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone's been watching The Wire.