Monday, March 22, 2010

Toning Down

I received an e-mail from someone I really respect as a friend, a martial artist, and a mentor. He advised me to teach less material at seminars. The e-mail was sparse, he is one of those people who often teaches with a single word, but he seemed to imply that trying to cover it all every time would hurt my longevity (business-wise, I assume) and it made it hard to describe what the seminar was about.

So I'm kicking it out to get some more thoughts. My gut feeling is that I don't teach enough, that nothing should be deliberately withheld. My feelings after teaching a seminar (as opposed to a workshop) is always a sense of frustration at all the important things we didn't have time for.

With some time on a plane and a notebook, I made a couple of lists and it's likely that my friend is right. The list are the things I have covered in different trainings, things that I think are useful and important. They all blend, as well and it's not so much the pieces as the combinations between the pieces that really matter. Take a look...

1-Count Seven Facets
Take-outs Ethics
Operant Conditioning Training Legal
3-way OC training Violence Dynamics
Woofing (light and heavy) Avoidance/E&E
Tony Blauer's Manson Drill De-Escalation
Tony's Night of the Living Dead Counter-ambush
Reception Line Recognize and break the freeze
Hood drill The Fight
Break Through Aftermath: Med, legal, psych
Clothespin Game Effects- 1 or many incidents
Roll-over (4 levels) 4 Elements
Targeting Drill SSR effects
Roleplay Environment
ConSim Force Law/Policy (cop version)
Frisk Fighting Big 3
Environmental Fighting Adrenaline loops (video)
Weapon Retention Nightmare opponents
Manhandling Types of Assaults (+video)
Leverage and leverage points Fighting to the goal
Lock flow Male and Female Adrenaline
Articulation Layered ranging
Initiative Pain
Baby Drill Chaos management
2 on 1 one-count 4 Basic truths
Pass-parry Flaw in the Drill
Core fighting Go Buttons
Crashing Perfect move
Spine controls Effects and Actions (MPDS)
Blindfold drills Social and Asocial violence
Face masking Safety Briefing
Shrugging/ Core defense

There are more, I'm sure. And it seems like a lot, but it all connects and sometimes the lecture is just a single sentence attached to a drill. There really isn't a lot to remember, a whole day seminar really usually only has 3-4 techniques. The rest is stuff that people just forget to see or avoid thinking about, but already know.

Any thoughts? I especially want to hear if you have been to one of the seminars. I'm still trying to learn how to do them better.


Toby said...

*Gulp* - Now I wished we'd booked a 5 day seminar, as opposed to 3!!!

Master Plan said...

I agree w. Toby. ;-)

Also any thought as to constructing...'modules' so you can group a variety of linked (loosely or not) bits in to a more coherent whole. Then of course they can invite you back for another and another as desired.

Could say man-handling, spine controls, leverage\leverage points, and lock flow all get bundled?

Alternately but along the same lines you might figure which things go well together and then solicit input from the person organizing the seminar as to what they want to see and present them w. sets of options based on that input.

You DO have, like, a LOT of material, and certainly the more you try to cram in the less'll likely fit, right?

ANOTHER idea would be to attempt in some fashion so solicit data on the expected knowledge\abilities of the expected participants and let that determine what you teach. jujitsu guys need joint locks? Or do jujitsu guys in fact benefit from your approach to joint locks? Could do either way, but the more you can know the audience...

They can build on each other in sequential seminars as well. OC conditioning, then 3-way OC conditioning, etc.

Or maybe techniques\principles to start, break\lecture during break, and then drills to wrap it all up.

Did I miss Power Generation in that list or is it not in there?

I suppose still another way to do it would be to pick\plan X topics for X seminar, deliberately underplan to allow extra time, and then tack on..whatever at the ends, but keep a record of what you DID show, and then if you go back you could build on material already seen. That's a bit harder I suppose given the nature of seminars.

I know you'll feel a bit limited if you set yourself an agenda and JUST teach that, but I think folks in seminars like having some sense of structure on the part of the instructor (I could easily be wrong about that tho) and if you allow for extra time at the end you can throw in some grab-bag type topics there as dictated by the audience in question.

Uh...also you might group them loosely by topic. THIS is all "real violence is really real, ya'll!" and these are all, "here's some principles you can apply to your martial art", or "this is my violence\7 stages of violence\self-defense\civilian-use-of-force stuff" and see if that's helpful as far as an organizational plan.

Any of those should make for an easier time describing what will be covered, allow for some flexibility in which topics and how much depth to go in to, and provide for increased teaching longevity by leaving them wanting more (which is a good thing, tho perhaps not entirely in agreement w. your personal ethics). AND if the class is a smart bunch and blows thru it all right quick you'll have other lists\linked-lists of stuff to throw at them.

Finally like Rhino\Unicorn I think at least a few of the lecture topics could be almost as easily presented as hand-outs (maybe they can read them over the lunch break and ask questions at the end if they have any?).

I also think it's acceptable to say in some cases, "If you'd like to know more about X or my books", you don't gotta reinvent your own wheel every time I don't think.

You might also try for more strict time management as well, let folks try the drills X times or for X minutes and then move along to the next bit, it won't give you as much opportunity to provide corrections\feedback but it might allow covering of more material in a more consistent fashion.

That's all I got based on 1 and 2 halves seminars for now...

Anonymous said...

Two things: breadth and depth. In a limited format such as a one- or two-day seminar, you can cover the breadth of a wide territory, or the depth of a narrow one. I'd opt for the former, as a traveling instructor. That allows students to seek the depths on their own between your visits, coming back to you for a refresher of the grand tour each time you pass through town.

At the Chehalis seminar, although I was vividly aware that we had rapidly skimmed over a lot of ground, the breadth of the tour convinced me that I'd need to take the seminar again whenever it's available, and more than once. The breadth of the tour convinced me that if I did my homework between seminars, then each time I had that opportunity again, I would probably be more prepared to grasp the nuances as they appeared.

I'd say that's a pretty good business practice: Leave your students wanting more depth, and they'll probably come back to you on your next trip through, since you have shown them that your territory definitely includes the ground they're most interested in. But leave them wanting more breadth, and they'll look elsewhere for a different tour guide since they won't understand that the piece they are most interested in is your ground, too.

Further (and perhaps more important) one student misconception that all defense instructors need to guard against is the human student tendency to think that in-depth learning in one area gives them ability or knowledge or what-they-need in some other area, or that they've now learned "the secret" they were looking for and can therefore quit learning more. As a tour guide you can guard against that tendency because it is so natural to show the true scope of the problem that way, but as an immersionist it's just part of the scenery -- and a particularly pernicious one in a short format class.

Finally, there are the natural limits of your format. As a traveling instructor, you -can't- give that much depth anyway. You know how little can be taught in a one- or two-day format compared to the constant, steady build up of knowledge and skill that follows weeks and months and years of real study. But you can't be there for the real study. There's only one of you. So at best, as a traveling instructor you can only serve as a tour guide anyway, no matter how much you'd rather give depth than breadth. I'd say you'd do well to plan on being a good tour guide rather than a poor immersionist.

Scott pt 1 said...

Hi Rory,
I've been reading your blog since I bought your book some time ago. I think I can understand to an extent where you are coming from. When I was a military instructor assigned to an Army unit, I had a lot of time to work with my guys and get them to where I thought they should be. I had lists similar to yours all over the place, with accompanying classes and variations on classes stacked on every desk and shelf in sight. Then I became a civilian and have been teaching other civilians through workshops and seminars. The change was huge! My question to you is, “what is your goal with your seminar? Where do your students need to be at the end of it, for you and them to consider it a success?”
I don't presume to offer advice, but what I found to work for me was a slight change in mindset. I stopped asking myself where I thought I needed to take my students, and asked what would help get them immediately closer to achieving their goals, and establishing new ones. What next step could I offer in their progression that they weren’t finding elsewhere? That changes with each group I train, obviously. I teach gov’t within the profile of their job function, (what do they need to overcome the likely scenarios they will encounter as based on mission parameters? How can I expand/reinforce these methods with any extra time?). When I teach civilian women, I boil it down to reinforcing what I believe to be the key traits enabling survival, using realistic scenarios and defensive methods. I will discuss/ show additional items I believe can help later, but I want to ensure they are firmly capable in their present state before pushing too far and causing them to lose what they know. If I do this properly, they will find their own answers after I have left.
With both groups, I let them decide how far/fast we go, based on their ability with the course. It’s no big deal if we don’t cover everything I wanted, so long as I cover what they need, which I define as "being able to survive, x." I come prepared to teach everything I know within the "X" scenario(s) agreed to, but realize I will probably only make it through 60%. As the students appear to increase capability with the chosen methods, I progressively build to the next series until their capacity is reached. Sooner is preferred, but everyone learns at a different pace. Most of what I teach is meant to work together, so I ask them to create their own combinations as often as possible, so long as the job gets done in a natural, fluid way. If we get beyond my original goal, I’m ecstatic, but if we have to lessen the curriculum (not the result) based on their beginning ability, so be it. As long as the “x” objective is met, we’re good. If not, I stay late to make it happen, and then re-work my instruction to shore up my weakness in teaching.

Scott pt 2 said...

Unless someone is a permanent student at your home dojo, there is very little likelihood you can transmit all of your knowledge to them (if even then). The key then, is giving them what they need right then, that you can. I'm betting there is very little you, sir, can't teach…and even then, it’s probably only b/c you personally haven’t thought about it for some reason, rather than actual inability.

It might help to try to limit classes to similarly focused, or similarly trained, groups of students… maybe prepping you on the class with a survey of goals and backgrounds?

Another thought is to classify by task organization. Violence is violence, but how/why violence takes shape varies in each person’s life tendencies. You can tailor your class according to these. For instance, prior to your contracting in IZ, it was (I’m guessing) not likely you had to worry about defending against a suicide bomber supported by a 4 man assault force armed with AKs trying to get a buddy out of your prison. Conversely, it’s not likely an SF shooter has to worry about getting shivved or handcuff locked by a detainee during booking. I have courses for military missions, and courses for women (among others). Of course, I can occasionally get a female soldier in a class, but I teach her within the limits of the military course she is attending. If in partner drills I have a chance to tailor her methods for additional female concerns, I will, but my focus is on her needs as a soldier. What she needs there is different than if she showed up at a post-rape seminar…although the two have mixed.

Not sure if any of the above is useful to you, but it's what I've got at the moment. If you would like, I can follow up with more thoughts or scheduling notes I have used.

BTW - Google limits characters, so please forgive the dual post.

jks9199 said...

When I teach in a seminar setting, I like to have plans for extra material... My biggest fear is ending up trying to come up with something to fill an hour or more because I burned through everything I prepared. Formal teaching in an academy or similar setting requires different planning (formal lesson plans, etc) that eliminate a good chunk of that concern... but it's still there. Nothing like the day I got a call "hey, can you go on early? The guy two instructional blocks before you just burned through his hour in 10 minutes..."

But I think Master Plan's suggestion is a good one; link things together so that you can easily flow and link drills to lecture topics, and can always add another "set" of them. FYI - personal experience and preference suggests that about 30 minutes to an hour of lecture is plenty of talk in a 4 or 5 hour seminar; if you've got 8 or more, start with about 30 to 45 minutes talk, and you can get away with a similar period after the lunch break. (Obviously, pure classroom settings are different!) This doesn't preclude a bit of discussion/explanation in response to things that develop during the clinic... but I know I have a tendency to drift and ramble given a chance. Plans stop that...

Let me give an example of a clinic I taught a couple of weeks ago. I was helping someone start a club, and trying to give potential students a taste of our art. I could have done a "typical class" -- but then they wouldn't have walked out with much. So, my plan include a brief lecture on the art's history, and the goals of the club. Then I taught one punch, one block, one step, and two stances -- and put all that together into a combination/sequence. In about 3 hours. I had several drills planned, too, but I didn't get to all of them.

Viro said...

Seems to me like someone has a 5-Disc DVD series in their future...

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Part 1:

I used to do this as well, get booked for a one day seminar and try to cram a 7 day training session in with it. I did this in the pursuit of giving the people who paid to see me their money's worth, but it often left people more confused than not.

I have also attended seminars like this, where the instructor hopscotched from drill to drill, topic to topic, without any cohesion between them. The experience left me very disillusioned about the instructor, and I haven't been back since.

I mentioned somewhere else that your one-day here in Seattle could have easily been turned into a two day, and I would have shelled out more baksheesh for it gladly. That wasn't smoke up your ass, it is indeed worth it.

What I do nowadays is have a game plan for what I want to cover, trying to include drills that can be blended together (so the players don't leave with a bunch of abstract drills that they can't find a home or use for) coupled with plenty of interaction time give them more than just 5 minutes to train together. If you let the attendees work out and get to know each other for 10-15 minutes at a time, (or longer) you can get to your point by using less drills and more guidance during the ones you DO use.

Figure out which drills and exercises best accentuate what you're teaching, and pattern these into a flow-format that you can teach from. I find that I like to teach as students work, let them make minute corrections to their flow while IN flow, and it allows me to get several points across while working out at the same time. This avoids the "stop-start-stop-start" rhythm you find when bringing the entire class to a stop to point out what one person did right or wrong - odds are that most people will do the same mistake withing the allotted time span, and you can just vulture around the room giving the same corrections as you see them, instead of just once.

That one may sound a touch redundant - I thought so too when I was first told it. But there is a great reasoning behind it: Correcting a mistake as it happens often drives it home more than pointing it out before the student has anything to reference it by. Give them a framework to start from and continually return to that framework to hang different aspects and cohesive material from. After I tried doing it this way a couple of times, the training and attitude at my seminars seemed to increase tremendously.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Part 2:

Something else I do is get a taste for the martial background of those attending - you can't cater to everybody, but if 75% of the attendees are Jiu Jitsuka, and the others are scattered Kung Fu, Pencak Silat or nothing at all, you can tailor several points towards the grapplers that they will understand and apply near-immediately, and bring the ones who don't play in that realm up to speed with a slower drill or even the same drill worked a bit differently. People with advanced skills from other arts shouldn't have problems getting up to speed with a little help, and they in turn can help those with no experience whatsoever. For example, the jointlocking section we did: Most arts have a joint lock method, even if its not as detailed as Jiu Jitsu, relaxed as Chin-Na or fluid as Rikesan Silat. The point is to allow them to reach YOUR goal using THEIR methods.

In your case, you clearly like the "in game" - and you have a grappling background as well. Some of your drills could be combined into a single-play sequence, such as entry-to-spine control. You did something close to that here in Seattle, but if you're looking for streamlined, you could combine the two and make points about the differences and subtleties as people worked correcting them as they go.

Me being selfish: Sacrifice nothing of your lectures, they are imperative. I view your seminar as a companion work to "Meditations on Violence", and your lectures connect the dots and clarify in a lot of places that "Meditations" didn't.

The videos at the end were good, but we could probably have started the day with them, instead of closing it. As an opener, it serves a good example; "This is why you are here" kind of thing. It would put the entire day's training into context for your attendees.

The free flow work you did at the beginning is one of your best, because it accentuates your "infighter" philosophy. But I don't think it should be the first thing you do, you shouldn't start the day off with it. I think it should be your last. Let people end the day with fluidity and freestyle application of what you spent the day teaching, let them burn it in as they see fit - according to their martial background and ability.

You have a wealth of great material, only you can decide how best to dispense it. But you might want to think about a one day program, and a two day as well. Have a few formats thought out and ready to be referenced, should the need arise. You can change, add or subtract from these as you see fit & the need arises.

It won't be time wasted.

Ummm...I might have come off a bit pretentious in this post - You asked, so I said. No offense meant.

Mark Jones said...

I too think your unnamed friend is correct. You shouldn't think of it as "deliberately withholding information." Your own experience is that you simply don't have time to get to it all; rather than rush through material in a vain attempt to do so, accept that. Break the material up into different units on different topics.

Yes, that means more than one seminar will be required to get it all...but since you're not covering everything now no matter how you try, that's nothing new. If you plan for that, you'll probably be more effective in transmitting the material you know you can get thru in a day (or a weekend).

You didn't learn it all overnight; you can't hope to pass it all on in such a short time.

jks9199 said...

One more thought on withholding vs packaging. (I guess that's the best word...)

When you're teaching a basic academy class on recognizing behaviors you don't teach the same material you do for experienced officers. And you don't teach the experienced officers the same material you'd include in an instructor's class. Same thing in a clinic/seminar: you're not withholding information; you're teaching what is appropriate within the context.

To make a concrete example, you can tell a basic academy class all you want about someone being "too nervous" during a contact -- but it's meaningless without the context of quite a few contacts to judge from. And if you're trying to tell someone how to teach that -- you need to go at it differently, too. They need more examples and more ways to present the information rather than just the material.

Steve Perry said...

Your book is your calling card. I would offer that most of the folks you are apt to be teaching probably have read it (eventually to read the subsequent works), and that maybe your basic class should start out with telling them to read the book before you get there and then using it as a guide.

As somebody who has attended a few seminars, and a slow-learner, I am lucky if I come away from one with more than a technique or two I can remember.

An intensive day or two usually winds up in information and physical overload, and even taking notes and pictures sometimes isn't enough to keep it.

Look at it as an exercise in editing. If you had to take your list and cut it down to, say, the five most things, which ones would those be?

Teach those and make them stick, you have something. Past that, it's gravy.

Anonymous said...


I think the point is well taken. Looking at that list, any ONE of those items could be the focus of instruction for a day or more. A lot of it is set by what the reasonable goals you have are. If it is to give skilled, advanced students a taste of what you mean than your current structure works well. If it is to help them become actually proficient at any of those skills, you are loading on too much at once for much to be learned and internalized.

-Robert E.

Rory said...

Thanks, everyone. It will take me awhile to distill this down.

andi said...

If I might leave a point?

Rather than look at this from the point of view of the material you have available, look at it from the viewpoint of the learning objective. I don't for a moment pretend to have martial arts training experience, but I am a trained teacher and do a lot of training in my current job

Ask yourself "at the end of THIS" seminar what do I want the students to walk out of the door knowing that they did not know when they came in. Then follow it up by asking "what, out of my range of materials, will allow me to achieve that with THESE students in the time I have?" The capitals are there because the answer may be different for every seminar.

So I have no idea if you have too much or too little, it's going to depend on the day, the students, how you feel, how much time you have....

But I was always taught to decide what you wanted the students to get out of the lesson, and pick resources accordingly - and know how you're going to assess it too (did you achieve your learning objective).

Jake said...

Not a lot to add, except to say that I think your friend is right.

One of the things I struggled with a lot in teaching both Muay Thai and the PDR material (especially the PDR material) was the feeling that I had to get it all out there, because it was all important, and all connected.

Unfortunately, I usually found myself glossing over stuff, not giving sufficient detail, and sometimes leaving students more confused then when they started.

For a lot of people, one or two really solid nuggets of information goes a long way. People need time to digest information. What sometimes feels like withholding is really just giving the student an opportunity to digest. To draw a really clumsy analogy--if someone is thirsty, spraying them with a fire-hose doesn't help much.

Charles James said...

Hi, Mr. Miller: Better late then never...

Seminars have only one function in my view and that is to expose/introduce persons to the agenda or topic of the seminar. It is to inspire them to seek out instruction in those things exposed to at the seminar, the type of instruction that is longer than a few hours or several days of seminar exposure. If you covered all those listed subjects with fundamental information and experience, i.e. demonstrate and emulate, then they will understand the "possibilities" and either go for it or not.

I don't believe any seminar can be "to much information" as long as the attendees understand the true nature of a seminar.

Seminar: any meeting for an exchange of have provided for the exchange of "ideas" so go for it.