Saturday, April 03, 2010

Some Teaching Thoughts...

I've had time to read, re-read and somewhat digest the comments (both here and e-mail) on Toning Down. Time for some philosophy.

I have no evidence that I'm better than any of you. There is nothing to say that I'm stronger or smarter or quicker or tougher or wiser or more sensitive or any of a hundred of the things that people sometimes use to differentiate themselves. Any difference that exists is that I have done things that many people think about. People who firewalk are no different than people who don't... except that they firewalk. I have learned some things in my own personal firewalk, but there is nothing that leads me to believe that each and every one of you wouldn't have learned even more than I. Would not have discovered more and spoken of it better. Would not have excelled me in every way.

I like to think I am special. I can be downright vain. There is just no evidence to support that.

So when I am faced with a group of students, they aren't students. They are bundles of potential and insight and skill and power. The same as I was, the same as I still am. Each has the capacity to be better than me. They are, each of them, already better than me at many things.

Further, and this is a hard leap for many people who teach martial arts and self-defense, I'm not interesting in teaching them what to do or even what I did that worked. Because even in the hairiest situation, whatever I did wasn't the key to getting out of it. The key was always in what I saw. (Then, of course giving myself permission to do what I saw needed to be done.)

And all of the students, in every class, already know how to sense the world around them. They can drive. They can identify friends and tell when something is wrong. They can feel a cold draft of a window that shouldn't be open or feel the body warmth of someone who shouldn't be there.

They see stuff and they know stuff, if the blinders aren't on.

If the blinders are on they will trample each other at a door to get out of a burning building and not think to throw a chair through a window. They will hide from gunfire behind a gypsum drywall that won't stop a bullet. They will follow their social conditioning even when they know in their gut and their brains that something is wrong.

There's some teaching in here-- few people have enough contact with predators to understand how predators manipulate, but actually it's not that different than the way that car salesmen or even some parents work.

My ideal for teaching is to give the students permission to see, and then teach them how to teach themselves. People can constantly improve. They can get better, smarter and more efficient each day. Especially if they are working on themselves, in their own way, to become the smartest, strongest most efficient version of themselves that they can grow into.

My gut feeling is that this can only be hampered by a traditional teaching model. If you decide someone is the ideal and your goal is to imitate him, you have set a bar and you will get there through successive approximation. Not only will you never quite achieve your goal (because even a perfect imitation is an imitation) you take the worthier goal, to be better than the best you have ever seen, right out of your mind.

There is nothing stopping you from this worthier goal... and if you glitch on it, that is one of the first things I would look at.

This post has really rambled. Let me try to sum it up:
You have the potential to be extraordinary. You might need help to see how, but it is right in front of you. You might need permission, so here it is: It's okay to be extraordinary. If you are my student, extraordinary is my minimum expectation. You will get there by teaching yourself. Teaching yourself is simply practice at seeing things as they are, doing something to make them better and then putting some thought into whether you could do it a better, more efficient way.


Unknown said...

Just a thought... maybe ego/pride/self is what keeps the blinders on. I know when I let go of that, literally everything works better. Maybe that's the core of what you're trying to train; humility.

jks9199 said...

Very powerful post, Rory.

There aren't many out there who will give students permission to become better than they are -- even if they never state it implicitly. There are fewer who give themselves permission to become better than their teachers/mentors/role models.

(Yeah, this is something I'm gonna have to work on in myself. On both sides of that equation.)

But don't sell yourself short, either. Your experiences coupled with the willingness to examine them and learn from them -- and then the ability to share the lessons learned... That's a unique combination. To be able to do it well... that's yet another level.

jks9199 said...

Another thought that's occurring to me...

The traditional teach model is implicitly and inherently flawed, as you note. It's natural to set the instructor as a model... and it's easy to forget that you don't have to be identical, and even can exceed the model. It's a rare teacher who produces good copies of himself, really. It's even rarer for a teacher who can guide students to move on their own, so that they have the chance to exceed them.

This isn't limited to martial arts; I'm thinking back to a couple of conversations I've had in the station house recently. We've got a crop of young officers; some of them have the drive when you talk to them -- but they're performance doesn't reflect that drive. We're a smaller agency; the same guy trained several of them. I know he showed them the tricks and tools to produce... And we're trying to figure out the problem. One person has suggested that if they really had that drive -- even if they started slow, they'd have picked up the tricks and tools. Another noticed that a lot of them aren't sure when they can do something... I think they come down reflections of the same thing. And you've named it well with permission. They don't feel that they have the PERMISSION to do something, whether it's make a traffic stop on reasonable suspicion, or just get out of a cruiser and talk to someone. They know they want to get out there and find the bad guys... but they don't feel like they have PERMISSION to do this.

Gonna have to share this idea...

Kai Jones said...

I think you know what you have in you that is teachable. I'm no martial artist (as you know) but from observing your seminars and panels I can tell from the drills you pick and the way you interact with others in them that you are teaching your thing (call it permission, call it perception, call it whatever you want because it's more than one thing) as effectively as you can.

You can't force this knowledge on people. You can only offer it.

Would thinking about different learning styles give you insight into what to add to, or change, about your teaching? Some people learn better through hearing, others through reading, yet others through observation--and some only learn by doing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Rory.

Unknown said...

A lot of what you said echoes Bruce Lee.
Ever read anything from the Force Science Institute? These guys are mile ahead of the curve. They recently did a study with special glasses that track eye movement. They ran top Operators and newbies through scenarios to see how their visual perception systems functioned. Turns out the operators automatically scan trouble areas while the newbies look all around before finally fixating on the threat.
I just recently went through scenario training and there was one where the bad guy's back is to you and he spins around at a certain point, sometimes with a cell phone, sometimes with a gun. In mine, it was glaringly obvious, at least to me, that he was coming around with a gun. I had my weapon out in plenty of time, had target acquisition, ID'ed the weapon, squeezed off a...sonofabitch! squib round!...tap! rack! He shot me in the should just as I shot him in the face (plate). Those marking rounds hurt.
That was a week ago and I can still see the bruise.
Oh well, keeps me humble.

Mac said...

It is instructors like yourself that provide the atmosphere of permission, engendering trust and encouraging attention to differences, to new ideas, new ways of looking at things. Instructors who aren't afraid to admit defeat, weakness, ego, wrongness. Growth occurs, awareness expands, eurekas abound. Humility? Ego tamed and shared, permitted and enhanced.

Lise Steenerson said...

Love this!!!

As my very wise sensei always says "I can't make you into "me" I can't only help you become a better you."

We need to adapt things to our needs and capabilities