Saturday, December 03, 2011


This came up at a class last night and it keeps coming up.
Last night was a homogenous group, almost everyone instructor level in the same school with, I believe, one guest. So there were a lot of questions that usually get a little debate where everyone tended to agree. Honestly, I don't care that much about right or wrong or who wins a debate. Partially because this violence things is an awfully big animal and right or wrong changes depending on what aspect you are dealing with. Mostly I don't care because you can win all the debates in the world and still be left bleeding and dying when you take your certainty into the bad places.

But the process of debate is important. If you listen. Most don't, just pouncing on the word or phrase that they can use as an opening and not hearing anything else. If you really listen, you question and you learn. It's one of the reasons I value mixed groups and people who question and argue and doubt. Celebrate diversity.

Humility. I am wrong most of the time. So are you. In a universe as complex as this one, the odds of anything we believe happening to be true are very slim. And, as a very wise man wrote, you can't make a good decision about anything you care about. You might luck into one, but anything you care about triggers your limbic system, not your neocortex. If you care you are not using your brain. And that sucks, but denial doesn't change it.

And a corollary-- Have you noticed that the more one knows about something, the less sure one is? And that rabid certainty seems more common in things it is impossible to know? The interested dilettante can explain geopolitics with great confidence and solve all the world's problems... the seasoned diplomat says, "It's not that simple. There may be no good answers."

Humility. I am the least important part of anything I teach. If I could remove myself from the process entirely, I would. It is about the student first, about the subject matter second. Anything in the teaching process that centers on me doesn't serve the student. There are tools. I have talked myself through some very shitty stuff with an internal monologue that starts, "What would Dave say right now?" If it helps and they have time, it's okay. But I want my students strong enough in themselves that they look to themselves to solve problems. I'm happy being an advisor, but not someone they feel a need to please.

We talked last night about all the times when we are teaching one thing and conditioning another. If you are doing multi-man, you may be teaching people how to fight multiple opponents... but because you need to control the contact, you are conditioning them not to hit. The instructor who makes an example out of a student who taps the instructor clearly taught good skills... but by making an example conditions the student to be afraid to win.

Embrace the fact that even the communication between two people is not simple enough to be sure. You are sending a million messages all the time without realizing it, and some will have profound effects, positive and negative, on those who watch and listen. You can improve, all the time, but only if you watch for it, only if you practice and see your intent, your message and the results.

The instructor's ego is one of the most dangerous opponents the student will ever face. Sometimes it is obvious. Martial arts has a hierarchy and a power dynamic and in too many places competency is not tested and compassion is assumed. It is a sweet spot for bullies and predators. Where else can you hurt people and they pay you and say, "Thank you, Master." What bully wouldn't get off on that?

Sometimes it's a notch more subtle: making examples, having your students give you 'feeds' so you can show off things you could never do at speed, changing rules and expectations to keep your students 'off balance' and your own power secure.

And sometimes it is just good intentions gone very wrong: The scenario trainer who wants the students to solve the problem the way the trainer would. The tournament champion who thinks what has worked for him will work for a scared tiny person with no experience or warning. The bouncer/SD instructor who thinks that everything he learned from a hundred fights with drunk college kids will cross over to date-rape defense.

Everyone is different. Every situation is different. That diversity thing again. Have the humility to let your students adapt. To cheat to win to excel. To be better than you and, even if you are stronger and faster and more skilled, give them permission (and maybe practice) at finding a way when your strengths might have trapped you.

The class last night was good. Good practitioners and instructors who asked the right questions and really got me thinking. Thanks for setting it up, Clifton. And for hosting, Kykle and Shannon. Good times.


  1. "If you meet the Buddha on the road, you must kill the buddha."

    Which is fine for the alert student. But perhaps for the teacher it should read "You're not the Buddha. Unless you're dead, of course. Then you can be whatever you like."

  2. "Have you noticed that the more one knows about something, the less sure one is? "

    Yeah. The longer I train, the less good I think I am. I was a lot more bad-ass five or ten years ago.

    I think there's a flip side to this: the student has to be willing to think for themselves. I'm sometimes amused, sometimes disturbed by the number of people I've trained who never seem to want to take the time to think for themselves, who just want to blindly follow someone's gospel and do what they are told, regardless of how much sense it makes. When I'm teaching Muay Thai, I find it moderately frustrating. When I'm doing self-defense stuff, it drives me bonkers.