Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easy Teaching is not Easy Learning

Going to be writing about teaching for a few posts, I suspect.

Traveling seminars are usually weekends, and it makes sense to batch them, like three UK weekends over 16 days (plus travel time, and maybe a day to reset the internal clock). But that leaves the weekdays as big sinks of unused time. Garry and Dan decided to remedy that this trip. Dan scheduled things at St. Andrew's and it seems some college students can handle an all-day seminar during regular class times (imagine my old man voice saying, "Kids these days!") Not a problem.

Garry's were evening classes, so working people could make them. Three hour slots in London, Gate's Head, Wirral, Doncaster and four hours (later today) in Coventry.

Most of my lesson plans center around eight hours. It's the minimum to get a taste of the pieces, in my opinion. Almost everything in those eight hours is centered on understanding the question (What will I face? What are the elements of attack?) and gathering information-- how to see and evaluate not only what the threat is doing but your own trained mechanical inefficiencies. A second eight hours can go into the mechanics of efficient brawling. But at three hours something must be left out, and it must be made clear how incomplete the training is AND that can be hard when the attendees have never had that type of information in that volume before. Things can feel more complete than they can possibly actually be.

Anyway, how to train is often on my mind. But given a new problem, you learn new things.

One thought right away, and this feeds back to my secret intention with the Joint Locks video:
The best way for teaching is almost never the best way for learning.

It's an endemic belief in bureaucracies that training must be consistent and measurable. It is far more important to be able to objectively evaluate a student in a skillset than whether that skillset works. That's how bureaucracies measure 'fair' and bedamned to those who wind up bleeding.

It's not just soulless organizations, either. It's a staple of martial arts instruction as well. Any kind of force skill will be applied in a chaotic situation. It will be messy. Everything affects every other thing. Your ability to play in the margins, to use the chaos and mess is a big part of your survival skill. But it's hard to train, and for the ego-bound instructors, the prospective of losing to a student (and if you teach them to think sideways, you will lose sometimes) is a huge threat. It's hard to teach, so many instructors teach the easy stuff, not the good stuff.

And the way of teaching. The easy way of teaching is to break things down into manageable chunks. If I can pick out the eight steps to that wristlock, I can teach those eight steps. I can tell whether the student is doing each of those eight steps correctly. I can correct the student, which makes me feel like a teacher. And in the end, the student only has to remember those eight steps (and we're all good at remembering sequences, right?) and apply them and everything will be fine...

But it won't, because the student will need to access the memory part of the brain, which is slow and nearly useless in a force incident. The student will hesitate because that's what being constantly corrected makes people do. The ritual of the eight steps, consciously or not, sets an expectation for a very specific set-up that the bad guy may not be willing to provide. And it's not eight steps to success but eight chances for failure, since if any of the steps fail, they all do.

Some of the keys, and I'm a long way from finding them all:

  • Getting the information in the right level of detail to actually use. Nothing to memorize, but not so vague as to be useless
  • Match the skill to the correct part of the brain. Fighting has to be noncognitive, so there's no point in getting intellectual about it. Get intellectual about perfecting your training, though.
  • Teaching in the right modality. And testing, too. Fighting is inherently kinesthetic, not visual. We knock people down, we don't impress people unconscious.
  • Make it fun. Force is an inherently unfun subject, but all animals learn through play, everyone moves more efficiently when relaxed, and people learn better and to a deeper level of the brain when they enjoy the process.
  • Play. Related to above, but there is no way to script a complex answer to an unknown problem. The only way to get good at any complex skill intended for a chaotic environment is to play. And there's a lot in this, because the game has to be very well designed to teach the right things, and the student must be carefully prepped not to read too much into it.
  • Whatever you teach must agree with the student's world. The wording on this is tough. Generally, assume that your students are intelligent adults with their own experience of the world. So if you say or teach something that contradicts their knowledge of the world, they will either doubt the rest of what you say (which is bad) or they will reject their own experience (which is much worse.)
Enough for now. Time to go to Coventry.


Lloyd said...

"...because the student will need to access the memory part of the brain, which is slow and nearly useless in a force incident."

"Fighting is inherently kinesthetic, not visual. We knock people down, we don't impress people unconscious."

This reminds me of something i keep seeing in boxing gyms, especially with beginners, and with myself looking back.

Tell someomne to do whatever they want on a bag and theyll move around it throwing combinations, and you can see their skill level roughly.

Tell the same person to barrage the bag as hard and as fast as they can for one and a half minutes, and almost everyone uses a different stance at a different range, and they just throw their bodies into thrusting/swinging punches that end up being harder and faster than their combinations. When they get tired, they slow down and little else changes.

Specifically, ive seen beginners magically have better body mechanics until the exercise is over. Its never made any sense to me. Could that have to do with bypassing the memory part of the brain (technique. stance. angle of your feet. angle of your body. hand position. distance. push your shoulder forward. rotate your hips/legs. and so on) and instead theyre 'just' hitting it?

Anonymous said...

Sgt. Miller,

Since you mentioned "kids these days," I have a suggestion/request. A couple of days ago my seven year old son got hold of my copy of Facing Violence and was leafing through it. I relieved him of possession of the book and gave him something more age appropriate, but it did get me thinking. Specifically, have you considered putting together a defense manual aimed at a (much) younger audience. I understand your wife is an artist and does cover work, so perhaps the two of you could put together an illustrated/comic book style manual on defense aimed at children.

Josh Kruschke said...

What does age apropriate mean exactly?

Is this something we "adults" tell ourselves to justify lying to "kids?"


Jason Azze said...

Have I ever pointed you to, Dan North's interpretation of "chunking"? (Dan is the Rory Miller of computer programming.)

He says,

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) describes a technique called chunking, that’s useful for either solving problems or creating options. For any statement, you can chunk up by asking “Why..?” or “What for..?” questions and chunk down by asking “How..?” questions. The further you chunk up, the broader your perspective becomes, and the further you chunk down, the more detailed. The power of chunking comes when you start to chunk sideways, by asking “How else..?” questions.

Mac said...

Nice summary of your art: 3 paradigms, 3 strategies.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

The more things I read and experience the more I come across certain people saying the same or similar things. Currently reading Edward de Bono Po book. Inspired by a post on majas blog, and I keep reading things that cross those lines...

Josh Kruschke said...


"• Whatever you teach must agree with the student's world. The wording on this is tough. Generally, assume that your students are intelligent adults with their own experience of the world. So if you say or teach something that contradicts their knowledge of the world, they will either doubt the rest of what you say (which is bad) or they will reject their own experience (which is much worse.)"

1. "Must agree" - Do you mean change to mean the expectations of the student or that it must be explained in such away that it can be understood from their understanding of how the world is.

2. "...(which is bad)... ...(which is much worse.)" - These are conclusion. What is the base premiss for these conclusions? Is it that you feel 100% responsible to break through to those Cool-Aid drinkers that believe stuff you think will get them killed?

3. "they will either doubt the rest of what you say … or they will reject their own experience" - Rory, you can't have your cake and eat it too. If there is a conflict between what you believe to be correct and what they (hopefully they are there to challenge what they believe to be true, if not what is the point?) believe to be true it has to be resolved. There are 4 possibilities. One is your perception of reality is more correct. Two their perception is more correct.  Three both are correct it just being see from a different angle (Blind men and their elephant.). Finally your both way off base. Maybe the learning experience is on your end, on theirs or both.

4. There's an assumption in this that doubt is a bad thing. What about Dunning-Kruger? And what was the point if MoV and Facing Violence if not to get people to question (doubt) and ask the question, "Am I doing all that is need to prepare myself?"

Finally, to sum up, if we assume that the student is in the right frame of mind to learn, open to the posibility they could be wrong, then this last point you were trying to make is moot. If there there just to confirm biases and their mind is already made up then, this last point is again moot as you can't control what state of mind someone is in. All you can do is try to make what you are putting out their as clear as possible. If the missunderstanding is due to a confusion of language then that can be corrected with further comunication and listening skills. If the mussunderstanding is at the level of how we precieve the world then we have to do thought experiments, explan how we perceive the world, before we can even try to make our point, if we are to have any hope of success. All while remembering the error could be on our end (Blindspot).

To the other commenters I think of it as thinking in questions vs. thinking in statements. You can't ask a question with out engaging the anylitical part of the mind. Making a statement ends the thought process.

Josh Kruschke said...


1. "Must agree" - Do you mean change to [meet] the expectations of the student...

If [they're] there just to confirm biases...

Jim said...

On matching "worlds"...

If I present something to a student that is in such direct conflict with their own experience and understanding of the way things work, they won't take it in. If I'm presenting material to a bunch of cops, and it doesn't match their own experience -- they're going to completely tune me out and shut me down. So... if I'm presenting material that is going to alter or reshape someone's perspectives of their world, it has to be done in a way that is acceptably harmonious with the world as they know it -- then I can try to sneak them to my point of view.

Josh Kruschke said...


I'm going to be blunt. I think to many people think they know what is best for other people rather than just focusing on figuring out what is best for themselves. (I know what is best, and this is for your own good. A lot of evil has been done under that justification.)

Teaching is two party activity, and the teacher should only have control over the presentation of what they are trying to teach. The student should still have the ability to reject or expand on the subject matter. If you deviate from this your entering into the territory of slavery and indoctrination. 

I think the subject matter should be self-evident and speak for itself. If someone is being sneaky, and I notice, I ask myself what are they trying to con me into. You don't trust me, so why should I trust you, but this is my monkey brain talking, I'm nolonger listening to the information presented. 


The last point of yours put in ConCom parlance (If I correctly under stand what you are trying to get at.), "How do we bypass the monkey so as to engage the thinking not feeling brain?"

Josh Kruschke said...

"… believe to be true it has to be resolved." – An assumption on my part.

Really? Does it have to be resolved? If it works for both realities who is to say their is only one correct path.

Maybe the best we can do is just present ourside the best we can and trust the info will be put to a useful purpose. I think we want the student to have their ah ha moment right there in class, but maybe they're not ready then. Maybe they never will see it our way.

Ambiguity and uncertainty. If the worldview works for both, does it really matter?

Unknown said...

So frustrated I had to work instead of coming to play in Swindon- hopefuly next year!
A lot of relevant stuff for me to think about in this post- critiqued by a friend who came on the last course- too much theory for students who are doing academic work all day. Next lesson went better , and much more fun,when they got much more physical. My task now- how to present the theory in the best way. Good thing is that we have a lot of discussion (argument) during sessions about how the students (young women) percieve the world around them and what they want their relationship to it to be.

Jim said...

I think I may have come across differently than I intended. I'm not saying that you have to sneak something in, or con them to teach them. If I'm teaching, there is understandably a level of "I know best" or "I know this stuff" -- otherwise, why would I be teaching? That's not to say that your or anyone's experience or knowledge is necessarily wrong or unequal -- but that, if I am the one teaching, I have to have the confidence that what I have is worth sharing.

So... starting with that premise (that I have something worth sharing), if I want a student to listen -- I have to present it to them in a way that they can take it onboard. If what I'm trying to share is real paradigm shift -- that means I'm going to have to meet them in the middle somewhere before they can listen. It doesn't mean that I have to be sneaky or duplicitous about it, just that it has to come from somewhere that tells the student that I am worth listening to. Sometimes, that's done by things like an intro that says "Hey, I'm a cop with a bunch of years in patrol and hundreds of uses of force. I've also investigated numerous assaults and even homicides." In other words -- "Hey, I know something about what I'm talking about, so listen to me." Or it might be done by a demo: I'm going to show you a better way to throw someone, so watch me throw someone.

So when I said "sneak them to my point of view", I didn't mean it as connivingly as I admit it may have seemed. I simply meant getting past their almost instinctive clinging to their own entrenched perspectives or ideas so that they can listen to what I have to say. I think I'm still not being as clear as I could be...

Josh Kruschke said...


" I have to have the confidence that what I have is worth sharing."

Understood, but we need, I believe, to also have the confidence in the student that they are ready to learn. To be receptive and open to learn. Hopefully a good indication of this is that they showed up to a class/seminar. Ultimately it is the students life.

I'm guessing the solution has something to do with, how do we present the information in such a way that it doesn't set off the monkey brain that is resistant to change?

So, I think the best thing is just to be honest. Give a warning that it might be hard or unplesent to hear and try to give them background information to base their decision on. Hopefully this will get them to at lest consider the infomation/training.