Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kill the Sensei

Generally, martial arts are taught very poorly. For the so-called "traditional" Japanese and Okinawan arts, they way they are taught is not traditional at all. For many systems, the first generation of US and European instructors learned just after WWII, from an occupied people who hated them and through shitty translators in large regimented groups. Somehow, this unnatural bastard idea of training got called "traditional" and since it set the standards for training, people assumed it was good. Get this, 'Standard' and 'Good" are not the same thing.

One of the details of this teaching method is correction. The instructor's job is to tell the student what the student did wrong. Even on the rare occasion when the sensei starts with, "Very good..." there is always a "...but" to follow.

We know micromanaging makes for unproductive and unhappy employees. How and why did it become the norm in a field that should be about survival? If you get corrected no matter what you do, it creates a condition called "learned helplessness" in which the best strategy is to do as little as possible. Why waste energy when you will just be corrected anyway? If you're going to be punished, why be tired, too?

We had a great crew at the MNVD seminar. A week of intense fun, learning. For me it was a chance to tighten up on teaching methods and compare and contrast with others.

Dealing with violence, there aren't a lot of good answers. The usual issue is choosing the option that sucks the least. At this venue, all the instructors were on the same page for this: "That's not what I would have done but you did it and it worked. If I were to tell you something that worked was wrong, that doesn't make it wrong, that just means I'm an asshole."

The student's got the sentiment, they got the words. They actually seemed to revel in and they really grew with the freedom. But even on the last day, there were a few questions about whether someone achieved success 'correctly.' And throughout the week, almost everyone had been so brainwashed that when they were not being criticized by the instructors, they were criticizing themselves. One used the Dracula's Cape technique to evade simultaneous attacks from three people. Get this-- at a signal you can't see, three people, all within arm's reach, launch at you simultaneously. And you knock one back and successfully get off the X for the other two, who collide. That's a good day right there.

And you could see the guy who pulled it off listening to an imaginary sensei on his shoulder, telling him it wasn't perfect. Beating himself up over a success.

We all know, or at least should know, that efficient teaching involves rewarding improvement. Punishing imperfection might keep skills from degrading, but it does nothing to show the way forward. Constant criticism is not good teaching. It rewards passivity and creates victims. Knock it off. In the end, it will brainwash the students so badly that they will create and maintain little imaginary sensei that sit on their shoulders and whisper the criticism even when you aren't there.

Don't create that voice in your head, don't create that voice in your student's heads, and if you have an imaginary critical sensei perched on your shoulder, kill it.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to explain this badly.

For me, part of this is the what-if monkeys saying next time I'm going to need to cope with more. (Yeah, 'nough said)

But, part of this is just striving to become better. How can what happened be improved? What other options were there that I didn't notice that I should try to be more aware of? What follow-up opportunities could I have taken advantage of? (personal debrief?) I know each situation is going to have different variables in play, I don't have enough experience to say if that makes it a bad habit.

Does that make sense?

Kamil said...

I agree with Anon. Critics can come from outside and within. Criticism can be counter-productive. It can also be the only thing that kicks your butt to be better than yesterday. My sensei gives me pretty good direction - killing him seems in poor taste.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of anyone in the police forces or military practicing martial arts ever (serious)... combat operatives are western boxing, wrestling, and western submission locks/holds. I've met a lot of martial arts instructors from Kyokushin, traditional chinese martial arts and karate, and at no point has there ever been a crossover with the police forces. People who actually serve "in the line of duty" generally trash eastern arts. It's best for the police to create their own systems rather than turning to ju jutsu black belts.

Unknown said...

Anon, the problem with that is that then you have a new system to slowly deteriorate into mediocrity. All systems of techniques have a strange way of deteriorating into mediocrity. Those styles and techniques youre saying people gravitate towards can all be gravitated towards while learning how to use them in the line of duty without trying to blur it together into a special style. Then theres nothing to deteriorate, just a good environment to improve. In my opinion.

Old Bull Lee said...

Where I train, there is a clear distinction between doing it wrong and being corrected, and doing it right but getting some pointers for refinement.

Old Bull Lee said...

I said refinement, I probably should have said increasing efficiency.

Old Bull Lee said...

Oh, looks like my earlier comment didn't make it:

Where I train there is a clear distinction between "You're doing it wrong and this won't work."
"You're doing it right, this should work (no guarantees of course), but if you fix this little detail it will be more efficient."

On Wim Demeere's blog he once said that now that he's older, he can hit harder than ever before with even less effort. I think this latter type of correction, which is really more like refinement, is what leads to that kind of development.

Jim said...

I'm not sure where Anonymous comes to the conclusion that there are no police officers or military service members who seriously train in martial arts. I am one -- and know many others. That said -- he does have a valid point that you cannot simply take a martial art and use it in Law Enforcement. You have to shape the training and applications to the requirements. Not that much different than adapting to a particular rule set for competition, when you think about it.

Tiff said...

Thank you Rory

Erik Kondo said...

When I was in my 20’s and receiving private pilot flight instruction, my instructor (a former military man) told me that when I did my solo (flew alone for the 1st time), I would hear his voice in my head helping me to land. And sure enough, as I flew the landing pattern, I did. That voice was reassuring. But after I had flown on my own a few times, that voice receded and was replaced by my own.

In order to evolve a skill, you need to replace your instructor’s voice. If you still hear that voice after understanding the basics, you are not evolving. In such a case, as Rory suggests, you may need to eliminate that outside voice by whatever means necessary.