Sunday, January 11, 2015

War Stories in Teaching

Going back to Jeff's Rules: Everything you teach must have a tactical purpose.
Corollary to that, the way you teach must have a purpose as well. How you teach must serve the purpose of teaching. This is about getting stuff into your student's heads, not showing what is in yours. This is about what your students can do after the class, not what you did a decade ago,

I recently watched a very well known instructor. He told a lot of war stories. To hear him tell it, he had participated at levels of violence you can only imagine, no matter who you are. And all of his experiences were special. You could say, "I've tried X and it worked about 20% of the time" and he would cut in with some graphic story implying that you had never done it as right, as hard, as harrowing as he had. You've struck testicles with no effect? Well, he'd eaten them and by gawd that always worked, son!

By the end of the weekend, the students were visibly uncomfortable whenever this instructor stepped up to teach. Telling outrageous stories to a point might validate you. But after a certain point, it becomes easy to disbelieve.

Years ago, Marc MacYoung (I don't remember the exact quote) wrote about a someone asking him why he laughed when a friend was maimed. He said something to the point of,  'You can laugh or you can cry, but if you cry you'll never stop.' The humanity in that phrase struck me. I've been to too many funerals. I laugh, and I would tell my rookies, "You can take the job seriously or yourself seriously, but never both at the same time." You have to be laughing at something. Always. Because the other direction is madness.

I don't tell a lot of war stories when I teach. The point of the class is what the students can do at the end of it, not what I did in the past. But I tell a few, specific ones for specific reasons. And almost all of them are about failure. Where things didn't work. What I learned.

My war stories are all about what I learned. And the subtext is clear: I'm just an ordinary, average guy who has been in some weird places. You can be better than me. Hell, I expect and demand that you surpass me. Otherwise you are insulting my teaching ability.

To the other instructor, his war stories were an ego fest. "I'm cool. You could never possible understand or exceed me. Therefor you must listen like children, not like the adults that you are. Bow in awe."


Jim said...

That's something I've realized in myself, especially when I'm teaching a group. Really easy to use a war story or even just a "well, I can do this..." to pad my own ego -- at the expense of the student's interest, attention, time, and opportunity to learn. For some reason, I don't do it as badly one on one, like field training.

There's a place for a relevant war story to highlight or make point. Along the lines of Jeff's Rules: if it's not serving a purpose, why are you doing it?

Alvin said...

We were just talking about this topic (of sorts) last weekend after training. Too much coaches all about what they could do, sometimes to the detriment of their students' own learning. It's sad that I've seen more of this than the opposite in my martial arts experience.

shugyosha said...

As I see it, war stories are off-class, background, something to help what you've already taught / done.

Also... "ordinary, average guy"?


Take care. Ferran

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I usually teach complete beginners, and they practically demand I tell them some. Most of you probably got those "Have you ever...?" questions from newcomers at some point.

As I see it, there are two valid reasons to tell war stories:

1. They are plain funny :-)

2. There is a moral to the story (other than "I haz mad skillz")

The best has both.

My favorite war stories from my bouncing days start with "There I was, facing four guys high on coke and amphetamines..."

Then they expect me to tell how I dispatched them with my deadly martial arts skillz. So I disappoint them by ending the story with "They all left when I told them 'You can fuck me up all you want, but then I'll start screaming bloody murder into the radio, a troop of gorillas will come and good luck fighting all the bouncers in the place.'" :-)

Another I always tell is about the effects adrenaline, from my early days being a store detective:

"So I told the guy (/squeaky 7 y/o girl voice on) 'Take your pockets out of your hands!!!'" :-)

This usually gets me a laugh and makes the point what fight juices can do to your communication skills.

Never be ashamed to tell how you fucked up. It can make a good springboard for a great brain-storming session. There is huge power on many levels in admitting and owning your mistakes.

Instructors on ego trips, they make my hair stand on end. And the students who worship these guys. Poor things...

Anonymous said...

Rory, do you have anyway to publicly verify your claim that you've been in over 300 fights? All we have are you and Marc MacYoung's word that you've experienced so much violence.

shugyosha said...


meet him. Somewhere public. There's something in there.

If you've met people "on the clock", you'll recognize it. If not, this is a gratuitous ad hominem.

Take care

Rory said...

Ferran, the trouble with people "having a look" is that there's no way to verify, no way to tell the people that can/could/do fake it. Anon's question is a good one.

Anon-- Four possibilities. 1) Reports. The Sheriff's office's policy is to destroy force reports, IIRC, after five years if there has not been a complaint. I have a very few old reports that I kept personally when I thought there was a liability concern (or from cleaning out my locker when changing facilities).
2) Clearance letters. Even though they didn't keep reports, there's a good chance the clearance letters are on file. I don't remember a policy to destroy those, but I also never asked.
3) I journaled for a fair amount of that time and there are notations in the journals but not details. Journals are discoverable.
4) Another way would be to contact people I worked with. They obviously haven't been counting my HIRs but they can tell you whether 300 is a high number for an active officer who worked a lot of booking in a metropolitan area. (It isn't).

shugyosha said...

"Ferran, the trouble with people "having a look" is that there's no way to verify, no way to tell the people that can/could/do fake it. Anon's question is a good one."

Rory, sorry. Are you *sure*?

I can agree that it takes some... awareness to see it, and that awareness requires some training.

I'm not convinced that you can have a good, solid, faker. Specially when he doesn't talk. Tale weavers? Sure. Having coffee with someone and noticing how he's aware of the environment?

Granted, you can be aware et al without having pissed the elephant. Still... There's something...

WRT 300 not being a high number, I agree. But it's a good one. And it looks good on shorts, red cape and spear. ;)

PS: nbr. 3, "journals". Hm?

shugyosha said...

Sorry. Take care. [keyboard happy]

Maija said...

... And then there's that whole terminology thing ... 'War Stories' can mean many things. So can 'fight', 'use of force', etc, depending on the listener's imagination. This ambiguity can be used by the unscrupulous to enhance their prowess, and by the impressionable to imagine entirely the wrong type of scenario.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response Rory. It really wasn't meant to be a personal attack. I have taken been to your workshops, and read your books, I've learned a lot and found them to be of great value.

shugyosha said...


my apologies.

Take care.

Scott said...

The thing about looks. When I look into Rory's eyes I worry. He looks like one of those puppies with the floppy ears that is going to try and lick me!

The capacity to be serious when the situations requires it is very important. And openness to being weak, embarrassed and funny the rest of the time is even more so.

shugyosha said...

Never understimate the power of... puppies!

Also, to me, that sadness is telling. Add it to the watchfulness and the lost-in-thought stare and you simply have to many nuggets to ignore it.

Take care.