Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bothers, part 1

Hello! It's been a while...and not for the lack of topics or even time. Yet, there has been some inner turmoil, pondering and soul searching on my part, among other thing, for the sake of keeping my written material relevant and fairly reflective of my true attitude and stand on various subjects. It made me choose today's topic over some others, more technical and concrete.

Let me ask you something - what bothers you most as an instructor? Is it untalented students? Slackers? Is it parents? (A very BIG concern if you teach kids). Maybe infrastructure issues, rent prices..? Let me tell you what is my pet peeve - asking and answering stupid questions!

I am also very encouraging about asking questions, no matter what they are. However, I really do not have much patience with the people who do not pay any attention to what the instructor does, and then ask about what was said just five seconds ago. Naturally, not everybody is at their most focused whenever they come to train, for all kinds of reasons, and that's fine. I understand that and do not frown upon it, as long as it does not interfere too much with everybody else's training. Yet, there are people who never listen to what your are saying or look at what your are doing, session after session...and also tend to ask bursts of question, usually either unrelated to the subject matter, or already answered. Frequently, they will ask the same thing more than once during a class because they were so inattentive that they forgot about having already asked.

Another type of irritating occurrence is when someone asks a question and want to hear the specific, predetermined answer. If not, they will ask again...and again. Sometimes, if you persevere in giving the "unsuitable" answer they will leave, an those are my preferred ones. But there those, much harder to deal with, who will keep coming back and actually trying to change your mind about it. at this point, I wonder why do they ask, if my stance/opinion is obviously not what matters? Maybe because they care? But then, do they care about making me understand, or just proving their point?

OK, so, how do we deal with those? In training, I usually tend to work with those types personally during a session, and the reasons are two-fold. First, because it spares the practitioners who are there to work from having to deal with the wining and unstoppable effort to debate a point. That way, people who are willing to work on what has been presented can do it in a more constructive and supportive atmosphere, so the possible questions that may follow will hopefully be more pertinent and asked with some understanding.

Second, sometimes it allows me to create the conditions (thinks constraints and affordances methodology) that will force the student to understand the message. If nothing else, it enables me to start asking them questions in return about what we just did, and so they have to think about the answer instead of just blurting out some words that sound cool to them. And no, it does not always work :-)

The point is, when is it enough? When, if ever, do you give up on such a student and either ask them to leave, or simply stop paying attention, while focusing on those who deserve it more? Honestly, I do not have an exact answer. I approach the whole thing on a "case to case" basis and monitor how the things are unfolding. And then, depending on the situation, I will proceed one way or the other. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I have been writing already about the need to discern why are you learning/studying martial arts. But that question does not apply just to the students...If you are teaching martial arts, you have to ask yourself - "Why am I doing this"? What is at all about for you?

See, the thing is, unlike the motives to learn, not every motive to teach is legitimate. And I don't mind people making money from it. No, that is perfectly OK with me, as long as the teacher/instructor is honest about his offer and treats his clientele with due respect. Also, the fact that one may not be charging at all for their instruction does not make them worthy of the teacher title.

My guess is I am not alone in being sick of the types who are looking for some self-aggrandizing experience from teaching, harassing and humiliating their students in the process, all under the excuse of "instilling discipline" or something along those lines. Of course, discipline in itself is not a bad thing, but as long as it is conducive to the better learning and more efficient training process. If, on the other hand, it is a pretense for setting up some sort of unnecessary hierarchy with the sole purpose of blowing the instructor's ego out of proportion and nipping any healthy critical approach and inquisitiveness among the students in the bud... Well, sorry for putting it out bluntly, but then your an asshole and have no business teaching people.

Really? Or is there something more to it...

So what then is the central tenet that "makes it or breaks it" in my opinion? Well, like the title of the post says, it is all about sincerity! And by that I mean the approach to imparting the knowledge on your students.I have been blessed in my martial arts "career" to cross paths and learn from several great teachers, and they all had one thing in common - sincerely doing everything they could to make the student understand and truly learn what they were trying to teach.

Naturally, not all of them have the same teaching methodologies (if they have one in the first place) or philosophy of what they are doing, but they for each and every one of them student comes first! I have seen time and time again Alex Kostic of Homo Ludens Systema inspire awe in people by the way he moves, by the things he says and their eyes going bright for the new insight and another piece of the puzzle finally  falling into place. I have been astonished by Astig Lameco founder, guro Roger Agbulos' ability to captivate the students by the sheer joy of teaching and lighting the fire of desire to train hard and smart, to look for what works and put it all to test. I have been flabbergasted by Mikhail Grudev's managing to overcome the impending linguistic barriers and go out of his way to help the students get the point and have fun while working hard. I have had the privilege of undergoing some intensive training under Jogo do Pau's Luis Preto and admire his keen eye and uncanny capacity to immediately adapt the drill or the exercise to elicit the desired response in the student and make difficult things easier to comprehend.

Quite true
Another high point was seeing master Jon Escudero of LSAI putting his students in the spotlight when demonstrating his system, thus at the same time portraying the effectiveness of the style and his own effectiveness as a teacher. And then there is Steve Maxwell's leading by example and teaching you how to teach yourself; and Daniel Lamac of Koredas eskrima giving it all out without reserve; and Dave Gould of Lameco; Kevin Secours of Combat Systema; Bruno Cancho; Dima Hakimov, and...so on. 

Yes, a good curriculum is helpful, excellent methodology is most welcome. And yet, if you are not teaching for the sake of your students, with no heart in it, but with another agenda that actually has nothing to do with actual teaching...well, do yourself and the world a favor and just leave it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Desired "product"

First, sorry for the long hiatus. Don't know if I'm going to be able and do this as often as I would like in the mid-term future, so you better cherish what you get :-)

As you know, if you have been tracking my last few posts, that is, one of my constant inquires that permeates all other aspect of training is the search for the ways to improve the training process and methodology. However, thing cannot be really improved if one has no idea of what the desired outcome is, so let me address this issue here.

Quite often, when discussing the training systems in combat arts, it is taken more or less for granted that the criteria for success is the effective and efficient application of the said system in pressure testing and ultimately a real life altercation. While there is nothing wrong essentially with such view, there seems to be an omission in the sense that the focus is somehow shifted, i.e. what is often forgotten is that the effectiveness of a system is always demonstrated (expressed, if you so prefer) by its practitioner. So with that in mind, whet would be the essential qualities you would like to develop in your trainees? Bear in mind, I am not asking about the character and physical traits you like to see in the potential students when the come for the first time - no, what do you hope to achieve with them after they undergo some training with you?

So, what we are dealing with here is the matter of having an end goal in mind, and then diagnosing the particular needs in each student, aiming to reach the overarching goal. Without further ado, I will get to the point - if we are trying to prepare someone to deal with the ever changing demands of a combative equation, probably the most valuable quality to look for is adaptability. Yeah, some of you might point out (and rightfully so) that it would also be a valuable characteristic of a fighting system itself, but honestly, the two go hand in hand, and personally I believe it is more important to have/cultivate adaptability as a personal trait, and have the training methodology and system of tools and tactics support it.

It would be hard to say this more succinctly than my friend Jon Escudero of LSAI did, so I will simply quote him: "My goal is to let the system run silently in the background. The student does what he does because it supports his intent and goal, not because it is obligated by the system".

That said, we can now approach the issue of how to develop that attribute in a practitioner. I believe there are two closely related avenues to follow in pursuing the goal:
1. weaponizing the body;
2. dynamizing the structure

When it comes to the former, weaponizing the body (sorry, but the term was already out there, and I just could not come up with a better one), it would entail awakening the student's awareness of the potential of using various body parts to achieve certain effect in combat, plus working to maximize that potential.
No, not like that!
Naturally, various fighting systems have different takes on what are the worthy considerations in this regard and how far to go in developing any of those perceived assets. Possibly the prevailing problem here is that the schools of thought tend to revolve around the particular body parts and techniques per se, instead of looking at the bigger picture and identifying how some of any of those tools fit the individual person training in the system. Therefore, we end up having grappling systems, striking systems etc, while it may be more productive to think of grappling/striking options. 

Like pointed, whatever the arsenal it cannot be put to any effective use without some sort of delivery structure, and since we are discussing close combat, it means the biomechanical structure of an exponent. Again, the term "good/proper/correct structure" has become almost overused, and it resulted in the focus being on the trainee looked at in isolation...you know the "keep your head like this, your arms like that etc." approach. It then leads to having an image of THE correct structure in our head. But since our main concern is fighting another person (or more of them), they have to be taken into account. Without going into microscopic detail and countless examples, it suffices to say that one's structure (ideally) has to facilitate dealing with the force coming from the opposition as well as our own force production. See, it now looks more like a movie, not a still image!

To achieve that, our idea of structure should be of a dynamic and moving interrelation of all elements at hand, in any particular situation. It definitely should not be perceived as some "ideal" position... Namely, it most often actually means ideological, almost carved in stone, and how that helps adaptability?

Friday, January 31, 2014

What's in a method?

Huh, this was a longer hiatus that I thought it would…but, let me then use this post to tackle/some up with on of my earlier promises, i.e. discuss some of the features of what I would consider a good training methodology.

Basically, whatever the technical contents of your style/system, it can be approached in various ways during the training process, but essentially any of those approaches boils down to striving for one of two possible goals – effectiveness and efficiency. Please keep in mind that we are talking a continuum here, not an mutually exclusive either/or paradigm here.

What is considered effective (or functional) depends on the desired goal and outcome of your training, but if we limit ourselves here to the combative equation, it means disposing of the threat as quickly as possible, while keeping ourselves as unscathed as possible (and that may include the legal aftermath and other pertinent circumstances). From that perspective, this segment of one’s training focuses on the OTHER – in other words, a potential observer/witness should note what happened to the bad guy. You are training in order to fight them, not to be one, right?
Working on the other
Efficiency, on the other hand, has to do with the effects of the trainees’ actions on themselves, and may take any of the number of possible criteria into account (energy expenditure; time expenditure; exposure to the possibility of injury, be it self inflicted or courtesy of the opponent/enemy; etc). The bottom line, however, is that in this portion of one’s training the concern is with the SELF, and it has nothing to do with the meditation, spiritual uplifting and similar stuff. Again, from the perspective of the above mentioned observer, a high level of efficiency in the good guy makes his action look effortless. 

Working on the self

In some respects, the distinction of training for effectiveness and efficiency may resemble the dichotomy of self-preservation/self-perfection, that is popular in some circles. Actually, to a degree they do imply same things, but it is worth noting that the term self-preservation may be taken as synonymous with efficiency when relating to training in a manner that preserves one’s body from accumulated problems when training only for the effectiveness. So, we see that depending on the level of training we are analyzing, same terms could be applied to different things and vice versa.

Now, it is probably common sense that a well designed methodology should encompass both avenues in training (but funny how easy it is for may people to lose sight of that), and making sure they are supportive of each other. That said, in my experience the attempt to stress both facets at the same time does not seem to yield best results. Instead, the “pendulum” model is probably more appropriate – alternating the cycles of heavily emphasized effectiveness training with those of heavily emphasized efficiency approach. On top of that, when going back to the previous segment, it should be taken to the higher level in training.

Something like this 
Sure, there is always the question of the duration of each block/cycle, but I am afraid nobody can give you an exact response… Some answers are just best found on your own, pay attention to what you do and what kind of results do you achieve. Do not be afraid to try new things, tweak old ones, discard those that are unproductive (but be realistic and not jump to conclusions).

Remember, any kind of training is a process, not a product, so handle it accordingly!