Friday, November 17, 2017

Teaching roles

Arguably the most important goal any instructor has in their classes is to make sure that the material being taught is presented to the students as best as possible. In order to accomplish that, the person doing the teaching has to take quite a few variable into account (students’ motivation, predisposition for the subject at hand, group dynamics etc.), but first and foremost they manner in which they conduct the classes, simply because that happens to be the aspect they have the most control of. I have already discussed the need to be able of speaking to various people in their “own language”, in terms of how do you formulate your message. This time, let’s take a step further and see how the said message is packed to be sent.

It should be more or less known by now that the properly chosen material to be worked in a training session should be challenging but doable. It is the approach one uses to get their student to do it, despite being challenging, that sets the tone here. There seem to be three main styles of talking to the trainees, and I will use arbitrary monikers here to label them:

·         Caring supporter;
·         Gambler/challenger;

·         Drill sergeant.
Helping, caring hand
In essence, the first one mentioned is the type that encourages their students by using affirmative language and actions, in order to help them achieve the desired result. For example, the caring supporter will be saying things like “come on, I know you can do it! You’re almost there, just one more step/rep/second...!” They will also commonly be giving the students applause, patting their backs and doing other things of that sort if they succeed, or even if they don’t, but in the latter case the emphasis will be on commending the spirit and effort demonstrated during the attempt. This fashion of coaching is especially suited for beginners and/or very young students.


The gambler/challenger plays the card of people often wanting to prove others wrong when daring them to do or not do something, i.e. expressing doubt in their ability to accomplish something. Typically, such trainers and training partners will utter stuff like “I bet you can’t _____ that, even if your life depended on it”, or “if you do _____ I’ll eat my socks!” You get the idea… In my experience, this sort of tainting is mostly prevalent among the people who are basically peers – equal training partners or in the cases when the instructor-student relationship is relaxed and not very formal.

"You dirty, rotten, fitlhy..."
Finally, when the training session is bordering abuse (or at least looking like it), you’re having the drill sergeant at work. Such situations will offer plenty of foul language, insults and dismissal of the trainee’s effort, sometimes even if they do achieve the task. “You pussy! Why am I wasting my time with you, you worthless peace of shit!? Is that the best you can do, you big sissy?”… I guess that even by reading this you can rather vividly imagine the tone of voice and facial expressions that go with it. Typically, this is the approach associated with boot camps of all sorts, hence the chosen designation for these instructors.

Now, some may ask, which of the above teaching tactics is the best? Well, from the last sentence of each of those paragraphs, it should be clear that each has their place, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, more than one of those can be used even with the same student or within the same training session, again, depending on the situation. Ideally, an instructor should be able to take the shape of any of the above and speak as a different person when it is called for, but… I think it is counterproductive to force yourself to be one of those “personifications” if it really goes against your grain or moral fiber. The reason is, if you are unable to be authentic in a given role, the outcome will also be less than ideal. 

Shapeshifter
Finally, keep in mind that the described tactics are not necessarily clear cut and sharply distinctive among themselves. As always, they are more of the streamlined fragments of a continuum and should be taken and utilized as such. The bottom line is – assume the personality that will suit your students’ needs best, and not just because you are in that kind of mood that day. 



Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ripping it, the Libre way!

Been awhile since I last tackled any of the topics that would refer to the “edge” part of this blogs title. One of the reasons is that I have never intended to go into any particular detail regarding the HOW TOs of knife use in combat. Another is that I was entertaining the thought of an epic parallel review of the shootout type to include several instructional DVDs on the subject, but as it seems there will never be enough time to do it properly, I have finally decided to do an individual review of each of those I had in mind. Now, on to the subject matter…


Some of you may remember a post I did earlier (in case you had read it in the first place), which discussed my favorable view of a particular knife grip and how it is used. Over the course of my research into the theme, there have been a few exponents whose work resounded with me and thus has affected my own interpretation(s). Today, I will discuss one of those… (NOTE: after pondering for a while about the order of these reviews, I finally opted to do it in line with the alphabetical order of authors’ last name).

Libre logo and motto...all the rights belonging to Scott Babb
So, the video portrayed today is the Street Edge 4 – Reaper Method, authored by Scott Babb. Mr. Babb is by now fairly well known as the founder of Libre Fighting, the system of combat that has gained some recognition around the world, particularly in relation to the use of knives in close quarters conflicts. It bears saying right away that the DVD is discontinued, as Babb offers a newer representation of his system in the later date set of videos, but the original may still be available, so you could contact Libre or check out Ebay and similar places.

One of the main points that I immediately likes about this video is that the author starts with saying what is the intent behind the approach taught, and does not hesitate to explain both the advantages and disadvantages of the reverse grip with edge in (scythe grip in his nomenclature) in comparison with the straightforward grip. Also, he notes that the material on the DVD is the civilian version of what he had originally designed to be a system aimed at various professional services in the military/law enforcement field.

After the introductory discussion of the grip itself and rationale behind the method, several modes of attacking with the knife are shown and explained. Some of those are obvious, but there are a few that are rather interesting and unique, at least from what I have seen so far. Since at issue is admittedly and offensive system, Babb starts the “force on force” segment of instruction with the four pack method of dealing with the opponent’s attempts to defend the initial attack. What we have at hand here is the practical use of trapping hands that some people may have encountered in various other fighting arts and systems.

Babb, going at it

Next in line is the string of several attacking methods (I told you it was all about attacking!), devised in order to solve problems and overcome obstacles that Libre practitioners have met in their training practice, but also during the real world applications of the material. Speaking training, it is great to see a methodology that espouses sparring as a regular part of their work, but does not end up looking like the mutual game of tags or the proverbial scene from the West Side Story.

Finally, the video offers the insights from a few other practitioners other than Babb, and being of differing builds and attributes (petite female, big and strong guys, smaller and more agile guys), it is also interesting to watch and hear what they have to say.


 The production of the DVD is excellent, and I especially liked that some of the footage was taken outdoors, in the environment that looks like some of the places where one might be forced to use the material learned. Also, when performed outside, the techniques have a different feel to those practiced only indoors, and it is nice to see such manner of training promoted.

Scott Babb is well articulated, goes into enough detail to make the viewer understand the material, but without going into excessive talking that would boggle the understanding and digress in such a way to make you reach for the fast forward button. That way, it is easier to reap the benefits of the instruction (I just couldn’t help it).

Finally, as the title suggests, this DVD used to be part of a series, so some of the topics are not discussed in detail (such as the carry options or the choice of knife), but the overall presentation is very honest and down to earth, hence providing a good insight into how they do it. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hold your ground...and dig in!

In some of the previous posts I was discussing the importance of having a good progression in place when teaching/training in any combative activity. Of course, from the perspective of efficient learning experience and skill acquisition it is easy to grasp. Here, my goal is to expound a little bit on our understanding of any particular stage on the progression line.


It seems to be common understanding that one’s aim is to get across and get to the end destination (whatever that may be) as quickly as possible, right? You know, get to that black belt, certificate of completion, instructorship… Well, I beg to differ! I mean, if the said piece of memorabilia is what brought you to training into first place and the actual thing that that will bring you some sense of fulfillment, then yeah. By the way, if so, this blog may not have too much to offer in that case. 


On the other hand, if your thing is to gain some considerable level of skill/expertise, i.e. the true ability to perform in the real time in their chosen field, you might want to take it slow. You see, another common attitude is to admire the people with great breadth in their knowledge. Sure, every once in a while you’ll notice that in some areas that knowledge is somewhat think or shallow, but hey, they know so much! In the modern day and age, with the wealth of information available at your fingertips, there is just no more real appreciation for depth in any domain of human experience.
The way I see it, the right question is not “how do I finish this level as quickly as possible?”, but rather “how do I stay at this level as long as possible and get something useful out of it?” Again, if this sounds counter intuitive, the key words in the previous paragraph are ability to perform in the real time!

So, let’s take a look at it this way… If you were asked to name one combative activity, be it sport of not, where you consistently see the practitioners able to put their skill on the line and test it against the resisting opponent, which one would it be? I guess many of my readers would be inclined to point to MMA or similar activities, maybe krav maga and similar “reality based” methods (although those are disputable in this regard, but it’s another subject for another time). However, if we simply look for the longest continual output, we basically come down to two such approaches – boxing and wrestling. Both have been around for hundred(s) of years in the format that requires the participants to incessantly perform in the real time in the given field.

And what is the common denominator for both of those? To start with, they do not boast the breadth of the technical base as the foundation of their effectiveness. And consequently, their practitioners spend all the effort on going into minute details of the techniques they have on disposal. Thus, every single exponent usually demonstrates much deeper understanding and better command over the tools they work with. 

...or a punch, for that matter
With all of the above in mind, it should not be strange that these two disciplines form integral part of the modern MMA, along with a couple other methods that pretty much follow the same guidelines of depth over breadth – BJJ and Thai boxing.

To wrap up, regardless of the martial art or system you are involved with, don’t be in a hurry to get to the next thing/belt/rank or to amass new techniques for the sake of “knowing” more of them. Instead, focus on getting the best possible grip of the material you are working on right now, because it will give you the upper hand later, whether you’re going to learn new techniques of not. 


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

...once you get on the right foot.

If you read my previous post, you should have figured out what may be the single most decisive factor in attaining higher degrees of command in the skill related activities. However, before one gets to the point where they have to deal with motivation to stay on the course of doing something, they first have to get on the course in the first place and see it as a path that leads somewhere. There are various motives that instigate people to try martial/combative training, and those have been discussed elsewhere on this blog, but the question is: what can we do as coaches/instructors to help them make those critical early steps? 

Simple...is not the same as easy
The first thing, in my opinion, is to pay attention to the new trainee early on and acknowledge them as persons – make sure to remember their name, ask them why they joined your group and what do they expect from it. Their answer(s) may not be too coherent and precise, but the point here is not to fully understand your students in one hour. It is rather about them pondering the issue, since it would, hopefully, make them more attentive and appreciative about the experience of training. If your club or training group has a nice atmosphere where people don’t feel like number or plain sources of income, it will help with developing the sense of belonging and thus make it easier to want to come back regularly.

Next in line is the more specific matter of contents of your training sessions. Some instructors seem to have the approach that strives to take advantage of the whole instant gratification aspect of the modern society, so they will start with easily achievable goals and lots of praise and “positive talk”. Now, it probably helps the novice candidates to not be discouraged with possibly overwhelming experience of doing something new, or to see it as entirely out of reach.

However, I think it does not lead to the favorable perception of the training process as a path, journey worth undertaking. A lot of people tend to scuff at such early experiences as “I’m already good at it”, and consequently their recurring appearances will hang exclusively on the thread of extrinsic motivation and rewards. Unless your idea as an instructor is to run a diploma mill with belt exams every couple of months etc, this is obviously not a satisfactory manner of conducting your training.

Instead, my experience shows that trainees (at least the type I like to work with) prefer being challenged in a way that makes them work on accomplishing set goals. There are two stipulations here, however: 1. they need to see that goal as desirable/worthy of effort; 2. They need to see it as achievable after all.

Now, in order for the coach to be able to set proper goals and set adequate demands from their trainees, they need to develop a level or rapport with those trainees and get to know their driving forces, which in turn takes us back to treating them as persons and asking for their feedback. And not just asking, but actually listening to their comments and ruminations. In combination with interesting material, god training methodology and desirable training environment, you will be on the right course to have people joining you for the journey. 


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Staying the course...

Whenever someone starts a new learning, and thus training endeavor too, they want to know how will it take to "get there", whatever "there" might be in their particular case. This sort of result-oriented curiosity is natural, which is why there are so many training programs out there that advertise themselves with the lines such as 4-week abs, 8-weeks to a full split, 30-day diet etc. Do you see the common denominator here? Those are all short-term goals, and usually pertaining to the accomplishments that do not entail any particular skill-set, let alone some level of mastery over that set.



Now, when it comes to training a martial art or combative system there are simply way to many factors and "ingredients" involved to seriously consider achieving anything remarkable over such a short period. Sorry to disappoint you, but even those 4-week self defense courses, as well programmed as they may be, are barely enough to show you what to work on, maybe even how to do it, but there is still more work to do...much more usually.

So, what's the solution then? Well, keep training for long time. Naturally, the notion of "long" will vary among different people and depending on other aspects. like training or five years four times a week is better than 10 years once a week etc, you get the idea. Still, in short, consistency is the main priority here. Of course, with proper training methods and priorities, influenced by your motivation.



That's all nice and fine, but how do we maintain the drive for training, stoke the fire, in a manner of speaking? In some systems and schools there is the instituted progression of ranks, often supported by external tokens such as colored belts, certificates etc. That definitely helps, especially with younger trainees, as it helps in setting goals and gives a fairly concrete sense of accomplishment. True, in a lot of schools the belt system has been so bastardized and made meaningless, but in and of itself doesn't have to be a bad thing. Hopefully, if the training is good and instructor(s) knowledgeable, some of the trainees will develop an intrinsic urge to keep on training, thus exceeding the whole grading scheme.

In the schools and systems that do not boast such models of awarding their students' persistence and dedication, there are other approaches that could prove helpful in keeping people motivated. Depending of what makes some people tick, the coaches and training partners could use some means of praise (be it verbal "good job", or non verbal gestures, such as thumbs up, clapping etc.) or dare/teasing ("is that the best you can do?"). Of course, you can use both interchangeably, when situation calls for it.

I like to make periodical video recordings of trainees performance (myself included) and then an occasional review. It can help put things in perspective, as many people do not easily see the progress they have made over time, since it happens incrementally. But seeing your how you moved a few months of year earlier and comparing to the present level can really boost one's confidence and motivation.



And yet, there will be times you will go through burnout phases, hit plateaus and/or feel fatigued, no matter what. Do not panic, it's normal and natural and happens to everybody. It's fine to take a break of a few weeks, maybe couple of months. Do something else instead (or do nothing if that is the right thing to...errrr...do), especially if you can find some complementary activity that will make you feel refreshed, while still being beneficial for your overall training. If you have a genuine passion for what you do, if you have come to the point where journey IS the destination, the itch for training will come back and bring you on the right path again. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cross domain teaching of understanding

As practitioners of martial arts, or combative disciplines if you prefer to call it that way, we strive to achieve the best possible command of the technical tools we use in such endeavors. Saying the full mastery of techniques could be somewhat presumptuous, but that would be the goal to aim for. But, how do we know when our technical understanding is on a satisfactory level? Don’t’ you love it when answers come from unexpected places?


I guess we all seek to find the right criteria and diagnostic approaches to find an answer to that question, especially so if we’re instructors and wish to monitor the progress among our trainees. Well, after years of building some resemblance of a coherent set of criteria, I got an excellent, almost ready-made measurement “filter” from my music teacher Anthony Wellington. Ant is a superb instructor with solid curriculum and great pedagogy when working with his students. So, he told me that a person learning some piece of music needs to have four dimensions of understanding in place, in order to attain the full command of what they’re working on: intellectual, visual, aural and tactile. 
From this...
What he said immediately struck a chord with me, as it only took a slight modification to apply the same reasoning to one’s training in any kind of fight training. 

...to this!
Since the aural grasp is not so much pertinent for our purposes here, the domains we need to get a grip of are the following:
-          Intellectual;
-          Visual;
-          Tactile-outgoing;
-          Tactile-incoming.

Intellectual understanding, basically, means the ability to explain (verbally) what is required of a practitioner who is performing an action. The less you need to resort to the physical demonstration, the better. Also, it entails being able to explain why the thing are done the way they are done.

Visual understanding, as you probably presume, means being capable of understanding what is going on when you see a technical maneuver in action. For example, if you’re watching a boxing or grappling match and have no “what has just happened?” moments. The lack in this domain is typically why the grand majority of lay persons find BJJ or other grappling types of fights confusing and boring.

Tactile-outgoing sphere is developing the feel for the right technique. When it is accomplished, you don’t even need anybody to watch and comment your performance, or analyzing the video footage, to tell you that some details of your technique are flawed, or what needs to be worked on. Also, such tactile awareness helps you adapt to the actions of your opponent/training partner. However, even if well developed, this field of tactile insight is still just one side of the coin, hence the need for…

Tactile-incoming perception, which is how I call the ability to figure out what is going on and how it is done, while you are on the receiving end of a maneuver. This is especially important for some of the more intricate holds and tactics, especially in clinching, grappling and similar situations. I love being the demo dummy (or uke for the more traditionally oriented people out there) during seminars and regular training sessions[1], for this exact reason.

Four-pronged approach to understanding
Naturally, the best learning situations are those in which a few or all of those aspects are accessible. Let’s take the example of a seminar. Ideally, the instructor conducting the session would be highly eloquent (but not a logorrhea-suffering type) and well-articulated with his explanations, as well as able to answer the questions accurately and succinctly. Also, his demonstration of whatever technical actions would be clear and well executed, while the participants would have a good an unobstructed view of the action, maybe even from more than one angle. Next, the said participants would then have ample time and opportunity to practice executing the techniques on more than one partner, but also to feel those techniques being applied on them.

Over time, the four domains of understand start melting together, thus enabling a more holistic understanding. I mentioned before my inclination to serve as the dummy for technical demonstrations. At this stage I have developed enough kinesthetic and proprioceptive perception to make it possible for me to see the action being done with my “inner eye”, while having it executed on me. On the other hand, seeing it done with someone else (or maybe on video) often elicits certain physical sensations in the parts of the body that would be affected by the hold in question. Sometimes the same goes while hearing a good explanation from a good instructor. You get the picture….



Hopefully, this article will help other practitioners and instructors in doing more efficient analysis of their training and spend less time trying to figure out what is going on and how to proceed with it. Have in mind that developing this level of understanding takes time and the process needs to be engaged again many times, when encountering new and unfamiliar type of moves and techniques.


[1] Of course, if the instructor at hand is not of a sadistic predisposition and/or prone to inflicting injuries and hurting people just to stroke his ego or prove something.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Virtually as good as it gets

NOTICE: I am in no way affiliated with Rodney King and his organisation. The below review is my personal opinion and attitude, presented in full honest, without any compensation whatsoever from any of the parties mentioned. 

In this day and age of virtual reality and online existence, it is no wonder that there is now a number of martial art instructors, teachers and coaches offering their services through the digital avenues. Just as with the “in the flesh” reality, some of those virtual schools are better than the others… Here, I would like to say a few words about one of those I like the most.[1]

The portal I am writing about is coachrodneyking.org and it is run by, who would have thought, Rodney King. I have discussed his stuff in this blog before, so you know I had already liked the man’s work. In the meantime we had some conversations on several topics related to training and life in martial arts, which means I knew that he had been preparing the online program, and I was looking forward to checking it out.

King in his court
Well, he sure delivered! On the portal, Rodney offers a few courses, depending on your interest, and those include his Crazy Monkey Defense / CMD material (standup game), the Monkey Jits (BJJ portion) and Combat Intelligent Athlete (self-preservation aspect). Naturally, the underlying principles and training methodology between those has some overlaps, but the programs are done separately. It means, there is no shoving down your throat the material you have no interest in, or something you feel you already have a good grasp of.
The presentation is excellent. All the technical material and its tactical applications are presented in a progressive manner, with superb explanations – there is enough attention to detail to make sure you got it, but not so much to become the victim of the “analysis paralysis” syndrome. 



I have taken his CMD courses, one for the white glove level, and the one for the Blue Glove. Let me stress here one of my favorite features of the program – it is truly ongoing and evolving. Rodney is adding to the material and shooting new videos whenever he finds it fitting, which means your “library” is growing with time. It is probably the greatest advantage over buying one of those complete package DVD/download packs.

He usually begins a new section with some discussion on the theoretical and methodological framework and philosophy behind it (VERY important in this case!), thus putting things into context and making it that much clearer. Next, he will go into the technical details, and then proceed to the drills to functionalize the skills you are hoping to develop. Finally, King introduces you to sparring and the proper way to do it, both for the functionality and sustainability purposes.

And then, there is more! Once enrolled, you have the access to the study groups that involve some of Rodney’s certified instructors and great coaches on their own, as well as the “Ask-a-Question” feature that enables you to get specific answers to the specific questions you may have in the process of training. All in all, remarkable support from the coaching staff! 



To wrap it up, if you would like to overcome the adversity of not having a qualified instructor around to train with, while being concerned about the quality of the available online options, you can join the coachrodneyking.org without fear, as it is probably one of the best avenues you can follow with the aim of learning useful fighting skills properly, and with the right mindset.
Thumbs up!!!

[1] Naturally, I haven’t tried them all, so please don’t take this as being the ultimate, supreme best in the whole wide world. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Training apps

Today I am going to talk about the great new training app...not. This is, actually, about non applications.

See, so many times you hear students/practitioners in martial art schools ask the instructors how certain things they are working on are applied. Well, on the level of individual techniques and/or combos it is pretty obvious. When it comes to forms of various types, things are a little different, but I won't be dealing with those here.

It is the application of training drills I am concerned with. Yeah, they come in all kinds of shapes and forms, as do the unfortunate attemps of many misguided instructors to explain it, but there is an almost universal answer to the question of how to apply them - you don't! The point of drills is to better instill particular skill(s) and/or attributes, and to gain better understanding of those. But ultimately, you will be applying those skills and putting to use those attributes, NOT the drills as such.

In that regard, training drills are not unlike the conditioning aspect of one's training... And you don't ask how to apply pushups or rope skipping in fighting, do you? Instead, strive to gain deeper understanding of why certain tools (drills, exercises, procedures) are done in training. It might help you use your training time more effectively, go broader or deeper into the material, depending on your needs.

And then you will understand the application aspect, too.