Blog Archive

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Everything Is Voluntary

Whenever I teach a PDR/SPEAR Seminar, I always lay out three ground rules. They are all embedded in the PDR/SPEAR curriculum, but I like explicating them so my students know.

1. We are options facilitators. 
2. Ask Questions. 
3. Everything Is Voluntary. 

That last one is what this is about.

I will not make a student do a drill, exercise, or activity they are not mentally or emotionally ready to do.

If a student does not want to do something, I won’t make them. I don’t make them give reasons, and I don’t punish them. This is non-negotiable, and I believe it’s an ethical consideration.

First—as an instructor, I am my students’ servant, not the other way around. My job is to make my students’ better.

Second—if my job as an instructor is to empower my students, particularly to empower them to take care of their bodies and minds, I can’t do that by forcing them to do things with their bodies they don’t want to do. If a student says “I’d like to sit this one out”, then I let them.

Note: there is a difference between “I am not doing this” and “I am afraid to do this, but still kind of want to.” One is an invitation to explore a challenge. The other is a full stop statement. I’m happy to help people face their challenges. I’m not going to force people into things they don’t want to do. If you’re an instructor, you shouldn’t either. If you’re a student, your instructor shouldn’t do that. 


Friday, July 7, 2017

Bad Students

"No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher"

Such was the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi (if you don't know what I'm talking about, stop reading this, go watch the Karate Kid (the original one, not that nonsense with Will Smith's kid), come back, and keep reading.

Many of Mr. Miyagi's fortune cookie sayings got absorbed into martial arts culture. Like a lot of fortune cookie sayings, it's sometimes right, but sometimes quite wrong.

There are bad students. I've had them. Every teacher has, if they've been teaching long enough.

This article provides a few examples (though #5 doesn't really fit into this category, and I'll talk about that toward the end).

While the article is aimed at BJJ practitioners/teachers, the reality is that these kinds of students exist in every art. The people who want to go too hard, or don't listen to instruction, or have their own ideas about how to do things and act on them during's all problematic.

"But," cry the protesters, "isn't it the job of the teacher to fix those problems? Shouldn't the teacher teach the student the error of their ways?"

The answer is, sure, in a perfect world. But we live in an imperfect world, and teachers can only do so much.

Let me give a quick example:

Several years ago, a gentleman came through my Muay Thai classes who was a 3rd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I know this because he insisted on reminding me and anyone else who tried to coach him that he was a 3rd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Corrections to his movement, stances, kicks, punches, or anything else was met with comments like "well, Master So-and-So says...", or "Well, I'm a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, so..."

I'm honestly not sure what this guy wanted from training, but it wasn't to learn Muay Thai.

Brett Jones summed up the issue as "Do you want to learn, or be right?".

A student who is just interested in being right isn't really a student. And at some point, it is not the teacher's duty to change that.

Yes, the teacher can offer corrections. They can explain their reasons. But at the end of the day, if someone doesn't want to learn, they won't, and there is not much of a point in continuing to try and make someone learn if they don't want to.

My father had a small plaque on his office wall for years that read "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig."

If a student refuses to learn, they aren't a student, and they aren't worth the teacher's time.

Or, as I put it to one such student, "there are twenty people in this class. If you aren't interested in what I have to say, I've got nineteen other people who I can go work with."

There are bad students. Don't be one. Don't waste time teaching them.

(Oh, and because I said I'd address it--#5 from the article above doesn't fit this category at all. Someone who is severely uncoordinated isn't a bad student, they're just severely uncoordinated. It will take them time. Let them take it.)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Humilty Vs. Humiliation

This comes up in the Sparring series, but I thought it was worth extracting for consideration on its own.

From Sparring

A word on “green lighting” and other practices:

“Green lighting” is a term that caught on around the Internet a few years ago. It refers to the process where a more experienced, more skilled fighter is given permission (the eponymous green light) to go hard with a less experienced partner. Basically, it’s an instructor giving license to an experienced student to kick someone’s ass. It is often viewed as some sort of punitive measure that someone will teach the less experienced partner lessons about pain or humility.

In my experience, it doesn’t really work. Certainly, it provides a vague sense of moral satisfaction or superiority, but I’ve very rarely seen students who get their asses kicked and return humble and kind. More often, what they really learn is that it’s totally okay to kick someone’s ass, because that just proves you’re more skilled than them. Occasionally, it has the intended effect, but I honestly don’t think it’s that productive.

Humility is toward the top of the long list of qualities that martial artists like to brag that their practice teaches. I'm dubious of that claim (as I am about a lot of the claims of martial arts, in the abstract). It's certainly possible to learn humility during martial arts training, but the sheer number of egomaniacs I've met in the last twenty-odd years of practice suggests to me that it is by no means guaranteed.

The practice of green lighting highlights part of the problem: that there is a difference between humility and humiliation.

Humility is, according to Merriam Webster, "freedom from pride or arrogance". That's an interesting formulation, actually. It suggests that being humble ("not proud or haughty :  not arrogant or assertive" is an act of freedom. A choice, in other words, to put aside negative emotions in favor of a more positive, more restrained outlook. 

Humiliation, by contrast, is an action designed to "to reduce (someone) to a lower position in one's own eyes or others' eyes :  to make (someone) ashamed or embarrassed". Humiliation, in other words, is about manipulating someone's emotion and social standing.

There's nothing about being humiliated that automatically leads to humility. In fact, I'd argue that more often, humiliation leads to resentment, anger, and hostility. 

But the way most martial artists try to teach humility is through humiliation. Green lighting is the most extreme example, but I've seen plenty of instructors who publicly scorned, mocked, or otherwise berated students in an effort to "humble" them. If I'm being honest, I've probably done it myself a few times (I've certainly been involved in "green lighting" in some form on a few occasions). Rarely, I think, do those efforts work.

Whatever humility I've learned in the martial arts (I leave it to others to judge if I did), it wasn't from those public humiliations. It was just from long hours of practice, from having experiences that showed me that I wasn't as good as I thought, or that I didn't know as much as I thought. Certainly, I had training sessions that included humbling experiences, but the ones where people seemed to be outright trying to humiliate me? Those didn't help at all.

These distinctions are small, but they matter. Know what you're teaching. Know why.