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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Importance of Coachability

One of my responsibilities as a trainer at Sityodtong is to teach “trial lessons”. These are free lessons for first-time students, and give them the opportunity to be exposed to some of the basics of Muay Thai without being dropped into a class of twenty or thirty strangers.

I see a variety of people in these lessons: young and old, male and female. Some are experienced martial artists, and some have never thrown a punch in their lives. Some are athletic, and some are hopelessly uncoordinated. Some wish to compete; others just want to get in shape, or have some fun. I pay attention to all of these qualities, but the thing I look for the most, particularly in those who express a desire to fight, is coachability.

I had one of these would-be fighters in my lesson Monday night. He might have been athletic or talented. It’s hard to tell, because he really didn’t do much during the lesson. Oh, if I demonstrated something, he’d do it once or twice, but then he would just stand there with his arms folded while I went to help other people. Even when I explicitly told the group to work on things while I moved around, he didn’t move unless I addressed him directly. He did a lot of odd things with his feet and hands, shuffling around and waving them in odd patterns, seemingly oblivious to my instructions about where to put either of them. It was rarely, if ever, particularly clear that he was actually listening to me, and it certainly didn’t seem like he much cared what I had to say.

At the end of the lesson, he approached me, and told me he was interested in fighting in a mixed-martial arts bout. Further conversation revealed that he had no grappling training at all. I told him he would need to train for a while, and that the coaches would make a determination about when he was ready to fight.

His response was “well, I was told that if I came and trained here, you guys would help me get a fight.”

It’s hard to convey in text, but it was clear from his attitude that he thought he would just show up, tell us he wanted to fight, and we would put him into the ring, despite the fact that he’s clearly totally unprepared for it. And worse, his attitude tells me that he probably never will be.

A fighter who is unwilling to be coached is less than worthless. He (or she) is a danger, to himself, other students, and the survival of the gym. These individuals don’t improve, or if they do, it is in small, virtually immeasurable increments, as they figure out things that others have already learned years ago. They will injure others during training, doing things that are unsafe, or even illegal (I had one such “fighter” executing Judo throws on a person training for a Muay Thai match). Students will be unwilling to work with this person for fear of injury, and may leave the gym altogether.

He will perform poorly in matches, because he’s ignoring the advice and instructions of his coach. He may even be badly injured, because he’s improperly prepared for the contest. When he loses, that loss will reflect poorly on the camp, and damage the camp’s reputation, which in turn costs them students. Fight promoters may be reluctant to allow other fighters from the camp to fight. All because he was too selfish to listen.

Technique can be taught; conditioning can be improved; even “heart”, that elusive mental toughness that allows a fighter to persevere in the face of adversity, can be developed over time. But none of those things can be learned if you think you already know everything.

So this is a message to all would be fighter. If you think you already know everything, don’t bother showing up at the gym. Just call a fight promoter, tell them you want to fight, and they’ll put you in with someone. Or just hang out and do your own thing, confident in the knowledge that you know it all. Maybe you’re right. Or maybe you’ll get beaten like you stole something.

When you’re ready to learn something, go to a gym, put your ego aside, and learn something.

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