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Friday, July 10, 2009

Harsh Words

Didn't realize how long it's been since I posted. Had a lot of stuff going on. Most of it in my head. Might be shaking up the business model sometime soon. But that's stuff for another post.

I was listening to an interview with Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming on the Warrior Traditions Podcast a few weeks ago, and he shared an interesting quote that had a lot of resonance for me, though I no longer remember it exactly. It was something to the effect of "advice from a friend is like a sharp clap on the ear."

Over the years, I've developed a very direct style of teaching. By "direct" what I really mean is that I tend not to beat around the bush a lot. If I think your kicks are weak, I'm going to tell you that you need to kick harder. If I think that your footwork is awful, I'll let you know that, well, your footwork is awful. I'm rarely trying to be mean about it, but I know that some of my students occasionally interpret things that way.

I think what happens (and this pure supposition here) is that many people equate my judgement of their performance of something with a judgment of them as human beings. So if I say "you need to make your kick stronger" what they hear is "you're weak." If I say "you need to learn to fight in the pocket" they hear "you're a coward". If I say "you're not ready to train with X group of people" they hear "I don't like you."

And none of those things are really accurate.

I actually believe very strongly in all of my students; I believe that with enough hard work and dedication, they can be as skilled or successful as they want to be in their chosen art or system. Of course, there are those who are naturally athletic, or already in good shape, who may learn faster, but everyone who puts the time and energy in can get there.

But they won't get there with me sugar-coating the truth.

If you need to hit harder, I will tell you that. If you need to move faster, I will tell you that too. Because if I smile and sweetly tell you that you're doing great, even when you aren't, you'll never improve. And if you aren't improving, I'm not doing my job as a coach.

Are my words harsh sometimes? Yes. Absolutely. Sometimes they are harsh out of frustration. Sometimes they are harsh because I'm short on time. Mostly, they are harsh because I'd rather have you hear the harsh word and KNOW what you need to work on, than try and sugarcoat it just so you can walk away with a false sense of confidence.

But whatever I have to say about your skills, it is a judgment only about your skills, not about YOU, the human being. The human being is something else, and if I judge that harshly, I will do it because of the way you act, the way you treat me and your fellow students. Not because of how well you punch or kick. Some of the greatest, most noble, and most admirable people I've ever met wouldn't last one round in the ring. That does not make them any less admirable.

Nor does my admiration for them change the fact that if they show up for my class, I'll still tell them they need to work on their kicks.

1 comment:

Carl Weaver said...

Great post, Jake. Sometimes being direct is the best path. Notions of best and worst aside, I think this has to do more with personal style. Some people thrive with this approach and some lose motivation. When I used to do karate, I would study the way my sensei did everything and try to copy it exactly in form and then figure out where the power came from. This was largely because I wanted to to hear things like, "good form," rather than, "no, do it this way - you are losing the power of the kick by doing it wrong."

I didn't know you had this blog but will start reading more often. Come on down and visit DC sometime.