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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Certifications

Jess hit me with a couple of solid questions; the second tied into the first, and I figured I'd start with that one. Especially since, of the two, I think it's the trickier one.

What do you think about people saying they teach 'x' when they basically took a one weekend course to be certified?

The question originally had the qualifier "uncertified/unqualified people". I changed it, because adding that in makes it more straightforward. If someone is neither qualified nor certified, they should not be teaching. That doesn't mean such people don't exist, but they shouldn't.

There are, occasionally, qualified, but not certified people. As I reflect on this, my friend and mentor Tony Blauer technically falls under that category. No one certified Tony in the SPEAR System (I mean, I guess he could certify himself, but that's an incredibly circular paradigm). Yet he teaches it, and it works, so clearly, he is doing something right. Similarly, while Rory Miller has, I'm sure, various certifications, I'm not sure any of them cover precisely what it is he teaches in each seminar (Rory man, you need a cool acronym or something.). Honestly, anyone who is teaching their own system, at some point, is doing this (or they are doing the uncertified and unqualified thing).

That leaves people who are certified, and the question of whether or not they are qualified. And whether certification programs are even valid.

Note: I'm going to be drawing heavily on my experiences with the PDR Instructor Development Program here, because it is one of the few certification processes that I've actually had experience with.


As I noted earlier, people rarely certify themselves. They seek certifications offered through various organizations or instructors. There are good and bad reasons for doing this, and for these certifications.

For example: the PDR Instructor Development Program exists because it is the sole means by which a non-military/leo instructor can learn and be authorized to teach the Blauer Tactical Curriculum. That means if an instructor wants to add BTS material to his program (and if you teach self-defense, you really should), the only way to do it properly is to attend a BTS course. There are no other options.

On the other hand, if someone wants to say, start teaching Brazilian Jujitsu, there are much more efficient ways. You can go become a student at one of the hundreds (thousands?) of BJJ schools around the country. You can develop in the art, rise through the ranks, and eventually be authorized to teach. Back in YE OLDE DAYS, having a blue belt was enough for you to hang a shingle. These days, you might need to be a bit better.

Not only are there other options for ways to learn BJJ, but if someone showed up and told me that they learned how to teach BJJ from a weekend seminar, I would be very skeptical. You simply cannot develop the required competency necessary to effectively teach BJJ even from the most intense weekend course.

The second question: what does the certification process actually entail? Are there entry requirements? PDR attendees are, almost universally, already coaches, frequently coaches with a reasonable amount of experience. That means they already have a handle on certain concepts and ideas (or at least, they should). If the only requirement to attend a certification is that you can pay the fee to show up, be suspicious.

Is the entire certification process covered in a weekend? While a PDR Fundamentals Course does only last the weekend, there is a significant amount  of pre-and post-training course work that is required of attendees. If the only thing that is required is that you show up and pay your course fee...be suspicious.

What does the certification authorize you to do, exactly? Again, the PDR course authorizes you to teach a limited amount of concepts, within a limited geographic area. Attendees are told to start small. To practice a lot. To offer courses for free, just to hone their skills. If a certification authorizes you to teach an entire system, anywhere in the world, in a weekend...be suspicious.

Of course, the biggest question mark with all of this is the student/instructor. Let me be blunt: I've seen people show up at PDR courses who were clearly chasing nothing but a piece of paper and a name. They didn't care about the system, the knowledge, or making people safer. They thought that the BTS name would be their ticket to fame and fortune. Thankfully, most of them eventually drop out of the PDR team when they realize that the system doesn't work that way. Sadly, they keep teaching.

So are weekend certifications okay? It really depends. I think you have to evaluate the certification, the organization, and the person before you can make that judgment. Some organizations use a certification process to help people grow, develop, and become better. Some use it as a path to a quick buck. Learn to recognize the difference.

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