Wandering around the Internets, I came across some folks who were heavily, heavily critical of an instructor who is popular in certain circles interested in self-defense. Yes, I am being purposefully vague; I don't really feel like getting roped into the digital poo-flinging.
What I did think was interesting was during one of these "conversations", the question was raised "Have you ever actually trained with this guy? You might feel differently if you got some hands-on time with him."
To which the critic responded (paraphrasing here), "Why would I need to? I've got his writing, I've got his video, and I am no rank newbie. What I read and see looks like shit. That's enough for me."
As I said, I'm not interested in the digital poo-flinging. I am interested in the question of judgment.
On the one hand; I've seen people judge instructors or systems based on nothing more than a video clip and rumor, and it pisses me off. I've seen this happen a lot with Tony Blauer and his system, and even with Kru Mark Dellagrotte once or twice. People see a clip, read a piece of an article, and read a post that says "well, I heard from my brother that he heard that so-and-so was a pompous ass" and decide that the instructor in question has nothing to offer.
Which annoys me. Even if you take out the name calling, it's still annoying, and it supports my belief that, when in doubt, it's good to go experience something first hand. Experience is a great teacher, and a better judge than anything else.
Of course, the flip side of that is two-fold.
1. How much experience is enough? You can't possibly learn an entire system from a three, five, or eight hour seminar. Does spending a few hours doing a system you've never done qualify you to judge it? Or do you need to spend months, or even years, training it before you decide? I remember a practitioner of a particular Okinawan system telling me that if I only studied his art for 15 years, I would realize that it contained the same things the SPEAR did. I decided that 15 years was a little too long for me to spend on an art that would teach me something I already knew, so I declined. But the point remains.
2. At what point can you legitimately say "you know what, I know enough about this, I think I can make judgement on my own without working with this guy."? I'm not the world's greatest Nak Muay, for example, but I think I know shit Muay Thai if I see it. Likewise, there is a point at which something is so clearly ludicrous that experiencing it in person seems unnecessary (Yellow Bamboo, anyone)?
I generally try to err on the side of giving folks the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes, that's really tough. I can recognize when I'm being judgmental without experience, but sometimes, that's a really tough line to walk.