Got to have a nice sit-down with Rory on Tuesday. Good times. I like talking with people who have more experience than me. If I can say things that make them say "hmmm" occasionally, I take that as a good sign. More on that later.
Part of the conversation turned to knife defense (still looking for volunteers for The Experiment folks...don't be shy), how people evaluate things, and how instructors think. In specific, we'd both seen some material where after some intensive training, participants had to make a knife defense work in a dynamic environment.
They couldn't. Universally, every single one of them got the shit stabbed out of them. Some might have survived. Most would not have.
The conclusion that was drawn was that these people needed more training.
The way I see it, if something is failing in training, there's three possible errors.
One is student failure. User error. PEBKAC, if you're a computer geek (I'm not, but I love the phrase). This is where the technique or tactic is perfectly valid, but the person doing it is screwing it up somehow.
Two is coaching failure. This is where the person teaching the technique or tactic is failing to get the student(s) to properly understand how to apply the movement. Again, the movement itself is valid, but the reason the student is doing it wrong isn't because they don't understand what's being taught, but because there's something missing from the teaching. Some of this gets back to Gardner's multiple intelligences idea; if you keep showing a movement to someone who learns kinesthetically, they may not get it.
Three is technical failure. This where the coaching is great, and the student is getting it, but the tactic or technique doesn't work. It's not being mis-applied, or misunderstood...it simply isn't functional. I don't care how much time you devote to no-touch knockouts...that shit will not work in an MMA fight.
(If you think I'm wrong about that, put up video of you winning an MMA fight by no-touch KO. Otherwise, shut up.)
Most of the time, if something isn't working, coaches like to assume that the problem is student error. Occasionally, that's right. If ONE guy in the class can't make something work, and everyone else can, there's a chance that it's him. (That doesn't absolve the coach of responsibility, but it acknowledges that the problem can be on the part of the user.)
Realistically, I think that the problem is usually teacher error. This is usually obvious if large swaths of the class can't do something. I know I've stopped classes and re-explained things because a bunch of people were failing to do something they should have been able to do. It wasn't them, it was me. Even where it's just one person, that can still be a coaching error. Even if it's not, it's the coach's job to figure out how to get the student to correct things.
The really insidious one is technical failure. It's really, really difficult to look up at a class and say "fuck, this doesn't work. Sorry. Stop drilling it." Especially if it's something you came up with. Tony Blauer talked this past weekend about his experiences developing the SPEAR System; it started by filming a drill in which he expected to look really awesome. He didn't. (He also had the integrity and honor to recognize that and not change the drill, but to seek a solution.) Doing that is really hard.
The instructor I mentioned at the beginning seemed to assume that the universal failure of his students to make a tactic work in the exact situation it was supposed to work in was a failure on their part. That bugs me. If one person is failing, it may be there fault. If EVERYONE is failing, I think it's more likely the fault of the coach or the tactic. In a sense, it's always the coach's fault--the coach is the one sharing the tactic, and guiding it. It's the coach who needs to recognize when either he's failing to communicate, or more importantly, when what he's communicating just doesn't work.
Scary stuff. But critical.