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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Know Your Role

One of the most interesting parts of the SFG Boston course was the programming question and answer section. The class got an hour to pick the brains of Pavel and Geoff Neupert on program design for, well, just about anything they could think of. It was an excellent session. I, not surprisingly, have notes.

One moment stuck out most firmly in my mind, however. A participant asked a question about training a student who had medical condition: something to do with the curvature of the student's spine, I think (the number 27 is in my head, but I didn't have the medical knowledge to really understand the problem).

In any case, the exact medical condition was irrelevant. The point was, this student had one, and the coach was asking Pavel for his advice on how to train that person.

And Pavel's very succinct answer was "I have no idea."

He expanded on that, by adding that the coach should consult with this student's physician, find out what limitations they had, and possibly consult with a physical therapist or orthopedic doc as well. But that Pavel didn't have the qualifications or knowledge to answer this question.

One of the things I look for in new sources of information or learning is synchronicity with the things I already know. And of the things I look for in teachers is common values with others who I consider teachers.

The tragedy in Sandy Hook prompted a lot of discussion within the PDR/SPEAR community (and with the larger martial arts community). Among the questions that arose was the question of "what do you do if someone asks you about how to handle something like this?" After all, we're self-defense instructors. People ask us about events like this all the time.

Coach Blauer observed (correctly), that there were likely to be a bunch of unscrupulous martial arts instructors who would take advantage of the fear and paranoia generated by Sandy Hook to start offering "active shooter" courses, and other similar gimmicks. He also reminded all of the coaches that, without very specific qualifications and knowledge (that are above and beyond simply studying the PDR/SPEAR system), we shouldn't be doing that. About 24 hours after that conversation, someone asked me if I would be offering active shooter training. Which I will not be, for the record.

Both Pavel and Coach Blauer hit upon something that I believe to be a fundamental principle of teaching. You teach the things you know. If you don't know, you don't teach it.

Know Your Role.

Years ago, I had a conversation with some fellow (at the time) aspiring English teachers about the question of whether we should be discussing current events in the classroom. My classmates, most of whom were a little younger and much more politically active than I was, took the view that they should be setting aside time to talk about current events, regardless of the connection of those events to the rest of their course curriculum. I lead the opposition view in the discussion.

My point was that we were there to teach English literature. I, specifically, was teaching Pride and Prejudice (Don't laugh unless you've read it. It's a good book.) and romantic poetry. Any connection I might have made to the impending war in Iraq (the hot button topic of the day) would have been tangential at best. I believed that I had a duty to focus on the topics I was supposed to be teaching. I was an English teacher---ergo, I needed to teach English. The politics teacher was down the hall (metaphorically, anyway). I had other objections as well, but those aren't as germane to this topic.

[The argument was made that some people were teaching material that was more directly relevant to questions of war and violence, which was fine. But I was not, and felt that forcing the material into the class wasn't my responsibility.)

When I started coaching martial arts (again), I carried that same belief with me. I teach the things I teach, and I am very specific about where my skills begin and end. Want to learn Muay Thai? I can help. Want to learn striking for MMA? I can do that too. Want a complete MMA game? I can help, but you need a good grappling coach too, and that is not me.

If you want to learn Shaolin Gung Fu, I can't do a damn thing to help you. 

It bugs the crap out of me when I see martial artists trying to expand their teachings to include everything under the sun, just because its the latest fad or because its something people are worried about.

I don't teach active shooter courses because I'm not qualified to. Could I make up some drills for active shooters if pressed? Sure. Are there principles from the PDR/SPEAR system that apply? Probably. But the point is, I'd be making it up. Talking completely out of my ass.

When you're providing training that affects people's lives (in the active shooter example, quite directly), you better be damn sure that you know what you're talking about.

Every teacher has limitations. They should acknowledge them. If you find a teacher who doesn't acknowledge them, be wary.

If you're a teacher, be proud of being a teacher of the things you're good at. If you want to teach something and you don't know how to, learn. I wanted to be a strength coach, so I started studying strength training. Pretty simple, really.

Know. Your. Role.

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