Blog Archive

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Teachers and Students

Students don't need to know everything a teacher knows.

A long time ago, we knew this. I read an interview with Phil Dunlap years ago where he explained that, in the system he teaches, it was only the heirs to the system who learned the whole thing. Everyone else was supposed to learn one or two of the subsystems, based on the teacher's evaluation of their personality, body type, and so on. My understanding is that Okinawan karate was often taught in a similar fashion: the teacher would evaluate the student, teach them a kata or two (plus applications) based on what the teacher felt would work best for that student, and that would be it.

There was no need to teach the student the whole system, because the student didn't need it. Indeed, knowing it probably would burden the student with some extra baggage they didn't need in a fight, leading to Rory Miller's "brown belt syndrome".

But in the modern world, where we teach martial arts to people who want to study it for a lifetime, who train, not because they need it, but because they think it's fun, we have to give them a reason to keep coming back. So more and more of the curriculum gets shared, until people who were never supposed to be teachers are learning the teacher's system.

I don't know if there is a solution, or if a solution is even needed, but it's something I've been thinking about.


Maija said...

For a while I've been fascinated by systems thinking and particularly in martial arts system design.

By that I mean why does the 'complete' system of my lineage of Bagua, for instance, look like it does?

This interest was perhaps sparked by my teacher saying something to the effect that "Everything is here. You don't need anything outside this to 'get it'."
Now he may or may not have been correct, but it got me thinking - Why IS this complete? Who decided that this was enough. Not too much. Not too little. But that everything that needed saying was said.

As you imply, back in the day, the teacher taught the student to fight to his or her strengths, but had a whole tool box of options to choose from dependent on what kind of student was in front of them - Tall, heavy, agile, fast, strong, aggressive, timid etc etc.

Passing on the whole kit and caboodle is perhaps only a problem if this context is misunderstood.

Framing the different parts to do with height, or timing, or weapon, or whatever can add to the whole, but that then implies a teacher who also understands WHY what is going on is going on.

Saying "This is probably best for your personality/body type, but can you see how this move would be a better option if you are the shorter person in the altercation"? ... Or "This really only works if you have the space and a range advantage." IS fascinating IMO and gives a better picture of the art as a whole, and the minds behind it's design.

Of course the highly nerdy can look and see how every generation evolved the ideas, maybe through students not understanding certain parts, or the evolution of weapons, cultural norms, or the predominance of sports applications over protection. Even the body type of the teacher ...

Sadly, if you can't see the context though ... it's all a dogs dinner.

Jake said...

Yeah, context is everything. Even for/especially for this idea. I'm still sorting it.

I don't know that all systems were designed this way. Some may have been designed to be passed, whole and entire, to each and every student. Some, not so much.

Your teacher's comment about everything being in the system is interesting. I've heard similar concepts from other systems, and never really bought it...but it's an interesting question. What's "complete", anyway?

It's certainly fascinating to learn and look at the art as a whole, and it can give some great insights. I think it can probably make you a better fight, but I think you could also create a great fighter who didn't know the whole system.