Thoughts on Teaching: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance, Part 2

In the [last article] I’ve shared some thoughts on proper class preparation. Now that the topic is st up, let’s cover the whole thing from the instructor’s/trainer’s point of view (won’t discriminate between the two roles here, although I know I probably should).

POV: The instructor

What the trainer needs to make sure is that, over the long run, the basics are properly covered. In my example, this means that every student needs to know and understand four basic blocks, 6 basic punches and 3 kicks. Add three fundamental stepping techniques and some head movement and you’re done. That’s the nuts and bolts of any standup-style, if you ask me. In case you’re wondering, my ultra basic technique selection for beginners looks like this:

  • Blocks
    • Inside out
    • Inside in
    • Outside out
    • Outside In
  • Punches
    • Jab
    • Cross
    • Left & right hook
    • Left & right uppercut
  • Kicks
    • Front kick
    • Side kick
    • Roundhouse kick
  • Steps
    • One-step
    • Two-step
    • Shuffle-step

Ok, this might not be perfect, but it’s a beginning. I dare say that someone who’s mastered (or at least, refined to a high level) those skills can tackle most situations in a fight. Now if you’re not into Shinergy-vocabulary and can’t make anything out of an „inside-out“ block., don’t fret, it’s just not that important. More importantly, I’m trying to make a point here. Each style has something of a technical core, a minimal set of high-percentage techniques.

Consider western boxing, where you have a set of like 10 punches, along with some stepping and defensive stuff. Muay-Thai, also, comes with some knees, elbows, basic boxing (sorry, folks, but compared to western boxers… your stuff is rather basic), push kick and a round kick. Before the introduction of the electronical scoring system, many olympic TaekwonDo matches were reduced to a [Dollyo-Chagi] and a [Dwit-Chagi]  in response, where the faster kicker (or the one with the better set-up) would score.

Those core techniques are the stuff you actually need (while in the above example, it could be argued that keeping both the front and side kick is overkill… still, I consider them both extremely useful for self defense purposes, so I’d keep them both). Since that’s what works, it’s what should be practiced most of the time. Sounds pretty simple, huh?

Well, it’s not. Should be, but it really isn’t. You see, if you want to actually work professionally as a trainer (as opposed to just holding classes every now and then in your play time), you need to worry about customer retention as well. That might not be so much of an issue in a highly performance-oriented environment where you coach top-athletes, as those only judge your work by their results. However, we’re not talking about a typical class setting in such a case, so let’s reduce this to what most trainers are actually doing – which is train (hopefully highly motivated) amateur or recreational athletes.

Hence, what needs to be taken into consideration is a certain degree of [training add] (attention deficit disorder). Most people can’t bear sticking with the basics long-term. They think they’re too advanced to be practicing basic footwork and straight punches. Going through a couple of completely un-sexy blocks and strikes bores them. What challenged and intrigued them in the beginning is ceasing to give them any kicks after some time. They feel it’s time to move on to something new, something more exciting…

That’s not even wrong, either. I mean, that’s basic progression, right? It’s the same with heavy squats – once you can comfortably squat 120kg for 5 reps, you go for 122,5kg and then 125 and so on… only it’s not the same thing, really, for a couple of reasons.

First, in the S&C linear progression example above, you’d further stick with the squat. You don’t change exercise and do something more exciting, like muscle-ups, instead of a squat. Rather, you stick to what you’re doing (i.e., the basics) and make it a little harder. In a martial arts context, this could mean using a blindfold for Chi Sao or praciticing footwork with a heavy weighted vest. „Same but different“, as Pavel would call it…

Then again, there’s the thing with bodyweight training, where progression (for strength) wouldn’t be quite as easy. You can’t simply add 2.5kg of bodyweight until the next session. I mean, maybe you could, I’m just unsure if you should… so here, you’d have to actually change gears and switch to a different exercise. Still, that’s really be variations. If you’re strong enough to perform perfect bodyweight squats, do skater squats. Once you can easily bang out multiple sets of 5, switch to pistols… that’s still all squats, really, just variations.

Eric Cressey wrote something about this on [his site], too:

So, there is a balance that must be discovered.  On one hand, you need to stick to the basics so as to not compromise the training effect.  On the other hand, you need to implement variety so as to not bore folks to death.  The solution is to use variations of the basics.
–Eric Cressey

 Finally, even when you decide to change your heavy weighted squats squats for kettlebell pistols for a while, it might not be wise to permanently drop the former for good…

Well, anyhow, this isn’t going to turn into an S&C post, so let’s return to the topic at hand and conclude that the basics and variations of those basics are really the essential factor, the stuff you should be teaching your students most of the time. Still, there’s the training add factor…

In the past, I’ve occasionaly caught myself turning my back on the basics for extended periods of time. The problem was that during a class, I’ve found some skills missing in my student’s skill set (in such a case, it’s always the trainer who’s to blame). So, I panicked and tried to make up on all of those things at the same time, as early as possible. That sometimes meant straying away from the basics for a complete week or two and try to present all those little things I’ve skipped over the course of the last months. Of course, after I’ve covered it all, the basics were left unadressed for a while, so I  decided it was time to sharpen those skills again and really devote the next couple months to those basics… After those months, I found that a couple things were missing from my student’s repertoire’s, so I just had to adress them immediately… well, I figure you can see where this is going. Nobody’s going to learn that flashy 540° kick after praciting it for a single lesson… like everything, this needs to be repeated and approached systematically. Bringing it up in class once may serve entertainment purposes, but it’s rather useless when it comes to actualy learning success.

So what’s the catch here? Well, now, I plan all those „special“ classes ahead. When I find that something needs to be adressed, I don’t rush. Rather, I integrate it into a couple of classes over an extended time period, trying to find variations and progressive exercise forms along the way… one example is the stuff I described in [this post]. All my students – kids and adults alike, beginners and advanced athletes – did some form of this over the course of a month or so. Now, most of them can actually employ the type of stepping Jason showed in his original video. For the moment, I have other plans, but I’ll definitely come back to this and repeat the whole block (modified and improved by what I’ve learned teaching those classes) in due time.

By having everything written out, I can always check which aspects haven’t been trained in the last couple weeks. Also, I can clearly see how much time was spent doing the basics. This way, I can guarantee that my students spend most of their training time on the essentials while still constantly spending some time on challenging and exciting things.

Take aways message: Plan your classes in advance and keep an overview what you did in the past, what you’re currently doing and what your plans are for the future. Focus on basics, but don’t skip the more exciting parts altogether.

Now that’s only a couple of strategic considerations. In practice, there’s a couple of challenges here, especially when it comes to scaling a planned class to the people who actually show up on that day, but I’ll cover that later on. Next time, though, I’ll cover the same topic from the student’s point of view.

So long,

take care

PS: I’m currently in [Linz] again, doing the third week of the national trainer certification.

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