Thoughts on Teaching: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance, Part 3

This one’s probably going to be a short one (I hope). Also, it highly correlates with [my last post], so if you’re pressed for time, it’ll probably suffice to read of of the two. After we’ve covered the basics on why it is important to properly prepare classes from the [trainer’s point of view], let’s look at things from a different direction today.

POV: The student

Imagine a beginning martial arts student who recently joined a club. What are his/her main motivations? Now of course this depends on the person, but I guess the following list will cover most aspects:

  • Learn to fight (duh)
  • Get/stay in shape
  • Improve live quality by implementing the mental techniques inherent to the martial arts
  • Have fun

Note that #1  includes both sports combat and self defense, although it could certainly be viewed as two distinct points as well. Never mind, though, it’ll suffice for our considerations. Let’s stick with that point – combat –  for a moment now.

Fighting is all about control – in the [Shinergy] curriculum, we define the most essential tactical components of combat as rhythm control, distance control and force control. Each of those components comes with a couple of principles. Consider force control. Basically, when faced with an incoming force in the form of a strike or kick, you’re left with four options:

  1. evade the force
  2. oppose the force
  3. follow the force
  4. do nothing, i.e., choose to absorb the blow

Shinergy specializes in #3, i.e. make use of the attacker’s force. Since I’m from a competitive background, personally, I’m mostly into #1, though. Hence, I spend most of the time devoted to force control with evasion and soft blocks. Still, not teaching my students how to roll with a punch or just toss in a hard block every now and then would be a mistake, as those are sometimes viable and absolutely necessary skills. Again, things boil down to what I said in my [last post]: spend most time on the basics and don’t forget to do special classes every now and then.

Now the above mentioned student might encounter one of the following types of instructors:

  1. The ADD type. In this case, our student would be practicing every of the above mentioned strategy, complete with a plethora of highly technical (yet sloppy executed, to say the least) blocks and counters. Obviously, when the going gets rough, the student will fail in applying any of them. For him, this means a lost fight. For the instructor, it probably means a lost customer.
  2. The ultra-strict type. Here, our student will do the same drills and exercise every class, simply because that’s what has been done for generations. Now questions asked. While I do believe in keeping things simple, especially in terms of coverage, I’m always for questioning the things you do in training. Doing things out of tradition just ain’t an option when it comes to efficiency and effectivity. A trainer needs to constantly test his basics, tweaking and adjusting them should this prove necessary. Consider the above case of force control. Just because our method of choice is soft blocks doesn’t mean I don’t teach a classical double guard every here and then. That’s just a vital skill to have for ring fighting. Even if my guys chose to employ more of an open guard, they have to know how to open up the opponent’s double guard and punish him for passivity.  If I was the ultra-strict (or let’s rather call it dogmatic) type, my boys wouldn’t know this essential skill. Of course, this would mean they get into serious trouble when facing a boxer. Again, that’s a lost fight / lost customer.

So, by contradicting any part of the above statement (i.e., not sticking to the basics for the most part or not introducing new ideas and concepts every now and then), the trainer does his students a dis-service in that he doesn’t satiate their desire/need (which, in this case, is to master the art of combat) to an acceptable extent.

Same thing goes for the thing about getting in shape. Now I’m reluctant of advocating a classical [periodization model] in the context of martial arts. I won’t, by all means, defy such a thing, either. Considering the whole idea here would be beyond this article’s scope. The point I’ll make here is somewhat simpler. Again, our imaginary student comes to a new club, hoping to improve his physique. He certainly won’t be happy with an instructor who just doesn’t plan regular conditioning sessions but rather introduces a new, highly complex technique every session. Before the class has mastered that technique to a point where intensity can be upped, he moves on to a new technique.

Now I have to add that this might even be fine (to a certain point), at least if it’s communicated that way up front. Not everyone’s into fitness, so this would probably be the type of class for the pure technique enthusiast. Note the addendum (to a certain point): teaching in such a manner will not only leave students weak and de-trained, but also unskilled, as skill requires repetition. Again, that’d be a direct violation of stick to the basics most of the time.

Even if regular conditioning sessions are not planned in a given style, by sticking to the basics (most of the time, anyways), specific drills can be implemented to promote specific fitness. Think pads, sparring, shadow boxing, bag work, etc.

I could go on and argue if the other extreme (the [Crossfit]-syndrome, where a trainer randomly introduces a bunch of) would do a proper job in satiating the desire for fitness, but I won’t go that route from here. It’d certainly be better than the other way around.

When an instructor wishes to actually transport a message and give his students something they can use in everyday life (like the idea of [Zen], the tenets of [Bushido], or whatever else), this requires repetition. Just like everything else. Just dropping some fashion words like „warrior spirit“ or „bravery“ in class every now and then won’t help people find and understand their [Dó].


The fun thing is the trickiest part IMHO. Now there are those who actually enjoy planning ADD, as it suits their training ADD. To be honest, that population is quite big, too. Therefore, a lack of planning might actually lead some students to enjoy classes more. On the other hand, it’ll put off people like me, who have a burning desire to get better at what they’re doing. I don’t see the fun in making a clown out of myself toddling with a new skill every class, eventually failing to master even a single one…

Wrap up 
To wrap things up: In our above example, a lack of planning will (in the long run, mind you) effectively destroy the student’s motivation, whether he’s looking to

  • learn to fight
  • get/stay in shape
  • improve live quality by implementing the mental techniques inherent to the martial arts

For the fun crowd (who don’t necessarily should be practicing martial arts… I hear [Zumba ] is quite shallow and perfect for anyone without the ambition to actually learn a skill…), things might look different. Then again, it’s not like this would matter…

In the next part, I’ll show you how I approach the whole issue of planning out a single class. After the strategic considerations made in [Part 1] and [Part 2], this’ll give you all the tools you need to plan your classes.

So long,

take care

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