Today I read a blog post by Rory Miller, Advanced Class. Rory has very interesting and insightful material on violence, among other things, and I link to his blog in my blogroll. So this post isn’t meant to imply that I disagree with all of his material. In fact, his material on violence led me to realize that I wasn’t putting enough emphasis on awareness and prevention in my own teaching, at least on my website, and that I tended to take it for granted rather than vocalizing it. Anyway, I disagree with nearly every aspect of his post, left a comment there, and want to expand on it here.
The premise of Rory’s post, as I see it, is that “everything that works can be taught to proficiency in forty hours.” He does write that “years spent practicing would hone the skills”, but then writes, “but in the end, this isn’t hard”. I very much disagree with this, and I suspect that with more thought on the matter Rory will also.
Concepts or Techniques
Rory is explaining that he teaches concepts, that everything boils down to manipulating skeletons (our skeletal structure and the skeletal structure of our opponents). He uses joint manipulations as an example, writing that there are thousands of techniques, but only eight underlying concepts. So if you know the eight concepts, you have the thousands of techniques available right away.
First, every method of categorization and teaching has problems. There are problems with breaking joint manipulations into thousands of techniques, and there are also problems with breaking them into eight principles or eight categories. If you teach someone thousands of joint manipulations, it’s going to take a very long time, many of them will be ineffective, and it will take the practitioner an unnecessarily long time to really get the substance of joint manipulations…how to APPLY them in reality, under pressure. But if you teach them eight principles they can use to break or lock a joint, they may not even discover the best techniques in any given situation. They may train the techniques they discover in an unrealistic scenario, with unrealistic levels of force, cooperation, and resistance (which is also a problem with the thousands of techniques approach), and so on. You cannot give a student a long list of techniques or a handful of concepts and expect them to be able to apply either, especially not in 40 hours.
No method is perfect. Every method has advantages and disadvantages. But even more importantly, you can’t give a student a handful of new techniques, concepts, or even training methods, and expect them to be proficient in any period of time. First, they need it all, in combination. Second, they need guidance to keep them on the right track. That guidance can theoretically come through their own feedback if they are using effective training methods, but without giving them the best techniques, they may never discover them.
A friend, cop, and former student of mine wrote in the comments of another post: “The best decision is the right decision, the second best decision is the wrong decision.” Similarly, there is a “best” technique for any given person in any given situation. I’m talking about physics paired with physiology here. There is a single best technique, and every other technique is not the best technique. That doesn’t mean a sub-optimal technique won’t work. But it also doesn’t mean that sub-optimal techniques are ideal, or that giving a group of students a hand full of concepts and telling them to discover what works best is an ideal approach.
People learn and discover many, many things, if not most, that are not efficient, effective, ideal, or even true. That’s why you not only need to give them concepts, but also techniques. That’s why you can’t expect a student will learn all they need to learn in 40 hours, and then the rest of their time can be spent honing those skills/techniques/concepts. They need the guidance of an expert teacher to keep them on the most efficient and effective path. Otherwise, the easiest thing is to get off of that path without even realizing it.
Hard Work, Time, and Adjustment
40 hours is *nothing* in terms of really learning the fundamental concepts of any living/changing/interactive “art”. It’s not even enough time to get a basic understanding. I started playing a new musical instrument about 2 years ago. I take private lessons and practice for at least 2 hours every day. I’ve read numerous books on the instrument, the music, and the music theory. I listen to the music for at least another hour or two each day in addition to my practice. And I’m just beginning to have basic understanding of the full range of the instrument. I’m at the very beginning of understanding the music. Sure, I intellectually knew about the instrument and the music in a relatively short period, but I had zero ability or deep/personal understanding.
It’s no different with learning a language. It’s no different with learning to dance. Any interactive, live art will take a great deal of hard work and time to learn. Without expert guidance, you will not follow a straight or efficient path to solid ability, unless by unlikely chance.
Rory writes: “Do you have to teach a dog pack dynamics or an ape how to live in a troop? Hell no. So with humans you just have to point out what they already know.” This is incorrect, and the implications even more so. A dog learns “pack dynamics” through being raised in a pack. The dog is taught pack dynamics through the experience of living in a pack. An ape learns how to live in a troop by growing up in a troop from birth, through experience. It does have to be taught.
The human mind and body is incredibly adaptive. If we’re born and raised in an environment with no violence or hostility, we will not understand or be able to deal with violence and hostility. If we are raised in a violent environment, we will adapt (or not!) and learn how to survive in it. But the majority of people reading Rory’s post, and this one, did not grow up fighting. They did not grow up surrounded by real violence. Most people reading these posts do not instinctively have an effective response to being attacked by another human. These responses are most definitely learned, and just like any other living and interactive art, they take a great deal of time and experience to learn.
Concepts are not enough. Techniques are not enough. Training methods are not enough. You need all of them, AND you need to put in the work and time. To progress at a decent pace, you need a teacher to provide guidance, to adjust your path when you move off of it.
When I had my school, I taught the crash to almost every new student on day one. I explained the concepts behind it. I explained that using specific defensive techniques that must be matched to specific offensive techniques is likely to fail in the face of an unexpected attack. You don’t know what your opponent is going to attack with. You don’t know if it’s the right hand or the left hand, a straight punch or a hook. Is the first move a fake? You don’t know. So having a single “punching defense” that works against all high-line attacks is a more effective option. Everyone I taught understood this on day one. Yet none of the martial artists I taught had ever learned or discovered such a technique, despite many of them having practiced and/or taught for years. And despite everyone understanding this, no one REALLY got the significance of it until they had practiced for a long time…much more than 40 hours. One student came to class a year or two after he had started, and as I opened the door he said, “I finally get the crash!”. These things are not natural.
Rory’s point is that there is no “advanced class”. There are the fundamental concepts, and then there is practicing them. But there is much more than that. There are numerous techniques to learn that do require time and guidance. At the introductory level practitioners will learn them at an introductory level! The material practiced in an “advanced class” may not be different from the material practiced in beginning classes, but the level at which it should be practiced will indeed be very different, as will the subtlety with which it is practiced. And that will be greatly enhanced, more efficiently learned, with the guidance of an instructor.
NOTE: I’ve expanded/updated this topic here: How Fast Can You Learn Self Defense?
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