I think it worth discussing my teaching style. I have been a martial arts instructor for over twenty five years and in that time I have taught men, women and children. Within those groups I have taught professionals, teachers, security operatives, casual participants, at risk groups, children and young adults with learning and/or mild physical disabilities. The main thing that I have learnt from these experiences is that the training needs to be interesting and informative. Another important element is that everyone needs to be treated like an individual. We are all unique and therefore will have particular ways of learning and ultimately progress our skills. I ensure that the training is progressive and allows everyone to reap some benefit from whatever topic, position or application that is being covered in that particular class, regardless of a person’s grade.
Because we all learn at different rates I encourage students to keep an open mind to train with people of different ability levels, height, weight and grade. Obviously, this is monitored and done so in an appropriate measure in order to maximise the effects. I strive to deliver accurate and relevant information at the most appropriate times during a students training. I actively encourage students to ask relevant questions. I firmly believe that are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. If a student has a question, even if it seems to them to be insignificant at that time, it can often prove to be vital to their understanding or ability to perform a particular technique of movement. In my experience the small details pave the way to the biggest rewards and advancements.
I feel that it is crucial that not only are appropriate techniques and concepts taught, but that any supporting information is given in order to build up a good understanding of the topics being addressed. By not only knowing the technique and how to execute it, but also having an understanding of what can go wrong, the common mistakes that are made and the reactions that an opponent will likely employ in their attempt to counter your actions, a student is better equipped and will progress at a better rate. This also gives way to developing your options should an opponent cause a change in your planned application. I also believe that feeling the effects of the technique or application that you are working on gives you the crucial information that contributes towards gaining a complete understanding of that area of skill. By experiencing both sides of a given application then you can appreciate the pro’s and con’s of that technique.
I often give a couple of general examples to help people to appreciate the way I look at the martial arts I train in and teach to others. I think these display a good interpretation of the ‘open minded’ approach to training that I have and encourage others to emulate.
Example 1 – To simulate your martial arts training to doing a jigsaw. Each piece of information that you are given represents a piece of that jigsaw. At first the pieces may appear random. Just like picking up a piece of the puzzle and recognising it as a part of a ‘face’, for example, it may be a while before you find the piece that fits perfectly to it. However, over time, you will start to match the pieces together and soon start to see a bigger picture developing. Piece by piece you build up the landscape/background then start to see where the few pieces of information you have in one area link up to those in another. The unique thing with this jigsaw puzzle is that there are no corners and no edges. The ‘picture’ has no limits it will just get bigger and bigger. While ever you keep an open mind to learning, your knowledge will continue to grow.
Example 2 – Your training is like having an empty tool box (metaphorically speaking). Each time you learn a new technique, or gain a little more understanding, it’s like being given a tool. At first you will just put the tools anywhere within the tool box. As your knowledge grows, you will begin to organise your tools so that the appropriate ones are at hand to suit the particular situation you may find yourself in. As your skill level and understanding develop, you will arrange your tool box more precisely and increase the amount of compartments in it. Not only do you collect more tools as time passes by, but you will also know exactly which tools can be used for any situation you may encounter.
I have drawn many comparisons for how knowledge develops over time, relating to martial arts training. With regards to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in particular, I find that the following ideology helps illustrate the way in which your progression will take shape. Imagine that initial technique you learn represents a tree trunk. From that single technique there are two options – there are obviously more, but for the purpose of this illustration I will keep it to two options. From those two options there are a further two options. From those, a further two options, and so on. You get the picture, kind of like a two dimensional drawing of a tree. Very quickly you can appreciate that there are many options and situations that you can encounter. At some point in your training growth, this tree becomes three dimensional, with the branches following numerous directions and representing the addition of more options per technique. Looking at things in this way clearly illustrates how there are so many options possible from a single technique.
I consider the training environment that we have at the classes to be perfect for nurturing good skills. Students are neither rushed nor held back with their training. It is imperative that we help each other improve in order to bring everyone’s level on. By helping each other get better, we all get better. This also helps create a healthy subtle competitive atmosphere. Whether you are an accomplished practitioner, or a complete novice, by giving each other time and encouragement that investment will be returned when the people training around us can offer us that same support, or a healthy technical challenge – this will afford you an opportunity to develop your own skill level further. I encourage students to talk to each other and give feedback or advice when practising. Knowing whether a position is tight, or loose, or whether your weight is being placed correctly, etc, will help you progress at a good pace. Therefore it is really beneficial to communicate with each other.
I can categorically state that this method of training works well. At any time we have students of all levels on the mats, yet there are no indications of ego or arrogance. This further afford a status that allows people to experiment with concepts or techniques and not be afraid of ‘paying for it’. I am immensely proud of the environment that everyone creates and nurtures, this is both humbling and inspiring.
To sum up, after over 44 years of training in many different styles and disciplines I consider myself more a student today than when I first began. The reason? Quite simple really. Today I realise that the more I learn, then the more I recognise that there is to learn. I guess it means that having developed a foundation of knowledge within the martial arts, it has raised more questions for me that require further examination to answer. I also understand that this in turn will raise even more question and this will replay itself over and over. This feeling excites me, because, although I will never reach the summit, I will always be able to absorb, admire, evolve and progress until my time on this earth is over. You got to love that feeling.