I love teaching martial arts. It’s one of those things that just gets me going. Not only do I love the experience of teaching and dealing with students – passing along what I’ve learned – but I REALLY love how much I learn.
One of the places that I learn most is from my adult classes. Specifically teaching newer adult male students. That is the area when I get to transition from the “theoretical” or sport side (the American form I’ve been teaching for the past 4-ish years is a sport, or tournament form for the most part) into the practical. The reason? Because newer male students, especially those who are a bit older, will almost always say “But, Sensei…” or “Does it really work?” or any number of similar questions. My favorite: “Couldn’t I just punch you in the head?”
Those male students see us, for the most part, demonstrating moves with a partner who is usually offering either no or very light resistance. They’re always a bit leery of what they’re learning – and rightfully so. A LOT of what is taught either isn’t practical or isn’t being taught/practiced/trained in a practical manner.
There is a particular student at one of the studios, I’m going to call him Lou – mainly because that’s his name. He’s a tall dude (6’2″ maybe?), in solid shape, mid-40s. Strong as a bull. He’s there as a bonding experience with his family, but I can tell that he sort of side-eyes a lot of the material. Which is GREAT. As a student you should never be afraid to ask your instructor questions (in a respectful manner).
Lou has asked a few questions in class, that always amount to him subtly saying “I don’t think that’ll work.” In a recent class, while I was showing how to transition into an Americana arm-bar when your opponent is in your guard. Lou scratched his head a bit after a couple of drills and asked “Couldn’t I just punch you in the head?”
Since my own training has always focused more on the side of practicality and more reality-based use, I LOVE those questions so very much. What was even better, for me at least, was this wasn’t a technique I’d used in active sparring. It’s one I had taught a bunch, and I’d used the Americana from other positions, but not one I could say “Of course not, silly man” with 100 percent confidence.
Instead, I chucked my glasses to the side and said “Let’s give it a shot.” I dropped down onto my back, told Lou to get into guard, and informed him to have at it. A few seconds later he tapped. BUT I learned an incredible amount in the struggled that ensued. I learned a lot more about my own positioning, about the arm-bar itself, and I learned a ton about how to better teach the technique. It was awesome.
Did I risk getting punched in the head by a guy a lot bigger and stronger than me? Yup. Would it have been worth it if he did punch me? Absolutely. The reason I say that is because I don’t want to teach moves to someone that don’t stand up to a stress test. If I’m telling someone something will work (and, of course, not every technique works in every situation or every time) then I want to know that it does, indeed, work.
For the Americana I was teaching, from the position I was teaching it in, I can say it stood up to the trial-by-fire.
The point behind this bit of rambling is to never be afraid to ask questions of your instructors (or, as an instructor, learn to LOVE those questions), and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS use increasing levels of resistance in your training. Without that escalation, without trial in free sparring, you’re just teaching dance. That’s fine if that is your goal, but if you’re wanting self-defense or even combat sport (MMA, BJJ, etc) training, then those increasing levels of resistance are required.
A lot of modern schools forget that side of things.
That’s it for today. Back to the Dojo for me!
-Mat Nastos, the Karate Geek
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