When looking for a place to take up a martial art (or anything for that matter), what do you look for? With martial arts at least, most people would look no further than "does the instructor have a black belt?" But really, you should be looking at how they teach.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to know what to look for in terms of teaching style because we've generally only ever experienced bad teaching.
It's important that you find out, however, because if you're not careful you could invest years of hard work into your training and yet progress less in those years than you would have done in just a few months at Cross Combat - and you wouldn't even know better was possible. (Believe me, we see this all the time.)
Rapid progression is important for many reasons.
1. It's just really nice to be really good at stuff - and you'll get to experience that sooner.
2. It's better value for time. The same results in less time? Yes please.
3. It's better value for money. The same results in less time equals the same results for less money.
4. Martial arts are not much use for self-defence if you can't do them very well. The sooner you get effective, the better.
5. It saves a lot of regret later on when you accidentally discover our superior gym.
6. Excellence is itself a skill. Being excellent in one thing teaches you how to be excellent in other areas of your life.
So what should you be looking for?
An education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do to yourself.
At Cross Combat we emphasise helping you to learn.
A Teacher - Who's Better Than A Youtube Video Clip
Ok, so this one is tricky. Unless you're an incredible teacher yourself (you're probably not) or have experienced incredible teaching (you probably haven't), you won't really know what you should be looking for. So instead let's start with what incredible teaching is not...
To most people, a "teacher" is a person who stands at the front of the class and either shows, explains or demonstrates things. And typically a "better teacher" is someone who can give more and more details, someone who "really knows their stuff".
But think again. Aren't those people just show-ers, explainers or demonstrators? Aren't they just real-life versions of a youtube video clip?
If you filmed your own teacher or a teacher you've had, wouldn't they then be exactly the same as an instructor on a YouTube video clip?!)
So what would you get from a live teacher or lecturer that you wouldn't get from watching a video of your class or lecture at home?
What makes a real teacher different?
"What are you talking about? I got all my degrees online...!"
A Teacher... You Can Ask Them Stuff
Of course one advantage of a live teacher - and the most commonly given "justification" by so-called teachers for their own worthless existence - is the ability to ask questions ... but consider this...
Years ago (before YouTube was the thing it is now) I read a study looking at tge difference in the rate people learned from a live instructor versus from an instructional DVD. The results were interesting...
If the student had even just a little experience there was - essentially - no difference at all.
And if the student had zero experience, there was a difference but not only was it very small but it was only there for the first 10 hours or so. Beyond that it decreased to about... nothing at all.
Of course the (trivial) benefit for the absolute beginner was put down to the opportunity for the student to ask questions but... are you ready for this... this benefit was completely removed if the common questions were addressed appropriately in the video tape.
Well, since you can ask questions in the coments section of even badly presented youtube videos - and since people are often very helpful - we seem to have lost the benefit of having a live teacher?!
So what now...?
"Miss... Miss... if I can get good at Tekken having fun with my friends, how come I can't get good at maths the same way?"
Let's ask some questions about teachers then...
Here are some questions. Have a think for a moment as you go along and pause at the end of each one and come up with an answer. . You've come this far so you might as well take part ...
1) If a teacher teaches a class of 20 students and 1 of them gets good, how many students did the teacher teach?
Have you got your answer? Ok. Good. Now, then...
2) If there's a class of 20 students and this time 5 get good, how many students did the teacher teach?
Oooh. Interesting? Have you had a think? If not go on, invest a second before you carry on; it'll be worth it shortly,
Ok, last one.
3) How many students did the teacher teach if there's a class of 20 and this time 10 get good?
Have you decided? Have you answered?
I hope so. We'll go on.
"Awww yeaaah. I learned the shit out of that class."
The standard first response is that the teacher taught 20 students. After all, it's not their fault the students didn't pay attention or do enough work, right?
Certainly the fact that 1 or more students got good shows that the teacher was doing a fine job, the only problem was the raucous and insensible students ignoring the poor soul and failing themselves.
Shouldn't it be part of the teachers job to motivate the students somewhat? To get them interested so that they want to learn? Ok, so it's may be a bit much to ask the teacher to get every student passionate about what's being taught, but they should at least try. They should at least succeed a bit... right...?!
Ok, so maybe you guessed (or figured out) that the obvious answer was going to be wrong.
So clearly we can see that the teacher taught, respectively, 1 student, 5 students and 10 students. We can see that the teacher was able to connect with, inspire and motivate 1, 5 and 10 students out of a bunch of 20 potential slackers. Right?
You'd think so. But again: no.
"Good guess... But no..."
Not so fast, teacher-lover!
Sadly, you're giving the "teacher" waaay too much credit there.
The answer in each case is that the teacher taught no students. None. Zero. Not a one of them. Not one at all.
But... but... what...?!?
Look, If only 1 student gets good, that teacher was redundant. That 1 student was clearly just motivated enough to go home and do the work all by themself despite the incompetence of the "teacher". Presumably that student is fascinated enough by "stuff" that if you simply show that student that "stuff" exists, they'll go home, learn about it and get good at it on their own. Doubtless a poster on a wall mentioning the topic would have done the job just as well.
If 5 get good, then clearly all you have are five intelligent learners. All they needed was information - and they got some - and from other life experiences these 5 know how to mould that information into something useful. The "teacher" was a badly made youtube video and those 5 were smart enough to get the wheat, ignore the chaff and take home something of value all by themselves.
And if 10 get good then all we can surmise is that the information was given well and that there was a degree of connection. It was a good and entertaining youtube video. The 10 students are all good, motivated people who take information in well and who happen to like studying at home what their teacher showed them in class - perhaps they needed it to get a job or something. Perhaps the teacher inspired them to read about it at home. Well done. But at the same time...
What about the less smart, less able, less motivated class members? What about the rest of them?
(I'll bet a lot of that resonates with your experiences from back at school.)
“Some people do not understand that online study is even more effective than learning in the traditional school."
Rener Gracie of Gracie Jiu Jitsu
"My marks in this exam are a mere testament to your abilities as a teacher."
So sayeth every smart kid ever.
In fact, if we go back to the video example above, the one advantage of the live teacher over the video tape was that students who were not particularly self-motivated sometimes reported that having a live-teacher sometimes made staying motivated a little easier.
In other words, if you're not motivated enough to watch a taped presentation, get a live presentation instead because whereas you'd just turn the tape off, you'd feel guilty just leaving the room while they're talking so you'll end up hearing more stuff..
But is that really all there is to being a teacher? Is a good teacher just a better "show-er" because of social conventions and a fear of being rude?.
A Good Teacher... Gets Results...
It's strange but people don't seem to even expect a teacher to get them good.
At least at university - where the majority of your "education" involves sitting in a crowded room while someone stands at the front saying words - they have the decency to call them "a lecturer" instead. They "lecture" to you and then you go home and do the learning yourself.
In the martial arts world particularly, it's considered just fantastic if the "teacher" can talk for twenty minutes or so on one technique. "He's got soooo much knowledge" people will say.
But surely your goal shouldn't be to discover how much knowledge your presenter/show-er/demonstrator has, but to get that knowledege inside you instead.
Or, really - if we're being honest - to get their ability inside you.
I don't want to know how to do some fancy technique. I want to be able to do it.
"Is your motivation aroused, Tommy?"
But surely that's impossible, right?
You can't get skill inside a person just by saying or showing things to a class, can you?
Well yes and no. You can, but not like that. Not in the usual way.
In fact, it'd be fair to say that if someone couldn't get skill inside you, you'd maybe call them "ineffective" as a teacher. But if someone can - if someone can get you good - you'd maybe term them "effective" as a teacher.
But... but how... but but... where...?
"Roll up, roll up. Everyone's a winner here today. Winners every time."
A little bit about being effective
You can grade things on different scales. You can grade someone on their knowledge (or their ability to demonstrate it), on their stylistic performance, or their effectiveness.
When you see a doctor you want him to know what's wrong with you (knowledge), be friendly in dealing with you (style) but you also want him to fix your problem (be effective).
And although we would of course prefer to get the hat trick, generally we know that it's effectiveness we seek - we'll tolerate a messy plumber if he fixes the damn leak, for example. And we'll certainly tolerate a rude doctor if he cures our cancer.
Indeed this is arguably why people turn to outlandish "alternative" health care solutions - they're only seeking effectiveness, not logic, science or sense. If there's a chance that drinking Goldschlager and going for a spin on a rollercoaster is all it takes to cure the cancer, they'll try it.
I'm not saying alternative medicines work (I've never tried any) but sometimes something that apparently shouldn't work does, and something can appear effective but not be.
For example, there's a pill that cures (something like) 98% of alcohlism... as long as the alcoholic takes the pill every day for a whole month they'll be free. Unfortunatley, no-one ever takes the pill for the whole month and so in reality the pill is not actually very effective at all.
Instead, the dismally ineffective group therapy sessions with a mere 10% success rate actually end up being much more effective.
"My mum didn't take the pill either."
Other times, something might have an effectiveness level that you didn't even think to notice. And yet it's there.
For example, in order to look more professional, we might get all our sales staff to wear dapper black suits without ever wondering if they'd get more sales wearing blue. And yet research demonstrates that sales go up for salesmen when they wear blue suits.
Companies like MacDonalds do of course think of these things and so they test things. And so, because merely seeing the colours red and yellow has been found to create hunger, their signs are red and yellow. Simply seeing a MacDonalds sign will make you (even just a little bit) hungrier than you were before you saw their sign and thus more likely to buy their food.
This brings about two issues.
1) Effectiveness isn't always via the most obvious route.
2) Did you ever question the effectiveness of teachers?
Black Belt Instructors - Shouldn't teachers get better at teaching?
Did you have any old teachers at school (as in older in age)?
Isn't it a bit peculiar that they didn't cause every student in their class to get an A+?
I doubt you even thought about it but you should. So we will now.
Ok, so not everyone aims to improve over time but isn't it a shame (and down right peculiar) that practically all teachers are as effective in the year they start teaching as the year they retire?
Wouldn't you have thought that after 40 years of teaching kids maths, they'd be better at it than a new-start?
Shouldn't every kid want to be in the old fart's class because then they're pretty much guaranteed an A?
Shouldn't an older teacher be able to handle bigger, less focussed, less interested classes and still get them to get A's?
Shouldn't it be a terrifying proposition for an old teacher to retire?
"Oh hell, ol' Davey's retiring. That's over 200 kids who are gonna drop from A's to C's. Fuck!!"
Ineffectiveness in the Martial Arts
There's this weird belief in the martial arts that it's meant to take yeeaaars to get any good.
But the weirder thing is that after taking months and years for a student to barely progress, they'll claim this as a sign of how good their instructor is.
"I've been a white belt for 5 years now - that Sensei Bob sure doesn't give out belts easily" they'll say. "You have to be *really* worth it to get a belt from him."
"Yeah, I'm still a white belt. But it's under Sifu Phil and he's got reaaally high standards".
If the teacher had high standards he'd hold himself to those standards and make sure he got you good as quickly and effiicently as possible.
It's cool that your instructor has high standards for you, but why doesn't he have high standards for himself?
As a martial artist he may well expect excellence of himself, but as a teacher, he's clearly accepting mediocrity - or even ineffectiveness. Shouldn't he be excellent enough at teaching to get you good quickly?!
I'm not saying you should be just given a grade every month or two just for the hell of it - I'm absolutely not saying that - I'm saying teachers should get better, faster and more able at teaching.
But what is "effectiveness"?
In an effective martial art, what should you have after ten years of training that you don't have after one? (I say "effective" to contrast it with arts that are more arty than martial). In other words, what ability should a black belt have that a white belt doesn't?
I'd say a black belt should be able to beat bigger, stronger faster opponents in a shorter period of time with less effort than a white/blue/purple/whatever belt.
So what should a black belt instructor be able to do?
He should be able to give someone those skills in a shorter period of time and with less effort than a less experienced teacher.
"Tell you what, mate. I'll do you a nice little deal on a barely-used Ford Mondeo... and a bag of chips."
"You got a B+?! Goddamit, I'm so sorry, Tommy. You expected more of me. I've let you down. I'm angry at myself.
"Break the wrist and walk away."
Let's have a teaching race...
In one hour today, I can get people better than I could in one month ten years ago. And by "better" I mean "more viable, technical, skillful and aware". I get people more skillful at beating a random opponent than I used to in the same amount of time. Or, if you prefer, they gain more "units of skilfullness" per hour than they used to. This is what better teaching is.
That's because I've improved as a teacher. (Have a look at our competition results if you want some evidence.) The new me is better than the old me as a teacher. I do things very differently to how I did even last year, for example.
However, if you look to most teachers, what they're doing today is the same as they did years ago.
So when, for example, you're looking for a jiu jitsu teacher you don't want them to win a jiu jitsu competition necessarily (though that's nice), you want them to win a Jiu Jitsu Teaching Competition- how quickly can they get people good? And I'm fantastically confident I'll win that every time.
(Actually, as an aside, a genuinely good teacher can teach anything - teaching is the skill, after all, not the topic.)
"Goddamit, Jimmy, you're making me look bad here. Mr Hargreaves had wee Bob Mitchell doing Calculus in his hour."
Ok. So I'm not going to be able to get you to call all those other folks around town touting their martial arts wares, "show-ers" am I? Probably because it looks suspiciously like "showers".
They'll remain "teachers" despite being primarily "tellers" so allow me to instead refer to the folks at Cross Combat - on this page, at least - as Learning Engineers.
What's the difference?
Well "to engineer something" means both "to design and build something" and, more importantly for us, "to skillfully arrange for something to occur".
An engineer looks at a problem - the need to get from where we are to a result - and designs and builds something to get to that result. The thing is, they're after the result, not the process. And also, you don't even need to know the process.
Let's say I wanted you to get you to close your eyes. A so-called "teacher" would say, "and now you should close your eyes" and you'll either do it or you won't. In fact as few as as 1, 5 or 10 people in the class might actually close their eyes".
But an engineer might flash a bright light at you or throw pepper in your face - and now you'll close your damn eyes without even being asked. :) Perhaps that's not an elegant or skillful solution, but he's still "caused something to occur".
Notice how you don't even need to know the engineers intentions and he still got the result?!
Now consider, for example, a martial arts technique. What we'll try to do is cause you to be good at that technique. We don't even need to tell you what it is, we just need to engineer its excellence.
(Doesn't sound much like normal "teaching" does it?)
When you're feeling a bit down, someone might tell you, "you should cheer up" or when you're lonely they might advise "you should get yourself a nice girlfriend" .
These sentences do not work.
The person who tells you "you should calm down" when you're angry may well be correct, they may well have "advised" you well - but did it work? Did it help? Do you suddenly become calm upon hearing those words?
Probably not, so saying those words is ineffective.
So then they might try educating you with a technique. "Take deep breaths" they tell you.
But does telling someone to take deep breaths get them to calm down? Does it even get them to take deep breaths? Normally not.
Maybe it would if they were already motivated to calm down but didn't know how to ... but if you're revelling in your anger, it probably won't do a thing. Getting advise or information doesn't cause you to be calm?
And of course, depending on the recipient and their motivations, correct information is not always what's required.
So this is bizarre.
Let's say your girlfriend left you because you were too angry too often - and let's assume you regretted that. Well, the "experience" that got you to finally calm down may have simply been the loss of the girl. All those years of pleading got her nothing, but one stroll out the door with a suitcase and all of a sudden she gets what she wanted. (Except she's not there to want it.)
So if you wanted to calm someone down, maybe you'd try leaving them. :)
Or if someone lacks self-confidence, simply get them to stand in the middle of the room at parties. The self-confidence may come despite not being told to talk to anyone.
Surely the only thing that matters is that they get the outcome they're after.
Each Class is Excellent - Everyone Excels
My goals for a class:
1. Can they do it?
2. Will they do it? - It's no good giving them a tool they won't use.
Notice I don't care if they understand it!! Why do they need to understand it if they're not going to teach it? Do you need to understand taps if you're not going to fix them when they leak?
There are very few techniques that I teach in the same way I used to
"And Pavlov learned that lesson really well."
Part 3 - THE ENVIRONMENT
It's NOT Scary
People don't learn well when they're scared.
Of course, most people don't admit to being scared so maybe it's better to say, "you should be relaxed".
If people are fearful of injury, they won't relax.
If you don't relax, you won't investigate.
If you don't investigate, you'll stick to a very small set of experiences.
If people are constantly getting injured, injuring others or saying things like, "everyone gets injured eventually, it's just one of those things" or "it's the nature of the sport", they're full of shit. You can - and I do - train for years and years without getting injured.
If you're concerned about getting hurt you won't take risks.
"Risks" is a difficult word though because it suggests "risking injury" but really it should mean, "risk something new".
If you were 100% sure that every single beautiful girl in the world was kind, generous, loving and friendly to all people, no man in the world would be fearful of approaching one and asking her out.
As it is though, the fear of a being rudely told to fuck off can keep many a man at bay.
You're not "scared" of the girl, but you don't want badness to happen.
Similarly, you're not scared of the new technique you want to try, you're scared of badness happening.
A lot of people are really amazed by Google's offices. They have basketball courts, they have fancy art on the walls, you can take your dog to work, there are gym balls all over the place, high quality restaurants nearby, lava lamps, pianos.
This sounds super cool, but why can't you take your cat to work or buy shitty food? Because dogs and good food increases worker productivity, whereas cats and crappy food dont. Likewise all the other cool stuff is there because research has shown it increases creativity, productivity and staff retention.
Google have never announced this - in fact they appear to pretend it's not research-based at all - but I've read the research myself over the years and their policy matches research. To me it's odd that Google's the only company to do it.
Similarly there is a lot of research out there showing how to increase students' ability to learn and retain information. I won't tell you what it is because, like Google, I see no benefit in giving all my secrets away - but there's a lot of stuff we do that's cleverer than you think. :)