Sparring with one of my cadets, back at Clinton

Spending a lot of time rethinking my approach to teaching, and how it conflicts with people's expectations of teaching.

Bit of a constant, really. Ever since I started teaching martial arts, the expectation of a student coming in is that you will fulfill their expectations. For martial arts, this means that the learning process will need to follow a pattern that they have been taught is correct.

They will rigidly practice a series of exercises that will get progressively harder, until they master a series of secret/powerful techniques that they will execute at the drop of a hat, when required. The number of these techniques that they have mastered will measure success, as well as by their passing of several increasingly gruelling tests that allow them to display more and more rank privileges.

Yech. Not my bag at all. This is a process that works for most people, no doubt about it. It makes sense as well, because lessening surprise is everyone's goal. Predictability in life is the most desired thing.

My issue is that it's just a reflection of existing structures of society. The same thing we see in work, in school, and in sports. Succeed by adapting or mimicking the structure. Martial arts become a different flavour of the same thing.

The experiences that caused me to seek martial arts instruction resulted from that conformity being used against me, as well a powerful lesson in predictability not being safety. I wanted to learn a way to protect myself against unpredictable actions, not find a new predictability.

At Valkyrie, we clarified that we were doing things differently, and our audience was people who had been through similar experiences. As teachers, that built-in drive to do things "the right way" builds internal conflict when you don't align with it. That conflict builds friction, which feels like burnout and alienation.

A nice long break, and a forced removal from our comfort zone, has put us all, coaches and students, in a better place to re-align what our actual goals are. A physical space is a blessing, and allows far more teaching ability, but it also can be a trap where the space has to justify itself.

For myself it's been a realization that I prefer to be an active helper in people's growth. That is to say what I want is to have a sense in every class that I am helping people become better martial artists. Too often, I didn't feel like I was doing that. I let the space pressure me, because the urge to do the right thing is very powerful, even when it is not truly the right thing but instead the predictable thing.

The next few months I'll be building a plan for myself to return to teaching, the same way I built the plan to return to writing.

Randy Packer

Randy Packer