We’re coming to the end of another cycle of teaching at Valkyrie, and we’ve already started rolling out a new curriculum. For the coaches, it offers less strict guidelines on what to teach, but more strict goals of what students should achieve. So less direction on what specific drills to do, and more emphasis on working through a given topic in a way that makes sense to particular group of students we see on any given night.

To make sure we are all together on how this will be done, I’m returning to being head coach for every single night of instruction. I’m taking Saturday mornings off in exchange, and letting the other coaches have a chance to play in Power class.

I’m loving how it’s working out. Getting a chance to personalize classes a little bit is letting me really reach down into the deeps of my knowledge in a way I haven’t been able to do before. The slight change in emphasis turns out to be making a big difference. The structure is easier to see and I think it makes more sense now for all the coaches to relate the current focus of a class to the arc we see ourselves and the students taking over each cycle.

It’s too early tell what effect it’s going to have on our skill development curve, but so far I’m starting to see things I like. It certainly helps solve one of the bigger issues I’ve had teaching. Which is also an issue I know other instructors have. It’s the delicate balancing act that comes out from having a mix of skill and knowledge levels in one class, but having a single skill slated to be taught in that class. How do you keep everyone challenged at their particular level?

If the goal is to have a student land a jab at the end of the class, compared the the goal of having a student learn how to execute a jab, it’s much easier to accommodate the different levels. It’s a seemingly small difference, but from my experience the vast majority of martial arts teach skills with the goal of becoming better at the skill. And I know some people will read that sentence and wondering why that is a problem, but it’s somewhat like going to carpentry school and learning how to swing a hammer. And then learning how to hold a nail. Meanwhile the advanced students are working on slowly and carefully learning to align the hammer and the nail together, so that some day they may be capable of landing the perfect blow and driving the perfect nail.

Meanwhile beautiful houses are being put together with a lot of imperfectly driven nails, but they somehow still do the job.

So going back to the jab, if the goal at the end of the class is to land a jab…the new students can work on the bare mechanics, maybe getting used to making contact to other person’s face instead of just air. Whatever they need to work on. The advanced students can work on timing, flow, deception, power…whatever. And they can do it at the same time and with the newer students because everyone is working to the same goal. And everyone is learning from each other. As a coach, I’m free to toss in a quick note here and there about learning to bob, weave and slip. Or how to get the footwork rhythm down. As long as we are working to the same goal, I can work with the student in groups or as individuals to get them there.

With a more rigid skill-based approach, it’s too easy to fall into the habit of telling students, and ourselves, to ignore some flaws and concentrate on the skill at hand, that we will develop the other skills later in their time.

It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, and I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the help and fellowship of some truly extraordinary martial arts instructors I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with in the last 2 or 3 years. Being exposed to different ideals in training as well as seeing different approaches to similar problems of the martial space we specialize in has been deeply rewarding. And getting not just support from my fellow Valkyrie coaches, but constant feedback and useful thought out challenges has been instrumental in forging our school and ourselves into a vision we couldn’t have even imagined a few years ago.

So we make these changes, and the school continues to change me.