Thursday, 10 March 2011

Transmission of the art

Having travelled the martial arts path for a while, I have been in a number of different teaching situations as a student. Leaving aside family training and also my military experiences, my first formal martial art training came in a regular thai boxing class. Twenty of us lined up on a Tuesday for the beginners class and were introduced to the art of using eight limbs. We did not know it then but the instructor, who was a Thai national, used the first two hour class to weed out people who were not committed. We started each class with up to forty five minutes of body weight exercises, shadow boxing and then we started to hit pads. The next class was the following Thursday and five of the original twenty turned up.

The instructor related to me latter that he just did not have time to waste on people who lacked spirit and was looking to cut out the undesirables as soon as possible, much in the same way as Special Forces selection works. Whittled down to five people, the class now had four coaches to five fighters and each coach specialised in their sections. In my case it was felt that my knees had the potential to be something special and I worked a lot on the pads and big banana bag with a coach who had used knees a lot when he fought, learning how to set up my knees.

The coaches had taken part in lots of fights and did not spare any of the trainees’ blushes. Do again, do again would ring out across the training area and there were often points when each of us left the training area to throw up in the toilet. The head instructor was very much of the attitude that you had to fight to call yourself a boxer and if you did not turn up for training it was your problem as he was results orientated.

During the course of the class the head instructor would walk around chatting to the coaches about you in thai and then your drills would be modified or you would be given the special joy of doing three rounds on the thai pads with the head instructor a he refined your technique or timing.

That was my martial arts life four times a week for the first couple of years with the only variation being when we students met up in our own time to do pad work, spar or go running.

The next class I attended was not local to me and I had to travel up to London to attend, which meant a two hour journey each way. This was more of a commercial class and the class was unofficially split into two groups, one being the general students who were there to socialise and have fun and the other being those who were there to scrape. The instructor was happy for the student to be of either type. The class often numbered over twenty and that meant there was little time for one to one instruction. One thing I noticed about this class was the instructor actually seemed to care if you turned up and would ring if you had missed a couple of classes to check all was well.

About this time I became aware of something called a private. The private was a one to one class, outside of the main class with the head instructor where he would coach you and take a personal interest in your progress. This cost as much as a full months of regular classes but I learnt more in the first private class, than in six months of the normal mixed class. Being a critical thinker I realised early on that a lot of what I was learning in the big general class was actually better transmitted on a one to one basis with someone who already had the skill. The teacher already having the skill and timing down is a key point in helping the student progress.

The other key point was the depth of the knowledge, in the main class we often just skimmed the surface but in the private class the teacher would go into depth. I think it would be fair to say that those of us taking regular private lessons had a far greater depth of knowledge that we could utilise than those in the regular class.

I was very aware of the above when my informal training group voted for me to lead the instruction in boxing, kickboxing and stick fighting and structured our classes accordingly. I always tried to give each students progress my attention and this worked well for a small group of ten students. In 1987 our camp won all of the fights it entered which if my memory serves me right was over twenty Muay Thai fights. We were turning over some of the full time thai camps.

Later our informal group became a regular class, taught part time by me and our ranks swelled to over twenty students per class, however it’s fair to say that the skill level dropped. Eventually things sorted themselves out number wise and I reach an ideal class of around ten, which I taught on a part time basis until I retired from teaching in 2005. During that time I always looked at other arts and took a mixture of privates and regular classes.

My advice to beginners is; know why you are training and try to get a mixture of one to one training and regular classes with an instructor who has his or her art down. Be a critical thinker and enjoy each moment, because you never know when the class you are in, is your last ever training experience.

The above was the standard for traditional training which was normally transmitted on a one to one basis. First weed out the undesirables (you must have spirit, when you get knocked down, get back up and when you are hit and hurt, hit back).

Then the instructor should transmit the learning experiences in a planned controlled way, which is results driven, taking in to account the short and long term goals. Then the student should be given the chance to assist in the instruction of others. I have found that by coaching others, my own martial arts knowledge has really grown.

On final point: Just because that’s the traditional method of transmitting the art, there’s no reason it could not applied to the contemporary arts such as MMA or even combatives.