I get asked if I think martial arts are going downhill. It’s the argument of — you can’t teach everything your teacher knows. Your students, in turn, don’t learn everything you know. And so it goes. So within a few generations, many details of martial art are lost.
Well, it’s time to upset some people.
I don’t think martial arts are going downhill as a whole. But I think a very dangerous trend threatens the quality of martial arts classes.
Before I go to extreme lengths and offend some of you, let me tell you about my educational background: I used to be a high school teacher. And I think I was a good one. I had strict standards, but the kids loved me. And I have achieved results. Noticeable results.
So why did I start writing about martial arts full time?
There were countless reasons – everything from unacceptable administrative practices to my desire to improve martial arts through writing.
One of the main reasons I got out was that the educational conditions were terrible…
At one point, I had 237 students on my roll sheet. That meant I once taught 51 high school students in a classroom with only 36 desks.
You do the math.
I know what you’re thinking right now…
Keith, what does your nagging about public education do with martial arts?
Well, it’s a “number thing.” And in a moment, I’ll relate it to martial arts teaching. I promise. You see, I was a foreign language teacher.
If nothing else, education conducts a lot of research. There are numerous studies on the influence of class size on learning. As the class size increases, the number of learning decreases.
For example, if a teacher has 15 students for an hour and spends much of the time asking for individual answers, the student may have to answer eight times per term.
Eight direct contacts with the language — or eight opportunities to practice the movement for the right feeling with the instructor.
Double the class to 30 children, and each student may only have four oral contacts with the language per day. Not only that, the teacher has to spend more time on classroom management as the number increases. Increase the class size to 50 students, and you’re lucky if every student gets a chance to produce.
This attitude of ‘chopping more students to make more money’ is deteriorating the quality of public education and martial arts education.
In the dojo, more students mean more tuition. And in public education, districts receive government funding based on the number of heads filling the seats.
The effect is the same.
In martial arts, I favour smaller classes. And I’d rather have the head teacher teach the lesson. Give me a garage with six students versus a dojo with a class size of 45 students, and I can tell you which students get more individual attention from the lead instructor. (Obviously, right?)
I can’t speak for other martial arts, but I’ve noticed the pattern in the world of JKD. The best JKD instruction is in the small classes.
Give me a JKD instructor with a network of schools, and I’ll give you a system that’s gone backward. Show me a JKD-related instructor promoting people after taking an intensive seminar, and I’ll show you a certification not worth the paper it’s printed on.
This does not mean that you cannot learn in these situations. In public education, I still let foreign language students make their profession. And you can still know valuable information from livestock martial arts school.
It’s not an ideal learning situation, but you can still learn.
Unfortunately, some people slip through the cracks. They will succeed without really learning. Given the numbers, this will certainly happen.
In the world of JKD, I meet instructors all the time who don’t do anything that resembles the principles of valid JKD.
Now that you’ve read this article, you know one possible reason why they came up this way.
Think of the game of the phone. You put children in the classroom. You whisper a made-up story in the ear of the first student in line.
This student then whispers the story by heart into the next child’s ear. Each child moves from memory, telling the story from the next to the next. By the time we reach the end of the line, the story is almost unrecognizable.
It has changed so much.
You could say that each child makes the story their own. But they can also lose some very important, even crucial elements along the way.
This is how I see large network schools.
Of course, the lead instructor will drop by now and then for a sample. That is not enough.
I’d rather have the head instructor go from student to student, down the line. If the ‘story’ changes a bit, the teacher may make the change understandable to the individual.
Or the teacher can immediately correct, so the ‘taste’ of the story remains the same.
Take the learning into your own hands… Large classes rarely prepare the student for a real street fight. You have to take knowledge into your own hands.
Free Strike E-booklet Keith is the author of several martial arts books, ebooks, and booklets. You can find them at:
Kerwin Benson Publishers. (Free ebooks, cartoons, and more.)
Pascal has been teaching martial arts for almost 30 years. He dropped out of high school in 2000 to become a full-time martial arts writer.