Teaching the Art of Fishing

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.

Teach him to fish, feed him for life…

Oh, I just love true wisdom, and I’m sure you’ve heard this one. How can one not agree with it?

The idea is that we can keep spoonfeeding the needy, but if you teach the needy to feed himself he will be able to feed himself and be independant of you and handouts. The martial arts and development within the arts are very similar to this philosophy. No, I am not speaking of teaching men to teach themselves; that idea is proposterous. What I am referring to is teaching your martial arts students the most valuable skill you could ever give them. This is the skill, that if they never took another lesson in their life from where they are in their training from this point forward… that in time, they will be skilled enough to defend themselves, physically fit, and ready for combat as if they had been studying the martial arts all this time.

Allow me to break from this to inject another point. This is something that can never be taught in a seminar or video. It is something that I am positive that 100% of the seminar guys out there (yes, even your Grandmaster) is missing. It is the reason why my students will always beat your students, unless your students have developed a foundation elsewhere, besides those seminars. It explains one of the main reasons I am anti-learning by seminar. And even if I taught it to you right here, right now–any attempt to impart this in a seminar will fail.

The most valuable thing you can teach a martial arts student is not a technique or fight strategy. It is not a particular weapon. It is not a shortcut to proficiency in the art. In fact, it is the opposite to the shortcut to proficiency:

The most valuable thing you can teach a martial arts student is how to train.

Easy enough concept to understand, right? No. It isn’t that easy. One of the clichès I hear martial artist regurgitate over and over, and they think they are making profound sense when they utter it is the too-simple-to-deny-but-more-complicated-than-you-realize “Practice, Practice, Practice“. Babies, we are not talking about the damned Piano. Martial arts is not something that we simply practice to get. Sure, when we are infants in the art or learn a brand new technique, practice may suffice. But when you are serious about fighting and you have the goal of dominance, you must TRAIN. Big difference. “Practice” refers to the repeating of something over and over until you “get it”. Can you practice beyond mere “ability”? Can you practice your way to perfection?

Yes, you can “practice” beyond simply the ability to perform a technique or skill. You can even practice your way to “pretty good”. But if you wish for perfection or dominance–you want to reach your potential in the art and on the street–you must train.

So, what’s the difference, Mustafa? Let’s see what Google has to say about “practice“:

Perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.

And “train“?

Teach (a person or animal) a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time.

Wiki says

Training has specific goals of improving one’s capabilitycapacity, and performance. It forms the core of apprenticeships

If you look at the definition of “train” (yes I know, it also says that “train” is a series of railroad cars, but we are referring to fighting, smarty pants) there are two important factors here. First, it includes “practice”. Secondly, there is the element of “instruction”. In practicing something, you assume that you already know it. With training, you are in the pursuit of more knowledge. Yes, you already “know” the skill because you must practice it. Yet, you are continuing to learn through more instruction. The martial artist assumes that he knows everything. Sure, the fake humility we find in the martial arts requires him to say that he doesn’t know everything. Yet the martial artist really does think he knows everything because he determines that his teacher’s classes are not complete enough, so he supplements with seminar and video. He prowls Youtube for more info to add to his repertoire. He attempts to teach himself through books. He believes in making his own path. The martial artist who “practices” his art believes that this alone will make him improve. Take a seminar to learn new stuff in one day, spend a lot of time “practicing”, and one day he will slap on the title of “Master”. Learn>>Practice>>Master. That is the idea behind this false philosophy in the art.

Where the fighter who trains is not just practicing. He is in the constant process of improving and learning more about what he is doing. When he trains, simply knowing how is insufficient–he wants to be able to do and do better. When we envision a man practicing, we see him alone, casually doing what he knows, over and over. When we picture a man training, he is not alone–he is with a trainer. The trainer is counting cadence, he is calling the shots, he is asking the man to perform more–and faster, stronger, more accurately. The man practicing may have learned his skill from someone else, but he is not adding more instruction and certainly not doing so under stress. Yet the man being trained is continuing to learn, and not only is it assumed that he does not know all, and he is not good enough and being pushed to do better. The action of the word “to train” involves two people:  The trainer and the trained. The word “practice” has no practicer or practicee… not only does this fail to make sense, it is also very arrogant and is as false as the level of the humility of the guy saying that “practice makes perfect”.

When you train someone, you make them do more than they think they are capable of doing. You find a way for him to fail in his attempts to practice. He must defeat something–a clock, a previous level of performance, an opponent. He is too slow. He is too weak. He is not good enough. Yet he continues, until he is satisfied with the results–and then he tests himself on someone else and concludes that again… he is not good enough. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The most valuable thing you can impart to your students is the notion that in the gym, you are never good enough. Yesterday you were pretty good, today you suck, and you are in competition with that jerk who came to the gym yesterday. The saying of the Eskrimador is that skill is not what you are able to do–but how high your limit and potential are, and what you can do when you have exhausted yourself at that limit. In the martial arts, Eskrimadors practice too fresh. They do not put themselves under pressure enough. They surround themselves with friends. For them, practice is rehearsing a skill of coordination. The Eskrimador who trains is running a marathon against himself, and the sooner he learns to push himself to his limit and fight when he is scared, fatigued and in pain–the sooner he will be on his way to teaching and learning from himself. This is not something that will be easily learned. It will take about six months of being trained–understanding, accepting and expecting that concept as normal–before training replaces practicing in his vocabulary. This is the way of the Filipino Fighting Arts.

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