Teaching Patiently (Straw vs. Waterhoses pt II)

This message is just as much for my own student-Instructors, as it is for my readers. It is a continuation of this article, entitled “Straw vs. Waterhoses”. When you get a chance, check it out.

An important vitrue in learning the martial arts is, of course, patience. What few know is that patience is equally vital to the transmission of an art for teachers–if not more important. I am no fan of the “waterhose” philosophy to learning and teaching. Rather than drink from an excessively fast flow of information (like a waterhose)–you increase the value and impact of your learning by sipping through a straw. Don’t let most of your learning waste onto the ground because you were unable to retain it all; sip in periodic, ingestible amounts. Drink, absorb, enjoy. Drink, absorb, enjoy. Wash, rinse, repeat.  Do not drink more until you have fully absorbed what you’ve taken in or you’ll just piss it all way. Take your time; the knowledge won’t go away if you’re dedicated and diligent. Better that you know what you know thoroughly and fully, than know what you know barely and can’t do anything more than regurgitate it and spit it out for others to “not-ingest-completely-either”. This is how martial arts gets watered down.

Studying the martial arts and testing for instructorship can be a lot like the difference between a guy who studies and reads all semester long, a few hours a night for the entire term. When the final exam is given, he is confident. He can relax and watch TV the night before–all of his lessons are burned into his memory. He can apply his knowledge in almost any situtation he finds himself in. There is no jumbled, classical mess in his brain. He understands concepts as fluently as he understands his first language. When the questions are asked, he immediately has access to the answers.

On the other hand, we have the student who did not study and read all semester. We don’t know what he was doing–perhaps reading material from other subjects, skipping ahead into next semester’s curriculum, or just pretending to be a diligent student while looking for a shortcut. Speaking of which–in the few days prior to the final exam, he burns the midnight oil, and crams all the lessons from the entire semester into as many hours he can in a few days. He does this with flash cards, word association memorization techniques, notes scribbled on his hands, visualization–whatever he needs to. The day of the exam, he has memorized the material and can answer any question if you give him a second. During the exam, each question gets answered after he searches his memory for the answer. And guess what? He also passes the exam.

The difference is not just how the second student was able to memorize the same amount of material in 10% of the time. After all, did they both pass the exam? If “passing” is all that mattered to you, then this discussion ends here. The big question is, did both men actually learn the same material? Perhaps years later, the student who crammed can still recite his lessons just as well as one can recite lyrics to a poem. The second difference between both students is that one memorized and the other learned. Learning, my martial arts brothers and sisters, is not the simple hands and feet “reciting” the lessons. It is not in the ability to recall the material and memorizing terms and definitions. “Learning” is in the application. You can “learn” 500 vocabulary words of a foreign language and still do not “speak” that language. You can understand how to conjugate a verb, phonetically pronounce those words in the perfect accent, know male and female nouns… and a three year old child who is a native speaker of that language with 300 words can “speak” and communicate better than you. You have memorized words, phrases and rules of grammar, but the child with a more limited vocabulary speaks this language better than you do. And this is why the Jujitsu Blue Belt student with three years of training can destroy the seminar-certified Black Belt teacher who “knows” the entire curriculum. One has memorized moves while the other understands the moves.

As teachers, we are responsible for the quality of learning that our students experience in our tutelage. If we are impatient in getting them through the curriculum, for whatever reason, the students will know the curriculum without really knowing it. Students must be given material slowly enough to fully grasp it, absorb it, and to think of combat and self defense as though those techniques are the only options he has. Exhaust all the possibility of a technique and its variations before moving on to the next. This is why students choke when fighting and sparring. Too often, a martial arts student can recall counters and defenses, but none come to him naturally and as a reflexive response. The main reason is that we have given the student more in his tool box than his thinking will allow him to use naturally.

Sometimes, we worry about retention, so we rush the student to the next level so they don’t become discouraged or bored. But what will discourage more–not progressing as quickly as he’d like? Or losing a fight because his Black Belt wasn’t really earned?

My grandfather was still teaching me techniques when he died. I was his last student, and one of only three grandchildren who taught since most of my cousins chose other careers and my uncles all died. There was a short period before he passed where I learned quickly before it was too late, and that information is not a part of my curriculum. My grandfather was prepared to let that information go, but I insisted on learning it. I recently began teaching it to my son, and I see the value that I missed because I never absorbed it. My grandpather was 78 teaching it to me, I am 45 and teaching it to my 15 year old boy. Seeing that rushed learning being practiced and absorbed slowly has given me a new appreciation for it.

Must admit though, that I have a selfish reason for promoting this theory:  In learning and developing something slowly, you will be less inclined to just give it away for 100 bucks. As one who reveres the Filipino art, I hate to see our systems sold off in seminars and video. I value this art as I do a family heirloom. Some see the art as a commodity to generate income. When teachers take their time while imparting the art, you allow your students to learn and develop properly and their skill will be three times the skill of one who crashed coursed. Better for all FMA people.

In many systems there are 6, 8, 10, 12, 24, 48, 64 strikes. Regardless of how many, those techniques should be taught only a few at a time. Allow your students to see fighting as if only those few strikes exist. They will see those few strikes as the only options in combat and will mentally fit them in to all situations. Give them plenty of time to experiment with them, develop them into instant weapons when the time comes. When the students have those techniques in their arsenal as second nature–give them a little more. This is teaching patiently. A student with weak wrists and poor coordination will not make good use of half your curriculum. Develop them as they learn. Many teachers are just teaching them. As the proverb goes–do not cast your pearls to swine.

And withold your techniques for those who are really ready for it.

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Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

9 thoughts on “Teaching Patiently (Straw vs. Waterhoses pt II)”

  1. Wow, I just learned that I have been trained via the waterhose method. After over a year of training, I have Learned a lot of material, and new material keeps coming. I have a rainbow of belts I tested out of but I’m not a master of most of the material. I asked my Guro about staying on the best levels until they are mastered. He explained that we need to keep it exciting. I humbly told him that I’m excited about mastering Arnis, and don’t care about the belts. I would rather learn a handful of moves and train them . I might know some techniques from awhile ago but not good enough to do them correctly.
    I’ve been training in my garage with another former student. It’s a little rough but we are at least hitting each other and finding out what works. If I can maintain a training partner, I will be able to keep going. Maybe a trip to The Philippines, maybe some seminars. For now we just get strong, practice block check counter, go through the 14 disarms and discover which ones work at full blast sparring. Practice stabs and slashes on a deer carcus. Box and grapple until we have no energy left. All the time doing it for good.

  2. thank you both. freddy, dont feel bad. for the last 40 years this is the way most FMA been taught in the west, so many teachers dont know another way to teach it, because that’s the way they receive it. but you are right to try and gain your understanding and absorbing the art this way, by training on your own. good luck with your search!

  3. What is an old FMA that focuses on empty hands? aside from silat and kuntaw? The reason why I ask is that it seems there isn’t an unarmed art that is largely practiced by Filipinos aside from your usually karate and boxing

    I hate to ask this again but it seems that your the only guro who know’s the truth behind the history of Filipino martial arts. If karate is indigenous to japan and muay thai is indigenous to Thailand, what empty hands is indigenous to the Philippines?

    1. silat, kuntaw/kuntao, yaw yan, and buno are the only ones I know about. but nobody likes to admit, that filipino versions of foreign arts, like ngo cho kun, kyosho, arjuken and others, are indeed *Filipino*arts. too many people want to find this rare, exotic FMA that doesnt look like any art found anywhere else in Asia. so guys like to make up an art, give it a history, and then pretend that its not connected to other countries, been around for centuries, etc., and that is just not true. the Filipino culture itself is a combination of cultures, and that is good enough.

      but if you look into some of these Filipino hybrid arts, you will find that they are unique also, and very effective. I think I will write an article about them. thank you for your comment!

      1. Much appreciated for you’re thoughts, however I would also like to add my own. I’m not sure that its so much that people are looking for an exotic Filipino martial art, but a martial art that was mostly created by Filipinos as opposed to to just teaching a martial art and calling it Filipino.
        An example of what I’m saying would be Kung fu and karate. The old karate was basically a chinese/okinawa martial art right? But as time passed by Japan created their own styles of karate (shotokan,kyokushin) that is very distinct/unique/their own/indigenous to Japan. I think that’s what people are looking for in the empty hands of FMA, that is why I asked

        Also, we may have other cultures influence us, but we’ve always been predominately an Austronesian Filipino culture as opposed to being super mixed like the USA, regardless what Dan Inosantao has made people believed about us Filipinos

        But either way you make very good points and thats not surprising considering you’re one of the only few proficient FMA teachers out there, I could say the least.

        With the above about FMA being said, I am still curious as to what old FMA empty and are being practiced today, as silat/kuntaw is mostly practiced by the Moros?

      2. I thought Panantukan, sikaran and suntukan are native Filipino martial arts that aren’t borrowed? Its not necessarily exotic because it looks like boxing or karate but I don’t think its based of foreign arts, is it? I also admit, that I’m not familiar with the history of Filipino fighting arts

      3. I thought Panantukan, sikaran and suntukan are native Filipino martial arts that aren’t borrowed? Its not necessarily exotic because it looks like boxing or karate but I don’t think its based of foreign arts, is it? I also admit, that I’m not familiar with the history of Filipino fighting arts

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