Recently one of our students was explaining his results from a training experiment. Another student said she had gotten similar results and they began discussing where they thought this would lead. We were smiling because their discussion was heading exactly where the lesson was supposed to.
Now this is not a totally unexpected result when training but at the time none of us were together. One student was at home in California, the other at her home here in New Hampshire and we were at the dojo. All of this was happening live online because of the pandemic.
Makes you think...
What if where students are learning is not as important as how they are learning?
Since 1992 we have been trying to help people see and understand this amazing martial art, which can provide them with a key to being safe, healthy and happy. After all these years of teaching the ninja sciences we came to understand something surprising.
Learning doesn't happen in the space between the student and the teacher. Learning happens in the space between the students' ears.
Historically martial arts instructors were very selective of their students. This was because they would enter into a mentor and apprentice relationship that would last many years as they led their students to discovering the secrets of their art. This was the way of martial arts for centuries.
Then in the 1960’s after Elvis got a black belt in under a year, everyone wanted one. This kicked off the change in the martial arts industry from teaching the arts for mastery to selling black belts. They switched from the proven mentor and apprentice educational model to the rote memorization and regurgitation of today.
This selling of belt ranks was accomplished by dividing curriculum information into small simple packets and making rank advancement based mostly on time or classes attended, basically just participation. Breaking learning into subjects for belt ranks that can be learned by rote memorization is the most economical way to deliver information to the most people, which was good for business.
However, teaching separated into these small packets and moving people along based on time versus comprehension leaves gaps in their understanding which will eventually create a point where the student simply can't learn anything more advanced. This point would lead to frustration for students and cause them to quit training. The martial arts industry response to this was to lower requirements to meet the lack of understanding. This way customers continued to feel good about themselves and kept paying.
This isn’t just happening in the martial arts. Our entire educational system for decades has been “teaching for testing.” Scientific research in neurology is showing that the divide and separate teaching model is not how the brain builds learning. The brain needs to make relations and connect concepts across intellectual borders to form neuronets of understanding. It was clear to us that effective martial arts training must be based on this concept.
In order to become a martial artist we believe you must first be a martial scientist. You must take responsibility for your own training and do the science. Martial arts techniques are scientific teaching models that need to be experienced over time, taken apart and learned from, not just memorized and then rotely repeated for a prize.
We understand the idea of holding the student to a standard of complete understanding and NOT just bribing them with a belt rank scares most martial arts school owners. They think no one will want to train like that and it will be bad for business.
We spent years trying to force this thousand year old unending martial art into the chopped up belt ranking teaching systems of the martial arts industry and frankly it just didn’t work for us. Mainly because we were more interested in the student's understanding than their belt rank. We knew there had to be a way to promote self responsibility and real understanding in the student and at the same time, stay in business. So we turned to science.
We looked at physics. We explored human physiology. We found and tested a number of educational models. We researched psychology and neuroscience to understand how the brain works. It was then that we discovered the ancient mind sciences and training methods of the ninja mirrored the modern understanding of the neuroplasticity of the brain, which is the key to learning.
Simply stated, it isn’t what we are telling our students that matters, it is what they discover and then more importantly what they are telling themselves based on their discoveries that leads to understanding.
The students from our online training session weren’t waiting for us to give them the answers to memorize, they were experimenting and discovering principles on their own.
Unlocking the secrets of the martial arts is not done by blindly following teaching methodologies designed to sell belts to the masses. It comes from students taking responsibility for themselves, alone, with a training partner or in small training groups, using scientific experimentation to unlock the power and potential of neuroplasticity.
The pandemic limited our ability to train in person and probably won’t be the last crisis to interfere. But effective martial arts training is not about students coming to the dojo to get a belt, it's about us using scientific experimentation to systematically lead our students so they discover the magic of martial arts on their own.
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