Include The Behaviours Required For The Stated Outcomes
Every once in a while the question, “What makes a good sensei?” comes up for discussion. There are many valid answers for this question but this post is going to take a different approach to the standard responses. This month will continue the series looking at what makes a good training session. Since the sensei runs the session, a good training session requires a good sensei. The inference being that if you do these things then you will improve as a sensei. This post will be considering that the session should include behaviours required for the outcome.
Before we get too far into this it’s important to have some background. Studies have been carried out into elite athletes to discover what, precisely, they look for in an effective coach. Rushall (1995, Think And Act Like a Champion) observed that, “There is a group of overt and covert behaviours that are common to sporting champions”. Of particular interest is that he claimed this list was unchanging. Rushall researched the behaviours of 155 champions and record-holders over a 20 year period. What he discovered was that there were no differences between the old champions and today’s. The basic core values remained the same. Of the items identified by Rushall as being the habits of champions, 10 of them are under the direct control of the coach. The sixth of these is that excellent coaching sessions include behaviours required in competition.
This strikes a chord as something that, for the majority of aikidoka, is not very relevant. While there are aikido competitions the majority of aikidoka do not compete in a formal manner.
The idea behind this though, is something that relates very well to an aikido dojo and how we train.
As noted above, the research was on sporting champions. By definition, it is impossible to achieve that without competing. But we can restate the concept as:
Excellent coaching sessions include behaviours required by the stated goal of training.
We can make this change because the stated goal of training for a competitive athlete is to win a contest. The principle remains the same as the research. The difference is that it now includes non-competitive activities.
That Poster On The Wall
While there are people that have randomly stumbled across an aikido dojo while out and about, that’s the exception.
Most dojo have advertising, and that advertising will state the goal of training. Do you remember what was on that advert that came your way? What were the stated outcomes of the training? If you can’t recall, ask your sensei what the goal of training is. I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that for 95%+ of dojo the training will not produce the stated goals.
Some Common Examples
Let’s consider some standard aikido advertising. Be that a leaflet, a poster, or a social media ad. Many of the claims are the same, the only thing that changes is the format and layout. We can group these claims under a few headings:
- Inner peace
- Spiritual development
Those tend to be the big topics that people claim as the outcomes of aikido training. There are others, but on most dojo adverts you’ll find a collection of those things in some shape or form. The problem arises when you realise that, for most aikidoka, their training does not produce those outcomes. From that list the only ones that happen as a result of the standard training method are Fun and Confidence. It also wouldn’t be difficult to argue that the confidence is misplaced.
What Is The Real Outcome?
This is the elephant in the room, if the stated goals aren’t actually achieved, what do you get instead? Unfortunately that will depend on exactly how you train. Having met thousands of aikidoka though, I’d suggest the following as common outcomes:
- Improved posture
- The ability to fall safely in any direction at high speed
- Improved mobility in old age
- Improved dexterity on both sides of the body
- Improved proprioception
It doesn’t take much to look at those two lists and realise that they are wildly different. There is a debate that could be had over whether you are getting the stated aims or not. A very common statement when discussing training outcomes is, “Maybe not in your dojo, but that is done in ours.” Unfortunately, this cannot be the case. Leaving aside the obvious bias in that argument, if it were true then aikido’s reputation would not be as bad is it currently is. It also simply isn’t possible for everyones dojo to be the exception.
Let’s side step the entire debate. For now, accept the premise that the standard stated outcomes are not achieved through the standard training method. The simplest reason for that is that the behaviours required by the stated outcome are not practiced in training. If they were, then the outcome would be achieved in training.
Make Some Changes
It is possible for aikido training to provide most of the the advertised outcomes. It’s just not going to take place using the standard training method. The training needs to include the behaviours required by the stated goal of training.
This means that aikido sensei everywhere need to pause and do some work. The vast majority of martial artists do not know what self-defence is. Most of us have no idea what inner peace looks like. How can we claim to teach concepts that we don’t understand? It’s like suggesting you can fix an engine because you know how to drive.
We need to start at the end of the process and work backwards. Every dojo has, at some point, made a statement about what the goal of training there is. Officially or not, it has happened. An exercise has to be conducted where we look at that stated goal and assess, honestly, what that really means and looks like. Then determine if the students are attaining that goal. In the cases where they are not, then it’s time to decide what training would be required to promote that outcome. Finally, we need to alter the training method to ensure that it provides the stated outcome of training.
The alternative is to examine the training method first and determine what outcomes it provides the students with. Then, update the marketing materials to reflect that information.
Both of these approaches are quite valid. Which one we apply will depend on how determined the sensei, dojo cho, and students are that the goals of training are immutable.
Create The Outcome
The easiest option is to just alter the marketing materials. Redefining the way you train is a very difficult and time-consuming thing. It requires a degree of effort beyond the usual. It can be worth it though. I have gone through this exercise in my own dojo and there are vast sections of our training that are unique. They work though, because they include behaviours required by the stated goal of training.
My own personal training is very different again. I have an individual goal that I’m working towards and that will not be achieved in my dojo, or anywhere else. Since I consider this goal immutable there is no choice but to alter the training method. Significantly harder, and requires experimentation, but it can be done.
Ultimately, the way you train should promote the behaviours required by the stated outcome of training. If they do not then you either need to change the way you train, or accept that what you get from training is not what you thought it was.
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