Time for a New Approach?

The aim of this piece is not to critique any particular martial arts system or the pedagogy favoured in a particular sector of the economy; rather I hope the reader will pause for thought and re-examine the methodologies used in a training and assessment context with a view to finding innovative and novel ways to apply those very same tools in the learning environment.

​Firstly, let us examine what we are trying to achieve in the learning environment. Essentially, we are aiming to bring about a change in the student’s attitude, knowledge and skill as without change there can be no improvement. The mantra of “practice, practice and more practice” has been repeated ad nauseum.

​The premise being – that practice makes perfect and once perfection (mastery) has been attained – the technique or task will be performed naturally and/or instinctively. As educators, instructors, trainers etc. we therefore use drills as we seek to “drum it” (techniques) into the student until their basics become second nature. 

Herein lies an assumption I feel is worth examining, at least as it relates to human movement. Many martial arts systems state natural movement as a foundation or key principle, often accompanied with the rationale that “natural is best” ​ What does this mean in a learning context where human movement is concerned? To be precise, the focus of training would shift from “learning” to one where the student is encouraged to rediscover – or remember rather – their first nature. “Learning” would be reserved only for that which is counter-intuitive (if advantageous) or for which no natural movement exists e.g. learning how to play a musical instrument.

The possibilities are endless (and exciting) if we were to begin to reconnect with our first nature, something the old and wise masters of bygone eras wrote about in many a great, classic text. In the first instance it would invariably change the practice of basics, allowing for greater individuality and potentially self-assessment even.

For example, if your basics weren’t coming naturally, then the way you’re doing them would need to change. Specifically, an assessment framework would subsequently verify decreased timeframes in attaining competency with the added benefit of reduced injury rates. However, rather than dictate or define (and thereby limit) what such a learning environment would resemble, I sincerely hope trainers, coaches and facilitators etc. will experiment with and create new methodologies of their own.

For readers outside of Australia who may be sceptical as to the usefulness of unorthodox, seemingly irrelevant and somewhat abstract training, I encourage you to watch an excellent series produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation entitled “Redesign My Brain”. 

To conclude, I wish to share the last paragraph of this article which is widely applicable beyond the realm of science:

“Of all the limits on expanding our knowledge, unexamined, misplaced assumptions are the most insidious. Often, we do not even know that we have them; they are essentially invisible. Discovering them and investigating them takes curiosity, imagination, and the willingness to risk looking ridiculous. And that, perhaps, is one of the hardest tasks in science.”

About the Author: 

​Nick Pappas has over 20 years’ experience in a variety of learning and development roles assisting individuals and organisations improve their performance. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree and is member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development.


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