Be a Good Student

Be a Good Student

Photo: Erick Brenneman

When members of the public choose to invest their time, effort, and energy to attend training, they usually research the instructor and/or the class. They give due diligence, prepare, and possibly have some expectations of the results the training will produce. Eventually they enter into a contract with the instructor. That contract is spoken or unspoken and stipulates that something of value, generally money, will be exchanged for knowledge. As the other party to this contract, what does the instructor receive besides monetary gain? What should they expect to gain from students attending training?

Normally the student has the instructor at a disadvantage, as the instructor does not have the opportunity to research the student to the same extent that the student has researched the instructor. So as part of this contract, the student incurs an obligation to be a good student. They incur the obligation within the framework of this contract to add value to the interaction. They should add value beyond the obvious monetary exchange. What the instructor should gain is an expectation of engagement and two-way communication. The student should attempt to perform the drills, evolutions, or techniques to the best of their ability. They should attempt to display competence within the context of the instruction.

Competency is the responsibility of the student. There is no valid measurement within the context of a self-defense scenario where an instructor can pronounce you “good to go.” No guarantee can be made in reference to any perceived outcome should you have to defend yourself or others. The student’s only valid outcome will be to strive to be better when they leave than when they arrived.

As mentioned previously, the student accomplishes this by performing the drills, evolutions, or techniques to the best of their ability. The student should also ask questions and receive feedback. They should take corrective action where needed based on that feedback and continue to strive for excellence. What a student should not do is assume they have nothing to learn. Occasionally I see students who think they have it all figured out. Although in reality this is demonstrably not the case, these students have come to the conclusion that they do not need to apply techniques, conduct the drills, or perform the skill sets as requested. They may believe that the simple act of gripping the firearm, for instance, is something they no longer need to practice. In their mind, they have moved beyond that simple task.

A very high-level martial arts practitioner once told me he often attends training where the level of hands-on skills taught are well below his level of expertise. He does not immediately let everyone know that his skills are superior. Instead he strives to find areas for personal improvement within the context of the course. This is in line with the Japanese concept of kaizen.

Kaizen simply means “improvement.” In practice it has come to symbolize a philosophy of continual and ongoing small improvements that affect the entire process. Applying this philosophy to the student experience, the “good student” continually evaluates, accepts critique, seeks improvement, and applies necessary skills to make incremental changes for the better. A good student does not rest on their laurels and think they are “good to go.”

Next time you attend training and are asked to perform a task you believe you have mastered, try to find small areas of improvement you can work on. Ask questions and challenge the curriculum. Any instructor worth your time will welcome an open, honest, and respectful discussion. Attempt to apply the techniques and procedures as explained and keep an open mind. If you leave a training session not having learned anything, the fault is yours.

Challenge the curriculum, give value, and keep training.

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