Recently, I made a post in one of my groups about sparring a professional fighter, and how he reminded me that I don’t know jack shit about “professional boxing.” A few days before that, I made a quiet announcement that I took a side job as a bouncer, for fun and to meet people in my new town. A fellow instructor and good friend commented to me, “Nobody can ever say you don’t throw yourself out there. I really respect that. Door work, boxing gym, red man suit. Most guys with a rep immediately cease testing themselves and go into “authority” mode.”
Yes, I put myself out there. I put myself in losing situations often and I have my reasons for this. If you are serious about being good at something, especially violence, then I suggest you find your own reasons to do the same.
My friend is correct, many instructors instinctively go into “authority mode” once they achieve some recognition. It’s where they no longer test themselves or, more importantly, no longer allow themselves to be seen being tested. Because, they could fail. They could lose or perform poorly. And if that occurred, what would happen to their credibility and the draw for people to give them money for their awesome knowledge?
I believe that those fears along with the ego, are both at fault for the majority of people teaching in this business who decline to step up and get tested. The combatives instructor who never gets in a sparring ring or shows his students demonstrations at the same level he expects them to perform at. The Instagram instructor who is smoking fast and has a ton of followers, yet declines to show up for a professional level UTM force-on-force (FoF) class that’s hosted outside of his “tribe.” The guy who brings his sweetest shooting 1911 to teach a pistol class rather than the one he actually carries (and can’t shoot as well with).
I’m not saying that the guy who doesn’t get tested is automatically faking it, or whatever. There’s a ton of professional guys who are moving into their 50’s and 60’s who don’t feel a need to test themselves anymore. But, those guys have decades of boxing, fighting, rolling, law enforcement, task force, military or special operations under their belts. Some of them continue to get tested, to do work, to go after it and that is how it should be. Some of them spend their energy traveling and teaching others. But, if you didn’t spend literally years of your life doing actually dangerous shit related to what you teach, you better be out there getting tested on a regular basis.
Me? As I move into my mid 40’s in 2019, I’m still getting after it. I personally have tried to get away from it several times, building custom cars, music and guitars, doing sales…only to find my physical and mental health slipping away by living outside of what I know and love to do. So, there’s no way I could imagine actually doing it for a living such as I do now and neglecting to actually get in there and stay sharp myself. That means getting in the ring with an undefeated pro, or working the floor at a busy nightclub, or walking into a State Championship match as my first competitive shooting event. Even with having extensive experience with extreme violence and deadly force, I know I have gaps and I want to find them and fill them as much as I possibly can. It also keeps you humble, and that is important in my opinion.
In doing so, I seek failure. I am trying to find gaps in my abilities, my skills and procedures. I want to know where I am likely to fail. And if people, or even students see me failing, that’s even better. They are getting a real education at that point, from someone who has been involved in deadly violence and dangerous environments. Someone who will not give them some false sense of security of imperviousness through some magical training. Experienced fighters die at the hands of their enemies every day. It’s just bullshit to believe that some particular training, class or instructor can make you unbeatable, and it’s also bullshit to believe that any instructor is undefeatable.
Yet. that is the unintended consequence when we don’t a) help students experience failure and b) show them that we are all susceptible to failure and need improvement somewhere. I don’t fear the loss of credibility or authority, because I deal in realities. And the biggest reality about violence is we ALL can “get got” as they say. No matter how much you know, someone somewhere is better at an isolated set of skills than you are. We also all can “slip” and that is where failure comes in. I’ll step up and shoot anywhere against anyone. I’ll get into the ring and spar with anyone (providing they are trustworthy). Sometimes I lose, most times I learn, and I teach from what I know from years of training, study and direct experience.
I have always believed making yourself look perfect or undefeatable to be a huge disservice in the self-defense training world in the form of false presentation. I don’t think it’s truly a totally conscious scam…usually. It’s anti-marketing to allow your customer base to see you failing at the thing they are paying you to teach them. But we need to stop looking at it like that. It’s just wrong that people who have never been in violence are taught that this certain style or these certain techniques are THE WAY to be a hard to kill warrior, and they are taught this by someone they never see get tested. When they learn it, they are not seeing its failure points. Few dares to teach the failure points of themselves or their own gospel for fear of losing appeal. But the truth is, if you are teaching in a way that makes one believe that you or your methods do not have failure points, you are being dishonest with yourself and everyone who listens to you. And, just maybe, you don’t even realize that you are doing it.