Troublesome Student - The Winner, The Solver, The Heretic

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Richard Marsden
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Troublesome Student - The Winner, The Solver, The Heretic

Postby Richard Marsden » Mon Dec 29, 2014 7:04 pm

The winners, solvers and heretics


As a teacher, you prepare to show a student a technique from the treatise of your choice. You have art, text, and experience, you're qualified, you know what you're doing. Everything is set as you prepare to share your hard-earned wisdom. Besides! Said student came to learn from you- so that's something!

And yet, as you demonstrate the technique, slowly, the student decides to thwart it.

"And now I have your arm behind your back, from here...."
"I'd totally just grab your nuts or wriggle out of it like this."
"That's great. I suppose the only way to make you believe in this, is if I try to break your arm, and having failed or not, carry on with one of the many other plays?"
"What if I let you put me in this position, so that I can't get out of it?"
"That's fine. I'd totally prevent you from escaping!"

They do this for many reasons.

1 - Because they can't stand losing- even in a drill. The winner.
2 - Because they are problem-solvers and see the drill as a thing to defeat. The solver.
3- Because they believe they know more than you do. The heretic.

If it is 1 or 2, both can be worked around. If it's 3, then said student may not be interested in learning from you at this time. While students can be beaten, impressed, or cajoled into respect, I usually don't bother unless I genuinely like them and want them in my cult.

So, when you have the above type of student what should you do? Here are some of my solutions.

1- For the winner, have yourself in the losing position and guide your student to victory in the technique. This can be a little harder to do because you can't model correct behavior to begin with. In this way the student feels victorious. After this, most students are willing to be put in the losing position having had 'won' first.

2- For the solver, explain that you are doing a technique drill and that the drill is, at first, done slowly with compliance. Explain that non-compliance comes later, and may in fact lead to other plays. A student often wants validation about how their solution works. If it does, then indeed validate them, but remind them that the technique as depicted in the treatises needs to be done first. If pressed for time, remind the student of that, and promise them time after class to discuss the matter.

3- For the heretic, if the the student seems incredulous about the technique in general, it may be because of how slowly it's done. A little speed may help as well as explaining if both opponents move at the same rate of speed how the technique plays out opposed to when the teacher moves slow and the student fast. The heretic may indeed have a better way, but if it doesn't match the imagery and text of what you are showing, then it is something different. Like with the solver, if pressed for time, remind them of such and debate after class.

Why can't I just do the techniques and beat them into compliance?

You can!

I call it, "Making a believer". And from time to time I have done this. I don't like it as my go-to solution though. As a teacher, with numerous students, I do not have the time to beat everyone (nor can I) into belief. Also, the venue matters. If I'm teaching a seminar, we are pressed for time and I do not have the time to beat a student into belief.

Usually, after my seminars I do spar a bit with the students, and this is mostly done as a way for them to showcase what they have learned, but it also showcases what I know as the teacher.

Why can't I just kick them out?

You can!

However, I don't like this as a the go-to solution. If a student just likes to be the 'winner', then this can be worked around. Have them do the technique first, and then they tend to be more agreeable to having it done to them later.

If a student is a problem-solver, then they are on the right track and just a little bit of guidance will lead them where you want to.

If a student is a heretic, they are the most likely to get kicked out, if prior teaching techniques do not work.

Hume's Guillotine. No, it isn't an MMA choke-hold.
Isn't it my students' responsibility to be 'good students'?


But as 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume would say, "They ought to be, yet they are not."

There are a myriad of reasons for this. Many don't want to be a 'sheeple' and think of themselves as independent thinkers. They indeed are, they are also unaware of the social rules of society and the phrase, 'time and place'.

I too get bored in long meetings. I too feel I know much and it needs to be shared. And yet...

I have not taken my cell-phone out and started texting and smiling during a funeral. Nor have I told the person delivering the eulogy to step aside- because I can do it better.

I'll be sharing this on FB in which the HEMA Alliance now has thousands of members. Which means I best put some of my 'credentials' here.

Richard Marsden is an author, co-founder of the Phoenix Society of Historical swordsmanship, and by day a High School History teacher. He also has HEMAA Instructor Certification, has taught at numerous venues, and he and his students have placed in numerous weapons at numerous events. He was once President of the HEMA Alliance and as of this article is on its General Council and is a Board Member.

Bored Students
Educational Presenting
Last edited by Richard Marsden on Fri Aug 26, 2016 9:11 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Sean Karp
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Re: Troublesome Student - The Winner

Postby Sean Karp » Mon Dec 29, 2014 7:30 pm

Well said!

Have you ever had the chance to say the classic's like "Your Kung Fu is good but you lack Discipline" or "Always with you what cannot be done"?
"If you're a guy full of sh** without the gold medal...when you get the gold medal, you're still a guy full of sh**"- Didier Berthod, First Ascent

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Sean F
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Re: Troublesome Student - The Winner

Postby Sean F » Mon Dec 29, 2014 9:11 pm

Nice breakdown. Here are a few more thing I would add:

The Winner
Also note that beating into compliance works with this individual. Desensitize people to loosing.
An even better long term solution, especially for the culture of the school, is to get the parameters of 'winning' to change to having their partner improve the most out of everyone in the group. This isn't something quick, and is more suited to regular students than to someone taking a workshop.

The Solver
Often times people with this personality just need more to think about than the average person. Normally you don't want to give too much information to students at one time, it overloads them and they can't focus on the appropriate tasks at hand. For the solver type personality it is often beneficially to go into an even greater level of detail, or be picky enough that they have to devote even more effort to understanding the task at hand. If they have to solve something make the drill in-depth enough that they have to devote their analytical skills to it rather than the next step.

I know this approach works well because I am naturally highly analytical and need more to chew on than standard instruction. I just know enough to focus the attention mastering the task at hand.

The Heretic
The only thing I will add here is some personal experience. The level of professionalism you display goes a long way towards how often people are going to want to learn what you are trying to teach you. When Blood and Iron first began there were many who wanted to drop by and show who was the master. As time went on the school grew, facilities were improved and a group of skilled fighters developed and now the number of 'heretics' walking through our doors has dribbled down to almost nothing. While a lot of these things many be unfeasible for many instructors in the near future one should always be aware of non-verbal ques that are likely to make your students respect your instruction.
Instructor, Blood and Iron Martial Arts
Head Coach, Blood and Iron Fight Team
"Everyone has an interpretation until they face an opponent at full intent."

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Matthew Brown
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Re: Troublesome Student - The Winner

Postby Matthew Brown » Mon Dec 29, 2014 9:47 pm

I'm a solver. I had a problem with questioning my instruction in Taijutsu, due to an incredible amount of small joint locks and finger manipulations, and kept asking "in what situation would I even need to use this, and how easy is it to just wriggle or roll out of it?" It's not something I do intentionally, but I know it's annoying as all hell to the teacher.
You can find me on Facebook and YouTube.

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Re: Troublesome Student - The Winner

Postby Jay Vail » Tue Dec 30, 2014 4:29 am

<<They do this for many reasons.

1 - Because they can't stand losing- even in a drill. The winner.
2 - Because they are problem-solvers and see the drill as a thing to defeat. The solver.
3- Because they believe they know more than you do. The heretic. >>

That captures the reasons why some jokers have to "win" the drill. Personally, after many years of encountering such folk, I take a hard line. These people make it hard for others in the class to learn and are highly disruptive. They can also lower the morale of other students if they are not taken in hand quickly. So as soon as I spot one of these "winners" I work the technique with them and as soon as they try to break it, I put them on the floor (we're speaking of dagger work here). The lesson is you cannot break the drill. Also, people tend not to respect or want to learn from someone who doesn't have a higher skill level, and when you break their break, you're sending them a message that they aren't as swift as they thought. Then I give them a lecture about how drills are cooperative practice, how it's not about winning and losing, and how they are actually hurting themselves and their training partner by their behavior. Usually groups 1 and 2 come around with some patience and reinforcement. Group 3 usually leaves. But they are no loss, since they do harm to the group and contribute little that is positive.

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Richard Marsden
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Re: Troublesome Student - The Winner

Postby Richard Marsden » Tue Dec 30, 2014 9:28 am


Great to read from you.

Your experience is not a lonely one. I often hear this issue come up with those teaching dagger/knife/hand-to-hand/wrestling.

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Jim brooks
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Re: Troublesome Student - The Winner, The Solver, The Hereti

Postby Jim brooks » Tue Dec 30, 2014 11:26 am

this is a great post and very helpful. since I'm a new teacher and next month will be my 1 year. I have and had problem student atleast one heretic and one where they didn't listen to any thing i would tell them or advice. they felt like they know better and that I was holding them back or babying them.
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John F
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Re: Troublesome Student - The Winner, The Solver, The Hereti

Postby John F » Sat Mar 28, 2015 5:35 pm

I think there is a fine line between the solver and someone who ask lots of questions. I could see how someone may interpret questions as trying to undermine something, while in reality it is just picking something apart for a full understanding. In my experience, the best teachers are ones who use questions (within reason) as an opportunity for further examination of a concept.
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Re: Troublesome Student - The Winner, The Solver, The Hereti

Postby tengu » Sun Mar 29, 2015 12:29 am

I love students who ask questions, it forces me to learn more, and learn how to explain in a way that various students learn.
Finding other ways to explain increases my own understanding.

There is a 4th type, the one who has tried one class of 15 other martial arts and think they know everything, because they saw it in anime, learned it from the internet, read it in a comic book...

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Re: Troublesome Student - The Winner, The Solver, The Heretic

Postby ranpleasant » Wed Jan 27, 2016 12:27 pm

Richard Marsden

This is a very good discussion. The winner and the solver can both be very dangerous to work with. For those that might not know or remember, two well known instructors of these arts were seriously injuries back in the 2000s during demonstrations by students who decided to win the demonstration. As best that I understand, in each case the instructor was unexpectedly thrown very hard by the student at the end of the play being demonstrated. Each instructor required many months to recover. These incidents have greatly affected how and with whom I drill and demonstrate.
Ran Pleasant
Instructor of I.33 Sword & Buckler
Accademia del Leone

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