Does harder training mean better students - 

or just fewer of them?

Listening to the old guard it might be suggested that “Hard” is the best way, in fact to many it’s the only way!
“It’s not like the old days, training was hard tough and only a few survived…..
Hand mitts, pah hand mitts are for wimps, we used to use broken glass… (Only in films though right)?
“Well we trained on a solid wooden floor”. “A wooden floor, ooooh I used to lie awake at night dreaming of a wooden floor, we trained in a snake pit with on a floor of nails,” etcetera etcetera (al a Monty Python)
Well is tough training really better, and what is tough training anyway? Is it discipline in a class which is enforced with a shinai (been there). Is it pushing your physical limits to the point of collapse and then going again? (Been there too). Is it the repetition of a technique so many times your arms feel like they are no longer a part of your body? (Done that). Is it the endless tedium of kneeling in meditation for 60 minutes before doing a class (clearing your mind and screwing your legs up in the process).
What about the stretching class where you think your bones won’t stay in their sockets any longer and your tendons might never go back to where they belonged? Or a session where you just get punched in the face a lot by someone big and strong or even small and fast (you know the ones I’m talking about).
But hang on a minute, why so hard? As I see it hard training is designed to weed out those who can’t hack it, the weedy of spirit, the lacking in fortitude, the men from the boys! And that’s a good thing right, or is it?
Well isn’t martial arts specifically designed to be able to help those people, the weedy, the calmer more considerate people, monks for example, the people who aren’t big, tough, strong and naturally aggressive.
Is it right that the people who need martial arts the most to help them protect themselves; are the very people the “hard ways” were designed to weed out?
This “hard way” of teaching, means that martial art school was left with the students who didn’t need help in tearing off some ones face in the first place. Why did we do this, how did this come about?
Could it have been the old “school against school” system where a master was judged by how tough their students were, or how they competed against the rest, or how the masters were viewed by their peer group (other martial artists) or just the old ego thing, “my students are harder than yours?” Certainly an “old school” master took little notice of the old lady down the road who had just been mugged, but who wasn’t tough enough to do the class.
So the soft way, the fun classes, the gentle introduction, the skill based lesson with a polite attentive instructor an instructor who is respectful to his students as he was to his sensei, has to have a place, surely teaching a less able student the importance of a knee strike to the groin is much better than seeing if they can do a thousand push ups before you will let them enter the dojo and teach them.
I understand facing violent situations is physically and emotionally demanding, but only teaching those who are quite cool with violence anyway can’t be the right thing to do.
So Hard or Soft, well I get there is a place for both and those Martial Artists whose objective is to win in a cage or compete against others to prove themselves, will always want hard training, mostly the domain of young men, but come on, hard core guys, give the rest of us a break, I’ve done my fair share of press ups, had my ribs cracked and on more occasions than I want to recall, received bloody noses bangs and bruises, mostly before many of you were born.
In those days I enjoyed the rough and tough stuff, these days, I teach those who need the skills I have, I don’t hit my students with a stick (very often), or bend their joints, or bust their ribs, but they enjoy their training, they work to the best of their ability and with a small nudge in the right direction every now and again they improve.
I teach them situational awareness and the importance of understanding violence and it’s the predicable nature. Avoidance, de-escalation and pre-emptive striking, I teach young women about dating safety and the warning signs which may lead to domestic violence. All soft skills and a darn sight more useful than old school way of just being hard. There is so much more to martial arts than “old school hard training” learning how to take a punch by being punched in the face a few hundred times doesn’t cut it in the modern world and as for gaining those all-important callouses on your knuckles come on…
Hard or soft? Everyone trains because they ENJOY some aspects of what they do, if students don’t enjoy your lessons they will go and do something else (and you can teach them nothing).
Just a thought, but to keep your students and to do what Martial Arts were designed to do, help protect the less able to defend themselves. You may just need to lighten up.

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