Thursday, September 13, 2007

I am the "Budo Whisperer"

When Bernie Lau decided to put me in charge of Icho Ryu, it was really not a well thought on move on his part.

First, I had really not been involved at all with Icho Ryu for years. I was off studying on my own quite happily. What had happened while I was not involved was some people had played upon Bernie's friendship and trust. They tried to use Icho Ryu as their own petty fiefdom to be big fish in a mud puddle. They were only in charge since they were of high enough rank and Bernie didn't try to be in charge. Bernie, for all his talents, is not a good leader for day to day things. He's a good inspiration to people, he's a great friend. But he is not one to want to be in charge and lead. So, if someone else wanted to be in charge and only told him what he wanted to hear, he was happy enough to let that happen. It created some real problems, which I ended up taking steps to remedy.

Second, I was stuck in charge not for the right reasons, I was simply the only one that nobody would try to confront and mess with openly since they were all unsure or outright afraid of what I would do. Fear leadership is not a good place to start. But it was what I had to work with.

So, what to do? First, change the priorities. I cut off yudansha rankings, with a few exceptions which really don't need to enter this blog. That started the change from status based culture to one of learning, skill, effort to learn, and consistent practice base to determine someones status in the group.

Second, demand more from people in terms of performance, understanding, and communication of what they are doing. Ties right into the above.

One tool we use is to have each person get up in front of everyone and demonstrate a technique. The first time through is at about 75% of full speed and power. The second and third time is done at slow speed and is to show technical points, and the person must explain what they are doing. Then again at near full speed and power. Then, we flay them bare with critique. It's a real ego crash to find out you can't actually make most of what you do work when under pressure.

This is not a kind thing to do to people. Yet, if you can't take the criticism from this, how can you expect to deal with the stresses of an actual confrontation where the psychological stress is even greater? This has become along with my "you suck" theme, one of the most useful tools for making a student really think about what they know and don't know.

And when students who get up and perform and explain what they are doing extremely well, honest praise must be given. It's a great contrast tool for showing to each student and teacher, honest praise and criticism is far more valuable than false praise, unearned rank, and vanity.

Third, use humor with the demands for better skills and understanding. Be aware you must be willing to take jokes leveled at you, make jokes about your self, as much as the ones you lay out to others. Frankly, if someone can't take some joking, and critique, they will not be worth much as martial artists.

Fourth, be honest about what you are doing. As much as possible, try and be honest with yourself about your motivations for doing this martial arts stuff. My motivations are pretty clear with everyone finally, but to do that took time, consistent modeling behavior, and single episodic teaching methods.

Fifth, tied to #4 above, train more and think about the method and results. This means you will have to be willing to face your own screw ups, and will probably make more screw ups than your students actually make. But that is how you improve, learning by experience and experiments.

Sixth, be very patient about the message delivered and people really getting what is expected. This takes a long time. People got my message finally, but still disagreed with what I expected. That's fine with me, as long as they didn't try and undermine my authority. I expect and want people to question me and my authority. But when they rest upon what's comfortable and familiar and what has been done in the past that created the problems, I stick it back on them and don't let them get away with it.

This has to be done with a level of respect and empathy. All too often, those last two things are missing entirely in the message delivered. It doesn't change the standard of performance expected, but it makes it human, understandable, and achievable.

Am I doing anything unique? No, it's just what Cesar Milan does as a dog trainer. I saw him doing all the same things at a dog park. I am the "budo whisperer"..

No comments: