Skepticism vs. Mixed Martial Arts

Who would have thought!?  A skeptical blog post about mixed martial arts! 

Stephen is a martial artist who hails from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  He is most well known for his informative and detailed Brazilian jiu jitsu/grappling instructional.  If you are a martial artist (specifically a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) you owe it to yourself to check out his website:

I am on Stephen’s email list.  Recently he sent out an email discussing what makes a great instructor.  Many in the sports/martial arts community are under the false assumption that in order to be a great instructor an individual also has to be a world champion competitor.  Additionally, many also assume that an instructor with little (or even no) competition experience cannot be a good instructor.  The truth of the matter is that nothing could be further from the truth.    

 Stephen discusses this in his email, Check it out:

 “Hi there,

 Some people think that they can only learn from World Champions. And then, when they finally study with a competition legend, they’re often disappointed that he won’t (or can’t) teach them very much.

 It’s easy to confuse teaching ability and competition success, but these are in fact very, very different things. There are lots of good fighters, fewer good teachers, and very few people who are both good fighters and good teachers. And you DON’T need a 400-0 record to be a great coach.

 Consider one of the very best MMA coaches in the business: Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

  • He’s never held the title belt in the UFC.
  • He’s never been the champion of any MMA organization.
  • And he’s never – as far as I know – fought in MMA himself.

So he’s a chump, right?

 Not so much! Despite his lack of competition pedigree he’s highly regarded by TONS of great fighters, including GSP, Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans, Nate Marquardt, Andrei Arlovski, etc.

 These guys travel across the country to train with him, or fly him out to orchestrate their training camps. I am told that he has an amazing ability to put together a gameplan for his fighters.

 Maybe there’s more to teaching than simply being the toughest guy in the room…

 An Australian reader recently wrote me about teaching skills vs. fighting skills. Here’s a little bit of what he said:

 “John B. Will teaches teaches seminars at our school 3 times a year and he has discussed the idea that there are black belts in technique and rolling but not as many in teaching.”

 I think that this idea of a “black belt in teaching” is 100% correct. One of my teachers and role models – Dan Inosanto – has said that he’d rather train with a good teacher than a good fighter.

 That’s because some great fighters can’t articulate the details of even their bread and butter moves, nor teach you about the timing of the moves.

 Being a good teacher isn’t only about performance. It’s about being aware of the technical details and knowing how to share them with others. It’s about being able to find the best way to teach someone, even if they have a different learning style than yourself. It’s about finding variations and modifications of techniques that work for different body types and temperaments.

 I think you’re getting my point by now, but in case you’re still unsure, let me ask you a question.

Who would you rather have as a boxing instructor:

  1. ‘Iron Mike’ Tyson (40 KO’s in 58 fights), or
  2. Cuss D’Amato (who only had one amateur fight – which he lost – but then became Tyson’s coach and mentor)

Hmmm, I thought so…

 Stephan Kesting

 Stephen raises some really great points, specifically, the fact that people often confuse competition success with teaching ability.  Being a great competitor does not mean that an individual can teach.  In fact, many great martial arts/sports instructors have little (or no) formal competition experience.  The ability to compete and the ability to instruct are 2 very different skill sets (it should however be noted that the 2 skill sets are not mutually exclusive.  It is quite possible for one individual to process both skill sets).   

So what should you take from all of this…

Just because someone is capable of tearing it up on the mats/playing field, does not automatically mean that that same person can teach you to do the same thing!

Just because someone

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…


4 Responses to “Skepticism vs. Mixed Martial Arts”

  1. Two words…..Scotty Bowman.

  2. Great post! I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. While the logic of the argument is very sound, there are some epistemological reasons for looking to the record of the instructor to get a sense of their teaching capacity.

    1. False goods – x-ray goggles, male enhancement, death strikes, chi strikes, chi force fields, chi laser beams… It’s all the same: Pure baloney.
    2. Hubris – Lots of people can talk the talk, but very few can walk the talk… or something like that.
    3. Artificial / skewed records – “All of my students won gold in the last tournament” could be a true statement, which sounds impressive, however the tournament could have been all the instructors students etc.

    How do you know if what you are being sold is a quality product? You probably don’t. The nature of the good is such that you will (often) only find out after years of training and fee payment. At this point, even if there is a large amount of evidence in front of you that you have been wasting your time/money/effort, human psychology will kick in and ensure that you only spend more money and more hours training in nonsense.

    Martial arts instruction is a business. People do it to make money. To make more money, they need to recruit more students. To recruit more students they need to market their product….

    Records are a helpful gauge to determine the competency of the individual, but can be misleading as well. I say train in as many places, in as many cities and countries as possible… The more people you are exposed to, the more likely you will be to appreciate the good instructor and spot the false idols.

    Stay skeptical,


    • theskepticalsamurai Says:

      What I was attempting to address in my blog post was the fact that instructing and competing are 2 very different skill sets. As I mentioned in the post, although competing and instructing are 2 different skill sets, they do not have to be mutually exclusive (put another way, it is possible for one individual to possess both skill sets).

      I definitely agree with your points regarding a competition record being a determining factor when selecting an instructor. What I was attempting to point out is that it should not be the only factor. Additionally, I would go as far to argue that teaching ability trumps competing ability (when it comes to selecting an instructor).

      You make some excellent points regarding false goods, hubris, and artificial/skewed records. These points relate to peripheral topics that, while related, where not subject matter that I had intended on addressing in my original blog post. However, thanks for bringing these points up! Extremely insightful + useful info!

      False goods are something that every potential student of martial arts (and really life in general) must learn to identify, avoid, and combat if necessary. Hubris, is something that we in the martial arts community have come across at one point or another (most of us have had some experience that related to self identified “ninjas”), and again is something that needs to be identified, avoided, and if necessary combated. Lastly, artificial/skewed records are a potential exercise in critical thinking. As you pointed out, just because a student performs well does not automatically mean that it is the result of the instructor (although this may certainly, and often is, the case).

      Great points Dan!

      Thanks for reading + contributing to the blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: