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Beyond Curriculum

In most people’s minds black belt is the end game for martial arts training. This is the product of many social and economic influences. Somehow the uninitiated have the idea that black belt means you’re Spiderman. My sense is that the best way to put this in perspective is through an analogy. Black belt in reality is more like graduating from junior high or middle school. We expect that you know how to read and write, you know the basics of math, and several other subjects. You now have a foundation on which to build your further learning. A second degree black belt is like graduating from high school. You’ve proven that you know how to learn and are ready to get out into the world and/or continuing to build on your knowledge. At third degree you have collected quite a few experiences, you’re highly functional and can produce intended results. You’ve graduated from college with an undergrad degree. You can choose to be happy with operating at that level, or you may want to develop yourself further. Following the analogy, next would be a masters degree, perhaps the equivalent of fourth and fifth degree. Beyond that, you might choose to pursue a ph.d., sixth and seventh degree. At those levels and beyond you are a living embodiment of your studies. Beyond those degrees what you have studied for so long is no longer something that you do, it’s an essential part of what you are.

Here’s another way to express that. These are the four levels of skill development:

Novice – conscious incompetence = you know you are a beginner with very little knowledge and experience. You are aware that you don’t know anything yet.

Practitioner – unconscious incompetence = you’re developing some skill, but you most likely don’t realize what you don’t know yet. You most likely are seduced into the common belief that you know more than you really do. ( a potentially dangerous place to be, susceptible to misinterpretations and delusions).

Master – conscious competence = you’re good when you are consciously working at being good. When you focus you are able to produce interred results. You are recognized and respected for your skills.

Living embodiment- unconscious competence = you no longer have to think about being good. You are a living embodiment of your subject. You no longer “do” it, you “are” it. You are in a position to contribute to the development of your field in a meaningful way. In the world martial arts, your name carries more weight than a belt rank.

In education, a good curriculum is critical for developing good students. A curriculum should reflect the main objective of the program, and develop knowledge through a logical progression. Anyone following the curriculum can expect to develop their skill, knowledge, and understanding of the subject. At some point, the student who is compelled to master a subject will move beyond any set curriculum. They have collected enough experiences to have a high level of working knowledge. For example, what is the set curriculum for a subject beyond Phd? Of course there is none. At that point you don’t really need any more academic knowledge. What serves you best is experience and experimentation. You’re no longer gathering information in the conventional sense. You are operating at a very high level as you continue to explore and gain ever deeper understanding and skill.

This is why I called my new series on NinjaSelfDefense Beyond Curriculum. These classes are designed to take deep dives into specific topics, to explore applying techniques and principles in unique and highly effective (and Sometimes “unorthodox”) ways. This sometimes involves “breaking the rules,” so it may be difficult to recognize as something familiar. It may be so subtle that you may not even be able to “see” it in the conventional sense. It may appear go violate rules you have adhered to diligently on your way to where you are. The most important thing I’ve ever heard about breaking rules in this sense is “you have to know the rules really well, you have to have operated successfully by the rules for some time, before you are qualified to explore effectively operating outside of, or “breaking” the rules.” This is a good example of the adage “what got you here won’t get you there.” In face, in some of these classes I actually wear a different belt just to remind myself that I am in studying mode as opposed to teaching mode during these training sessions.

So of course I encourage you to watch and study these sessions, as I encourage you to do with all of our senior master instructor’s material. Just be aware that there are things happening that might be very difficult for you to understand. And that’s ok. My teaching philosophy is that periodically it is very effective to be exposed to things beyond your current level. It makes you stretch a bit, so to speak. Then when you return to material at your current level your perspective is changed. Things at your current level may then not appear as difficult.

So I invite you to enjoy this new series, and as always, train safely.

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