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      Over the past 30 years of instructing Tracy Kenpo, Modern Arnis and Paradigm Escrima, I have come to realize that there is a fairly consistent pattern or sequence that exists with regard to student learning.  This sequence involves four (4) stages or steps which my associates and I refer to as the “subject / material acquisition sequence”.  The four stages are as follows:

      Mechanical: consists of rote memorization of the system basics and foundational movements that the student must learn in order to proceed through the early introductory portions of the system.  The student is learning the stances, stepping methods, evasive movements, hand strikes, forearm blocks, balance points for kicking, simple kicks along with some simple self-defense techniques.  The students must learn how to coordinate their hands, eyes, feet and body as a single unified whole in a reflexive manner without thinking before they move.   

      Technical: involves taking the mechanics that one has already learned and using that previous information to develop an understanding about how and why these mechanics actually work when executed properly.  Within this stage the student is concerned with blending both the art and craft aspects of a particular system, plus improving their performance of each technique.  The improvement involves developing an appreciation for the minute details within the movements of each technique.  The student then learns and refines their own understanding of the techniques through one on one coaching of the newer students at the school.

      Conceptual: taking all of the previous ideas and behaviors already learned, and finding the relationships between them, by comparing and contrasting the effectiveness of these ideas/behaviors for one’s self. This process is always on-going and is “tailored” to fit one’s own physical abilities, body type, flexibility, strength and mental /moral orientation.  Each individual will very likely find within other martial arts systems items, ideas and movements that are similar to what one has already learned or mastered.  The on-going comparison allows each individual student to gain and benefit from a better understanding of their own original martial art system.  The conceptual stage validates the strengths found within one’s own system.  Because the individual student is able to move beyond thinking strictly in terms of definitive set of concrete terms within a single system approach, they can begin thinking abstractly.  This newer style of thinking and understanding makes it possible for the student to develop their own ideas within a particular martial art system.  The conceptual stage allows a student to find a concomitant approach to various martial arts systems such as Kenpo, Arnis, Tai Chi, Pa Qua and Escrima, for example.  There are numerous ways in which various martial arts systems can serve as companions to one another, but only individual martial artists can make these connections for themselves.  The art has to be altered and “tailored” to fit the body and mind-set of each individual person without resorting to cloning and mimicry.  

       Innovation: the student has moved beyond merely repeating the movements as they have been initially taught, drilled and rehearsed.  In this critical stage of development the student is beginning to understand how to mix and match parts of techniques with one another to meet a specific situation at that precise moment in time and space.  The student reflexively understands that he (or she) must act in a spontaneous manner but draws on all of their previously learned movements to fashion a “new” set of behaviors to cope with this specific situation, right here and right now!

      For analytical purposes the four stages are presented as separate and distinct from one another, however, in reality these stages overlap.  A student can be in different phases of 2 stages at the same time.  The transition is not always smooth and seamless. There is not a really clear, definitive demarcation point between each of these stages, nor is every student going to experience the same rate of transition and growth.     

      As a teacher, I know that the above sequence exists, however I present all of my instructional information in small units to my students.  Depending on the topic and the skills of various individual students who I am teaching at a particular moment, I will present 1, 2 or at most 3 units of instruction at a time.  I never exceed 3 instructional units because that seems to be the upper limit that most people can absorb and utilize in a single instructional period.  Once the initial lessons are learned and the students can demonstrate physical control of the material, I will add 1, 2 or 3 applications of the techniques or drills.

      It is very important in my opinion to have a larger, comprehensive curriculum written out.  The three unit lesson plan is worthless if there isn’t a larger plan which supports the smaller unit lessons.  There are a good number of martial arts instructors who literally teach “the lesson of the day” right off of the top of their heads!  They only have a very vague idea about what the end plan or goals are for their instructional ventures and that leaves their students in a bind.  They do not know what they are actually learning and how the various lessons connect to one another.  The lack of perceived connections in turn makes it very difficult for all but the very best students to move successfully through the developmental sequences to mastery of the particular art style or system.

       The lack of long term curriculum planning on the part of many instructors is a reflection on how they themselves were taught the martial arts system that they are now attempting to pass on to a new generation of students.  We all are products of our own past experiences, both good and bad.  Most martial arts instructors in the USA have not been tutored and schooled in the art and science of instruction.  Simply because someone has persevered long enough to earn a black belt/sash, diploma or certificate does not mean that they can in turn properly instruct others in that same art form.  Even if someone were a highly accomplished performer in martial arts tournaments, with an impressive array of trophies and medals, that alone does not qualify the individual as a knowledable or skilled instructor.  All too often the people, who and operate open martial arts schools, while well intentioned, are in fact very poorly prepared for the art and science of instruction.

      In my opinion, instructing others is a noble and honorable task.  However, it is not as easy as it might appear to those who have never tried their hand at it.  This is why I have written this essay on the developmental sequence of learning.  It is not that this sequence of some sort of closely guarded secret that can only be passed on to a select few, lest the martial arts would suddenly become overrun with would-be experts and instructors.  Quite the contrary, the developmental sequence is well known and has been utilized by numerous people in nearly every area of instruction regarding physical skills training.  I am simply putting this information forward in a martial arts context with the hope that my essay will spur some in-depth discussions about how the next generation of martial arts instructors should be trained and instructed in the art of instructing others. 

      Time will be the true test with regard to whether or not some people in the martial arts are able to step beyond their own systems and learning experiences to engage in some serious discussion about how to instruct students.  The individual martial arts systems are not the important thing in such a discussion.  Each martial arts system has a set of drills, forms, techniques and a discussion involving instructional concepts does not have to touch any of those things.

      The real issue involves developing a curriculum plan and establishing a measurable set of goals for each individual martial arts system in general and a particular school setting that strives to teach that art competently.  I have some ideas about curriculum development within the martial arts and I am looking forward to an in-depth, ego-free discussion with other serious minded martial art instructors.


Jerome Barber, Ed. D.

Director and Mataw Guro

Independent Escrima-Kenpo-Arnis Associates

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Dear Dr. Barber:

A very informative, labour intensive piece and thank you for sharing much of your valued time and mind-space!

Some general thoughts.  I am currently a college level instructor for Security/PI/Police Foundations programs with a BA and have the utmost struggle with creating lesson plans, with all the skills and subsets and the like. You state that perhaps it may be a reflection of how we were taught in past, however, that although I grew up in academia (both parents university schooled, mother a teacher), I turned to be one of those that learned by doing.

I think a general plan with what I call "general-specifics" and a "somewhat-goal" are more conducive to martial arts development, as martial arts are fluid, evolving and I think confined by using the set-letter of school formatted curriculum planning.  It is a way, but not for the martial way.

I suggest this may be your frame of reference for presenting the material due to your background as a master educator.  The struggle in martial arts is finding that right fit, that near-perfect way of getting THAT particular moment of enlightenment across- (just a choice few over the years), and my way is to have a general plan, in all sectors, go with the energy presented by students and if a discussion or training session heads into a different tangent or dismisses the training plan I had 3 days ago, I don't try to fight it, frantically hanging onto guilt-ridden principles like 'showing discipline'(more on that concept later, I know, I know...) by hanging onto, what was a concept that sounded good at 7pm last week no longer fits what everyone has positive energy to do now.

Now, my comment of "guilt-ridden disciplines like discipline" is bound to draw some fire but it's not my main focus; this is part of my own research and for a later time, but briefly,my view is that because we are in a micro second to micro second state of flux, we have to go with that energy because it causes disharmony and drains you more to fight it than to go with it.  A somewhat solipsistic view, but not quite.

One must still follow set things, but only in order to GET them; educational degrees and black belts included.  As you state clearly some academics are not good at teaching and neither are some experienced martial artists; this stems from a number of innate rather than external factors, I feel.

I also don't like sitting down for weeks developing massive plans and then have someone copy and paste and use me for their own. Sorry my time is too valuable for that, and I don't even come close to worrying if the modern world chides me for that view, especially it  being the current MO.

How do we know each and all students hear, see, remember a certain percentage of "it all" unless we give them "it all"?  My way is flooding them with everything I know, each and every class.  Some are overwhelmed, some struggle to take notes, some try to video; it doesn't really matter.  What I know for certain is that most that the video people won't practice much because they think they "got it",  the practicals will get a small percentage but only do 4 or 5 reps, then chat, the ones writing notes will have a better chance at retention and the ones that pick one or two movements, ignore the rest of my class and practice them 100 times each, left and right, moving all directions, standing kneeling and on the ground, are the ones who are going to reach their goals.

I am curious about your view about the struggle of the Ed. D and Ph.D debate; i find it ties in well with martial arts (Ed. D viewed as the 'practical' and the Ph.D the theoretical).

Best regards

Guy, what you do to make this accessible to students is

1. Alive application, using footwork, timing, pressure, resistance

2. Use 'Landmarking'. I.e. you see a certain 'pattern' you instinctively know to go to the next step.

3. Proprioception. Similar to 'muscle memory' but more concise, internalized.

4. Always have 'internal' and 'external' application. For example, at the gun range, perforating targets is internal. You are focused on the functioning of the weapon. External would be paintball battles with running around and shooting each other with non-injurious (with equipment) rounds.

A step up would be using simmunition and some additional gear.

Likewise with hand-held weapons, you have some gear, some soft weapons.


Interesting that it's Chen X Wang. He's fairly open about his art, though as a practice the Chen stylists will never disclose their interior practices to Westerners.

He does more than most.


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