Some folks prefer to start with skill-creation, and then find places where they can use them. Others prefer to find needs, and then find tools to fit them. Both probably have valid arguments, but I know where I find myself these days – in the latter camp.

So often, I walk into a class, workshop, seminar, etc and see instructors launch directly into teaching technique and skill. Often enough they’re very good at those skills, and some of them are gifted and inspired teachers and sharers. But I wonder why are they teaching those particular things to those particular people.

Even the stuff totally out of touch with reality has a reason to be taught. Heck, I teach seminars and classes on over-sized classical Japanese halberd and spear. That’s not inconsistent with my message here, though: anyone attending those workshops finds out in the first few minutes that we’re getting together to share a particular tradition, from a particular group of Japanese samurai, that were recorded and passed on to future generations.

As a student and instructor of extremely traditional martial arts, I can say with certainty that the subtle changes to body movement and awareness that I have encountered in archaic training like two-sword styles or movement with a 16 foot spear has actually been useful in real life fights. Two-sword training requires high levels of awareness to attacks from multiple moving assailants; that has helped when I’ve been in a patrol team massively outnumbered. Training with long heavy weapons has forced my movement to be more efficient with my own movement; that helps every time I encounter a bigger, stronger person I need to move. However, while I sometimes mention these interesting side-benefits, they’re not the main reason to train in these skills for me. They’re awesome benefits, but they’re not even close to being designed for that. Those teachings are originally designed to teach people to fight with swords, halberds, and spear – simple!

I just want instructors to be honest about the context in which the skills they show are meant to be learned and used. We’re all smart enough to accept that sometimes things are useful beyond their intended areas of use – that’s great. We’re also all smart enough to know when somebody is stretching things to match multiple needs that don’t really fit together. Spear training does help your efficiency in punching, but it’s ok to admit that it might not be designed as the most efficient path for that skill development.

Sometimes it’s worse: it does happen that people know the context for which they’re teaching, but pick the wrong skills, and even insist that they’re perfectly suited to the task. That bothers me a lot.