John Kreese, or Pecking order

Pecking order is a term to describe the social hierarchy in an organizational structure built in a chicken-like fashion. The bigger chicken peck on the smaller chicken, and so on.

I use this as a way to know what you should practice on in your Martial Arts class, and why. Let me explain.

When I started doing Martial Arts, I was a beginner in a beginners class of “self-defense” Ju Jutsu.  Anyone remotely interested in fighting would go straight to a more fighting-based Dojo, right? Basically, it meant that most people in the group were not “fighters” or “random attacking crazy people”, and subsequently had no grasp of the concept of attacking people in general. This in turn meant that the Dojo would be responsible for teaching both attacking and defending, meaning that obviously they would fit together perfectly – Too perfect!

This means that there was no pecking order, just a group of people attacking to fit the defense, and defending according to an attack that was not very good, and not very realistic. We would learn Oi-tsuki as a way to attack, and Shuto-uke to block, followed by Atemi-waza, a throw and then a submission. We would learn the submissions starting from the top, but never how to defend anything, or how to actually get on top (realistically). The idea was that everything started with blocking an aggressors punch (Oi-tsuki), or being attacked by someone just holding your wrists. When do you need that? Or when do you need that more than getting out of being on the ground, mounted, and someone punching you in the face?

Fast forward many years. A couple of years back I saw an instructional Youtube video on bjj, and the strategy for learning. I can’t remember who the instructor was, but his main point was that you should pretty much just sparr (“roll”) all the time, because it will teach you what you need to know. The first couple of months (or maybe years) you will spend on the bottom, getting submitted. With some structured rolling, or getting info as you roll, you will be submitted less and less though, because you will be constantly tested on this specific subject and nothing else. When you are pretty confident in your submission defense, it means you can escape from the bad positions as well, and after a couple of months (or years) of that, you might find yourself pretty stable even at keeping a top position. THEN it is time to learn submissions, because before that, you don’t actually need them, right? This moment of enlightenment from Youtube actually was the wake-up call needed, and it’s something I often come back to.

I believe that this idea is very true! Maybe it’s not ideal to keep all your students, it’s not ideal unless you have a lot of advanced students and very few beginners, and so on. But it is a much better idea than saving the students from themselves by making sure that there is no pecking order!

I want my students to be constantly tested. Make a student repeat Shuto-uke 10 000 times, and the student will still not be able to block the one important punch they will get in the face in a dark alley, after a few drinks. Put on boxing gloves and punch the student in the face, and he/she will at once understand the importance of keeping the guard up. Kick a student once on the leg and watch him take his hand down to block it. Kick him on the leg again to make sure it was not a coincidence. The third time you fake a low kick and then kick him in the head. It’s a great lesson!

Now I might sound like John Kreese, which is not what I want! I don’t want the “if you fail you will quit, and that’s fine” attitude. It must be done in a fun, including way, and that’s not so difficult. You simply have a pecking order, making sure everybody gets an opponent that they have just a bit of a hard time with. The bigger chicken can chase the submission and the smaller chicken can chase the defense. The bigger chicken can work on combinations of punches and kicks, and the smaller chicken can work on not being hit with the first or even second punch. And so on…

How do you implement this in your practise? Well, make sure you don’t divide students into belt levels or similar more than what you absolutely must do. If you cannot avoid a traditional set of techniques per belt level, then don’t make it more rigid than needed, and make sure you give out the tools in the order as they are needed, not just “the easiest first” or “the attacks first so we have something to learn the defenses against later”. Scrap the concept of Tori/Uke when you do any form of Randori. It can be predetermined who attacks with what, but both partners should try to succeed!

What if you are a student, and that’s not how your Dojo works? Talk to the Sensei! Or go somewhere where you feel technically challenged when you practise.

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