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Unshackling Martial Arts
Rethinking How We Learn and Teach
Every martial arts coach or gym has a pedagogical approach, whether they consciously recognize it or not. This underlying belief system governs how they teach and how their students learn. But the pivotal question is whether these coaches and institutions have ever scrutinized their approach and considered the biases that might be embedded within them.
In many cases, there is no scrutiny or reflection, and as a consequence, instructors often default to methods they've been conditioned to adopt. These methods are often rooted in the top-down, rigid, absolutist, power-dominance culture prevalent in the profit and status-driven Western martial arts community. The emphasis tends to lean heavily towards maintaining a power dynamic that leaves little room for critical introspection regarding teaching and learning processes for both teacher and practitioner.
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Even in progressive and anti-fascist martial arts spaces, where inclusivity and diversity are championed, pedagogy itself can frequently be left unexamined. The focus often gravitates toward deciding who to train and include and who to oppose rather than evaluating the very methods employed for teaching and learning (and their similarities to the groups they oppose).
We often say: How you do one thing is how you do all things. With that in mind, this blindspot over pedagogy doesn't end here but extends to all areas of life, including organizing spaces or even online communication. It prompts a deeper inquiry into our beliefs about effective teaching and learning. Are we merely defaulting to methods we've been subjected to or centering ourselves and our ego, spite, and past trauma? Or are we centering the learner?
Before the students can unlearn, the teacher must first unlearn their preconceived notions and biases. This process involves shedding beliefs that no longer serve the purpose of growth, empowerment, and personal liberation. It's a process of deconstructing the mental frameworks that have been ingrained and replacing them with principles that align with a more liberatory approach.
Liberation Martial Arts (LMA) doesn't harbor the naïve notion that martial arts alone can liberate oppressed people worldwide. That's a far bigger project that extends beyond martial arts. By "liberation," we mean the way we teach and think about martial arts, our pedagogy, is liberatory. Rather than ignoring pedagogy or leaving it to chance, we put everything into it. That's all we literally can do, but our hope is that our principles extend beyond the mat and our practitioners carry them into the world.
How you do one thing is how you do all things. If we as liberatory martial artists want liberation in the world, it stands to reason that our practice should also be liberatory. Ultimately, this introspection should extend beyond martial arts into a broader examination of how we navigate the world and interact with others. Otherwise, how can we claim to know our own beliefs unless we examine them and question our biases, and confront our contradictions? Liberation Martial Arts begins with the self, and the exploration of liberatory martial arts pedagogy is an exploration of ourselves and our capabilities.
(I write daily about martial arts and other topics from a liberatory perspective. If you like my work, upgrade your subscription. You can also support me on Patreon or make a one-time donation on Ko-fi. Find Southpaw at its website. Get the swag on Spring. Also check out Liberation Martial Arts Online.)
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