The Dojo is Not a Classroom, It's a Laboratory

June 29 2020 Revised Mar 17 2021


Success in self-defense requires innovation!

I don't mean to sound trite, but "modern times call for modern solutions." People act, think, talk, and socialize differently today than in the past. The legal landscape for self-defense also has changed dramatically in recent years. The self-defense of today must be refined and sophisticated to survive today's social climate.

To promote and enable critical innovation in your students' minds, you must have a dojo culture that supports it.

My students are familiar with this phrase, "The dojo is not a classroom; It's a laboratory!"

This means that the dojo should be a place of creation. The dojo should be a place to generate ideas, experiment, and refine the art. The dojo should be a place that operates from a place of practicality. Teachers should be enhancing, uplifting, and encouraging the minds of their students. If you are a teacher, ask yourself this question. "What am I doing to refine and push forward innovation?" Too often, I see dojo culture that is too "Sensei-centric." Meaning that the dojo's culture focuses more on how excellent the teacher is than making him/her actually prove what they are teaching.

There's too much focus on "Exactly how did Sensei say to do this?" and not enough on "How is this technique going to work?"

Let me give you a piece of advice.

If your teacher doesn't let anyone question their expertise or authority, they don't have confidence in what they are teaching.

If your teacher doesn't let you practice the technique you are being taught at full speed and full contact, they clearly don't have the experience needed to be teaching it.

If your teacher always jumps straight to breaking necks and bones, they don't have enough experience actually fighting a resisting opponent. Nor do they know how to judge a situation by threat level.

Now that we know what to look out for let's talk about what you can do to promote your dojo's laboratory experience.

Step 1: Idea Generation

I, like most any teacher, teach my students the best that I have to offer. However, not everything I teach always makes sense in the students' minds, and often new ideas emerge as they try to internalize the concept of what I am teaching. When by chance, something like this happens, I latch onto it as quickly as is convenient. This both enables innovation and encourages students to think critically and to share ideas.

Step 2: Experimentation

When a student proposes a new technique, defense, maneuver, or exercise, I tell them to test it out. This might mean starting the technique slowly and then implementing it at speed in full contact sparring. It might mean trying out the idea with several new partners to define it better. It could mean practicing the new exercise for a week and seeing what the results are. Experimentation means identifying an expected result and finding out what does and doesn't work. You might find that the idea wasn't so good, or it could be that the idea was a total success. Either way, the student feels gratification in exploring their concept, and they learn what to look for in the future.

Step 3: Refinement

Once you have found a skill, drill, defense, or exercise that has stood up to Experimentation, next is Refinement. Go back to the beginning and see what you can improve. Can you add it to a flow drill? Can you make it more effective? Can you make alternative movements? When something new makes it through the refinement process, it's ready to integrate into the curriculum. It's critical that once you reach this stage, you have weeded out any ideas that are not worth holding onto. It's okay to let some ideas go and to hold onto others.

I hope this helps you create your own effective training methods. Remember, It's all about innovation, using your smarts to fight, not just your fists. And most of all, have fun during training. Stay engaged and keep things fresh; this will motivate you and your training partners always to do their best.