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“Because that’s the way I was taught” is never a good answer.

“Because that’s the way I was taught” is never a good answer.


A few years ago I was teaching a class in which there was a student who’d been to several different shooting schools — including one which, in my opinion, teaches some distinctly odd material. This student was doing a particular maneuver in just such an odd manner and I asked him why.

“Because that’s the way I was taught.”

I resharpened my question and asked what the purpose of the maneuver was, why it was done that way, what specific goal was it designed to achieve (as far as I could tell, there was none.)

“Because that’s the way I learned it at Such-And-Such Academy.”

It was clear I wasn’t getting anywhere; either the student didn’t want to tell me for fear of being ridiculed (which I try never to do), or truly didn’t know the answer to the “why” question. I let the matter drop as it wasn’t dangerous to anyone, it was simply silly wasted motion.

Fast forward about eight or nine months and I was teaching a class in a neighboring state. One of the students there was doing the same very distinct maneuver, and I hoped I’d get a better answer out of him than the previous student.

“Well, that’s how I was taught was the best way to do it.”

You can probably see where this is going, can’t you? I pressed and asked what the rationale for the title “best way” was.

“That’s just the way I learned it.”

At Such-And-Such Academy? “Yes, how did you know?”

Let’s call it a hunch, I told him, and gave up. To this day I have no idea why that particular school teaches this particular technique, and I’ve certainly not been able to get a clear answer from their students (neither of whom were stupid or completely new to shooting.)

I think that’s a problem.

In almost every class I teach I tell my students that I never, ever want to hear back that when asked why they do something the way they do, they answer “because that’s the way Grant Cunningham taught me.” I go out of my way to explain why I’m teaching any particular technique, the technical (scientific, medical, empirical) reasons that support what I’m teaching, and the logic flow — based on a hard-headed analysis of the way things actually work in the real world — behind why I don’t teach it some other way.

If my students are at all confused or unclear on any of that, I encourage them to ask questions. Pointed questions, if need be, to get the level of comprehension they need to understand (and later explain) why they’re doing what they’re doing. I never respond “because that’s the way I do it”, and so I expect that my students will never have to say “because that’s the way I was taught.”

It’s pretty obvious that my forthright, fact-based approach is not yet the norm in the defensive shooting world!

If you’re an instructor, you should always be teaching for understanding. Your goal should be for your students to go out into the world equipped to explain what they’ve been taught and the skills they’re exhibiting. They don’t need to know all fifteen reasons that you do, but if they can’t come up with a single one, if all they can say is “that’s the way I learned it”, then you’ve failed.

(Certainly every so often you’ll have “that” student who only pays attention to the physical parts of the skills and really can’t explain the “why” because they weren’t listening, but it shouldn’t be the norm. It should also make you concerned that your teaching skills aren’t sufficient to hold students’ attention during your explanations.)

If you’re a student, you should expect to come out of class with the understanding you need to explain (if only to yourself) why you’re doing things in a specific way. You should expect to be able to ask questions and not have them answered with “because that’s the way we do it”; you should also expect that your questions will be taken seriously and addressed without your being made to feel foolish or bothersome.

Ask questions. Expect answers. Your instructor owes you that much.

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On April 13, 2015

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