May 26, 2009

Private Lessons - great training, or waste of time & money?? A students perspective

It was a solid 9-10 years into my martial career before I took my first private lesson. Until then I had always trained in a group (large or small) for my lessons and never thought much of private instruction. My first private lesson was with a Xing Yi cat in Santa Fe, NM. by the name of Kit. He was not offering group lessons that I could make, so I thought I would try out a one on one session. Overall it was an okay experience. Nothing earth shattering / ground breaking by any means.

Shortly there after I met, and took a private lesson with my current teacher Tim Cartmell, and needless to say I realized what I had been missing out on! The details and attention to those details that Tim offers in his sessions are second to none. I have heard martial artists of 30+ years state the following after training with Tim; "I learned more in 15 minutes with Tim, then in years with my previous teacher(s)!" And I would have to concur with such a statement. I learned more in my one hour Xing Yi private lesson then I had in over 2 years of training from my first Xing Yi teacher!

So what is all the hoopla about taking private lessons with teachers, and is it really worth it? First of all "worth" is subjective, and I really cannot comment on such a thing for you. For me, one on one instruction has been unequivocally worth every penny and minute. I admit I have been very lucky in that I have sought out top notch instructors to train with, but that does not mean there are not jokers out there who will waste your time and money. Remember money can be earned back, but time is forever.

We need to make a distinction or two before delving further into such a broad subject. First of all one needs a good teacher. If someone is not a solid teacher then it does not matter what you learn from him/her, if they suck as a teacher it will not matter if there are 30 people in the room or 1. That is just fact.

Also it depends on what you (the student) are trying to gain from the lesson. Are you learning a form that requires lots of attention to minute detail? Are you working on conditioning and just need a "personal trainer" type workout / motivator? Or are you working some technique and trying to refine it so that you become more successful at executing said technique?

These are three of the most common (in general) reasons people train privately in my experience. All are valid reasons for seeking out private instruction, though in cases such as motivation private instruction can get quite expensive! Getting details of a technique is certainly invaluable, but be honest with yourself... is it you doing something wrong with that given technique, or is it you just have not drilled it enough to make it work? A private lesson does not guarantee you will be "better" at something.

For example I will take a private lesson with my BJJ coach Brian J. Johnson at NW Jiu Jitsu Academy to get details of a certain position or technique that I am working, and then I will go into regular group class and work it in drills, and try it out in sparring to see if I can start to get it on different body types and levels of experience. This is the "lab" for me. The private lesson was the "classroom" if you will.

As a student you have several responsibilities prior to scheduling a private lesson with any teacher:

1- Make sure the teacher you are wanting a lesson with has a solid reputation (I cannot tell you how many people I know who have shelled out $200-300- even 400 for an hour private lesson with some famous BJJ cat, only to cover a basic arm bar and triangle setup!). Remember, just because someone is good at what they DO does not mean they are a good TEACHER of what they do!

2- Organize yourself. Have a list of questions - goals - needs that you want to be met with your lesson, and if at all possible give your instructor a heads up on the material you want to cover. This will ensure more bang for your buck so to speak. The teacher can organize the lesson better and you will retain more as well.

3- Ensure that you (the student) are professional. Show up early ("on time" has taken a connotation of meaning RIGHT at 2pm if our appointment is at 2pm. "On time" to me is at least 5 minutes early!), show up ready to train (if you need to change do it promptly and factor that into your time management), and work hard!

4- And finally (pet peeve of mine) if you need to cancel, do so with at least 24 hours notice! I have a 24 hour cancellation policy, and I use it! Barring emergencies and accidents, their is no reason to call (or not call at all) at the last minute . Give the instructor notice so they can adjust their life and work schedule.

Stay tuned for the teachers perspective next!
Train hard,

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