I often hear instructors say, ‘Failure is not an option.’
The sad reality is that those instructors are often times leading their students to extremely bad habits as their students are not trained to know what to do when Mr. Murphy and his law comes calling, things go wrong, and they fail in a real situation. As I often discuss, one of the problems with martial art today is that the Youtube world and social media have put a premium on looking perfect everytime…and assuming the best case scenario.
The truth is – you will fail, you will have a failure moment, you will have momentary failure – the question is: what will you do when it happens?
In other areas of the self-defense world, such as firearms, failure drills are common place. They are looked upon as simply the nature of the beast – you have a machine, it will malfunction and fail. But, how often do we look at martial art, our strikes, or kicks, our grabs and releases…and failure drills? It doesn’t work – what do we do? Usually this only happens in sparring and when a student does something right we say, ‘Oh, you were in a flow state, that’s why it worked!’ but if it doesn’t work, they are told, ‘Failure isn’t an option. You need to work on that technique more…next class do it 100 times.’
I can’t count how many times I have heard this.
We have to stop demonizing failure and see it for what it is: outside of a real life encounter, it’s a learning tool.
Failure is an option – and it’s an option we want to happen often, in expected and unexpected situations. We want to see failure at every turn, every move, every engagement, every disengagement. We want students to fail when they walk in and trip. The reason for this is we want the adaptation after the failure. We want to teach that. As Mike Tyson once said, ‘Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the nose.’ We want plans, yes, but we want students who are experienced in what to do when the plan fails.
When a student is ok with failure they become free to explore and never see a failure as definite. Failure is simply the threshhold between this technique and the next. It gives you a new opening you may not have seen. It gives you an advantage you may not have had. After a period of time we can ask them questions about that adaptive moment…what happened, could they control it…hold it, mold it, make it theirs.
Encourage your students to fail and make them understand it’s part of training…then their failure is complete.