You want to get better? Go see the broken down old men.

It’s what they can teach, not what they can do.  Would you rather learn gymnastics from this Olympic gold medalist (Nadia Comaneci):

Nadia Comaneci

or this broken down old guy (her coach, Bela Karolyi)?

Bela karolyi

As another example, would you rather learn boxing from the greatest of all time:

muhammad ali

or his broken-down-old-man coach, Angelo Dundee:

angelo dundee

It’s great, and to be sure sometimes necessary, if your instructor can perform, on demand, whatever they are teaching.  No argument.  But you can also learn a lot from someone who can accurately assess what you need to do to improve, even if they can’t actually quite do it themselves.

Ol’ Angelo wouldn’t have lasted long in a heavyweight bout after all, but he molded the best.

(Hat tip to Marcus Wynne for the inspiration on this one.)

Finally: I hit this point often and hard because it’s the part of self-defense that most people foolishly omit. If you carry a gun for self-defense, you have to know the law. Invest the money you’d spend on shaving a tenth of a second off your splits with Andrew Branca’s book or seminars — it’ll pay far greater dividends. Visit this link to learn more, and use the discount code “streetstandards” for a 10% discount.

Update: Here’s the poster that I refer to in the comments, again courtesy of Mr. Wynne:



3 thoughts on “You want to get better? Go see the broken down old men.

  1. Morning, Ralph — gee, I’m an inspiration for “broken down old men?” LOL…

    My favorite line on the subject, from JUSTIFIED’s Boyd Crothers: “Arlo, I’m not saying you’re a lion in winter, but your roar ain’t what it used to be….

    And as my alter ego Marvin says, “Old man, my ass….”

    I wrote an extended essay on the subject of unavoidable old age and the evolution from instructor to coach here:

    But to your point, per our phone discussion:

    I got wound up about this a while back, when I ran across this YouTube from Larry Vickers titled “Why I’m Fat.”

    Bluntly, it pissed me the fuck off that a guy like Larry Vickers would have to explain anything at all about why his body is beat up and why, gee, he’s getting old. I’m renowned for being Old School, at least amongst other oldsters, and respect for the Elders of the Warrior Tribe is in my bones. I think it’s fucking disgusting that a bunch of Errornet Commandos think it’s okay to shame (or try to) a warrior like Larry who’s paid his price in blood and toll on his body, and is feeling the price he paid going in harm’s way on behalf of others.

    Fuck them.

    As to the difference between instructing and coaching, here’s my definition, your mileage may vary — an instructor teaches (through modeling of technique) how to do techniques; a coach observes establishes patterns (which he may also install) and brings a skill set of observation and remediation that does not necessarily require physical modeling the skill (though he may be able to).

    I get sore about this particular subject because I’ve dealt with it (see post above “In Memory of Dangerous Men”). I’ve grown inured to the arrogance of young combat athletes who’ve never been seriously injured or ill and seem to think that they will never grow old. But it really pisses me off to see that kind of shit directed at a guy like Larry Vickers who did more in a month of his operational career than most of these guys will ever do.

    Rant over, LOL.

    I think the main point is here: someone looking to train needs to take into consideration a lot of factors. Most (maybe all?) people shopping online via forums, whatever for instruction “don’t know what they don’t know” and may have no basis in previous experience or instruction to make their own decisions and conduct the right kind of due diligence. There’s lots of questions that can be asked:

    Do I (the prospective student) know what I need to learn?
    How do I know that? Where did I learn that from? (YouTube, gun shop sales staff, whatever?)
    Do I know what kind of instructors suit my real needs, as opposed to what I want to believe my needs are? (Maybe you’d be better off taking the Basic Class at Roger’s instead of Uber-Tactical Ninja 101 from whoever the latest tactic-cool celebrity is?)
    How do I determine if a prospective instructor is qualified to teach ME?
    What’s more important? An instructor’s body count and Tier 1 credentials, or his ability to improve MY performance?
    What kind of instructor experience is important to me learning best? Law enforcement? Street or tactical? Military? Military police, special operations, cooks? (I’m just a lowly, lowly cook….points to whoever can identify that quote, LOL)

    So what I’m saying is that living long enough to get grey and fat in a profession where many men die young might be a pretty good credential in and of itself. And the experience from a lifetime doesn’t require physical modeling to be exercised in enhancing the performance of the sharp student (or even the dull one, but I digress).

    A while back, I was in North Carolina and had the pleasure of meeting an exceptional young police tactical officer — superb combat athlete, lots of training, good experience base in SWAT and the street. He could shoot rings and kick ass all around me, as should be the case when you got a 60 year old disabled guy and a 27 year old street animal. He asked me to take him out on the range and “just coach” him. An hour (and about 300 rounds later, LOL) he told me he had never shot as well or as hard doing things he’d never done before.

    I never lifted a finger except to point.

    Old man? Old man my ass…LOL

    Have a good ‘un, Ralph. Nice job of baiting me out to post before I’ve had coffee, LOL…

    cheers, m


    • Geez, Marcus — you ought to be a writer or somthin’!

      Great expansion of my post – thanks! All you young guys take note of what Marcus is saying; he’s worked with the very best of a few generations over the last 40 years, in some places where bad tactics and/or technique means you miss that afternoon’s tea time, if you follow me (and all other afternoons too, if you need a hint).

      Wasn’t it you that pointed me to the saying: “Beware of the old man in a profession where people tend to die young”?


  2. >> It’s what they can teach, not what they can do.

    True enough, but Karolyi is often cited by “trainers” wrongly justifying their personal lack of proven skill. It ignores the fact that most high-level coaches were skilled practitioners at one point. Karolyi was a champion athlete and a gymnast back in the day.

    A high level of personal ability is a good indicator the coach knows how to get good performance because he has experienced it personally.

    Regardless of this personal background, a coach will ultimately be measured by the skill of his/her students. This requires having the means to measure the success of those students. A “trainer” or “coach” with no notable personal experience and no notable student success is just a turd trying to take your money.


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