If there’s not explicit context in your scenario, circumstance, or concept…it’s invalid. There. I said it. Really, I should end the article here but, alas, that would make me cryptic and mercurial.

Context is this amazingly-underused word that floats its way around the periphery of the industry. Really, it should become a buzz-word unto itself, replacing the likes of sheepdogs, Valhalla, judged by 12, and instinct. Yet when you ask a lot of folks what exactly that means, that “it” requires “context”, they act like they shouldn’t have to define it as it’s simply common-sense that everyone knows. (Thus, the “common”) Yet, as we find in monstrous volumes of martial arts and self-defense videos, articles, blogs, techniques, responses…..context seems to be the one major thing left out. Almost entirely. Yet it’s absolutely imperative for the student to understand the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys of why he/she’d be using that thing in the first place.

What circumstances brought this person to this particular situation. What time of day is it. Where, exactly, is it taking place. Why is it happening. What’s the tangible element that’s required by the interloper. What type of crime is this. How would de-escalating or avoiding or mitigating or terminating this scenario affect the greater outcome, regardless of what’s simply legal or admissible socially. What are repercussions and reverberating-effects of those actions. Do they fall within the realm of national/provincial/state/municipal law. Are there witnesses that may see this differently than you. Context takes away the general or universal and makes it specific and defined.

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Context is that little element that clarifies exactly why you’d be doing the thing that you’re being taught to do. And there are a ton of things that go into that action. Legal repercussions. Social acceptability. Collateral damage. Alternate options. To use a vast chasm of difference, what’s acceptable in prison on a long-term incarceration is probably not equally-acceptable against a drunk guy telling you he’s going to kick your ass is probably not equally-acceptable to the little old lady flipping you the bird in rush-hour traffic.

Why, exactly and in nauseating detail, would you choose to do what you’re doing. If context isn’t given (and given explicitly), ask. Ask intricate and detail-drawing questions that draw equally clear and precise answers. Any instructor should know this and be able to concisely explain it if he/she’s worth his/her salt. (If not, maybe that 5th stage of the learning cycle we often talk about – articulation – should be next on the priority list) Martial artists are noted for being generally context-free. Universal, general, one-size-fits-all solutions to complex, dynamic, rapidly-changing problems. Often hidden behind the claim that it’s “style”, “art”, “cultural”, “historical”, or “systemic” to justify the laziness or negligence that goes into not defining the problem clearly.

Murder videos where the instructor is showing off flashy artistic skills by cutting the throat of an offender who threw a right-cross….not contextually viable. Videos from the interview stage that have the “sucker-punching” the offender for telling him to fuck-off….also not contextually viable. Your instructor doing a 33-step complex drill and not knowing at all why, what skills it’s developing, and how it pertains to the focus of doing it….not either. You training to break the neck of a guy who called your girlfriend a whore….again, not contextu…well, you get the point. Yet tons of instructors don’t seem to.

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Not only all this from the negligence perspective, but on a more functional level, context gives clarity. It makes action more decisive. It allows students to develop adaptive, transferable, confident decisions on-the-fly (yes, it’s possible) and eliminates fear or self-doubt hesitation because they’ve had the parameters and intangibles defined. The more explicit the context, the less doubt and hesitation will exist. The more explicit the context, the more self-confidence and calm and discipline the student will show when it’s needed….including in the pre-conflict or preventative stages. It’s not a “good idea”, it’s the foundation on which viable, real-world fundamentals are built. Demand it. I ask my students to…it holds me accountable and forces me to know precisely why I’m doing and teaching everything I’m doing and teaching. I’m providing a service, and a relatively important one that demands detail due the dynamic interactive social construct my optional, fluid solutions are built on. You owe your students context, and you better know it intimately….without them constantly needing to ask you.

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