Breadth VS Depth

A conversation sparked between some friends and industry leaders about ranking, degrees of black belts, and continued training in other programs. It brought up some great conversations around self defense, cross training, and what exactly pertains to testing.

When I first started Krav Maga years ago, I wanted to be a 5th/6th/7th degree black belt in the system. I wanted to own the material and be an expert. Over the years, I had the pleasure, of not only learning from some amazing people in the Krav world, but getting exposure to Kali, Firearms, BJJ, Wrestling, Thai Boxing, Boxing, etc…

I have learned so much from other programs that I have applied to not only how I fight, but how I teach. It got me thinking. Is it more notable to be a 6th degree black belt in one system, or to have a pretty good understanding of multiple systems?

It begs the question… truly… If I am looking to be the best for my students and be able to present an all around look at self defense, I should know at least a moderate amount about striking, cling work, wrestling, ground fighting, use of a knife, use of a firearm, de-escalation, psychology, general physical fitness, use of force, legal issues, civil issues, medical care, and more. I have yet to find a system or a program that is able to supply all of this at one place efficiently. Including my gym. We try. We have the knowledge base and resources, but we don’t hit all of those topics efficiently. It’s tough. I have worked with some amazing people and amazing programs, and again, I have yet to find a program, instructor, or facility that offers ALL of that in one place.

I also believe, to truly connect with people, you have to go out and learn about programs that are popular but may not be practical. Not to knock them down, infiltrate them, or anything crazy. To be able to talk with those people, have an intelligent discussion and explain to them why you feel your way is practical and how they could improve themselves.

Now, it’s hard to gain all this knowledge quickly and easily. I have been training and teaching full time for just shy of ten years and I still have light years to go before I grasp all the angles that I would like to be able to share. There is a strong argument for focusing on one program at a time. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to truly dedicate your life to an art, for the sake of the art. I have said it before that there are absolutely things you cannot achieve or understand unless you dedicate 30 years to one thing. I commend people that are able to give that long term time and commitment. However, in the case of being a better protector of myself and my family. In the case of being a better instructor for the average person. Am I better being a 9th degree in one single system or grasp a reasonably high understanding of several?

It’s a legitimate question. One to think about.

If I don’t spend the time dedicated to one system, maybe I miss an important piece. If I do spend the time dedicated to one system, maybe I am missing an entire chunk.

There are a lot of great programs that are beginning to focus more on breadth than depth. I love this. This is what we try to do at our facility in Columbus. What you will notice is the facilities that do this well, are not relying on one person to have all the knowledge. Instead, they develop programs that are headed up by a single person. A person that has put in the time and the extra dedication to their craft. A person that cross trains, but maintains a depth of knowledge in that program specifically and raises up the others around them.

So what we have, is that the best programs are realizing that one person can not do everything focusing on just depth, or just breadth. Instead, they must approach it as a team. As each individual grows, they grow together.

It’s very different than the old days of blind dedication to a master.

It’s an interesting thought and an interesting discussion. One that, like many other things, boils down to the individuals goals.

No matter the answer, the proof is never in the diplomas or belts. It will continually lie in the progress of the individual. In the case of an instructor, it will lie in the progress of their students.

My black belts will never save my life. They are simply a strip of cloth hanging on a wall that proves I passed a test at some point and satisfied the grades of one person or program. In the end, the proof comes to your ability today. Are you taking the right steps to better yourself TODAY.

Take a few moments and think this over.

Be good, stay safe, train hard.

-aaron