The 10 Commandments of Instruction – The Self Defense Company

The 10 Commandments of Instruction

The 10 Commandments of Instruction

The 10 Commandments of Instruction

I’ve been a few things in my life, but primarily I’m an instructor and a coach – which are exactly the same thing only “Self Defense Coach” just doesn’t sound right…

Today there are legions of people calling themselves instructors just waiting to tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong, make no mistake – I’m no different. Self defense, martial arts, fitness, cooking – every sport and activity on the planet has its own group of experts just chomping at the bit to unload a metric sh!t ton of information on you. 

Most of them promise to bring you (or your child) to that elite level of excellence only reserved for NFL MVPS and Nobel laureates. But can they REALLY bring you to the next level or is it all just a pipe dream?

An Instructor’s job is to manage expectations and cut your time in training down. 

Not everybody is meant for greatness – some of us are meant for “just good enough” or if you ever saw me try to sing or play an instrument…I was destined to for HORRIBLE.

The instructor’s job is to also make the student’s journey shorter. If I do my job correctly, it should take you less time to learn what I have to teach than the time it took for me to learn it…make sense?

Teaching needs to evolve so you can cut that time in learning down. In the past we used word of mouth and by-rote learning. This is where you go to class, train and try to recall from memory what you just learned.

Next came books, then video. Now we have interactive learning platforms that use all three elements. You want to use whatever tool you can to make the most out your student’s time.

That being said I’ve had the great fortune of being mentored and coached by some amazing people. All of them have their strong points and have shaped the way I teach. My father and my first coach, Phil Ross. My High School Football Coach Chuck Johnson. My College Wrestling Coaches Thad Turner and Tom Hutchinson. My Judo Instructor Yoshisada Yonezuka and my Combatives Instructor Carl Cestari. There have been others along the way, some peers, others I’ve never met, only read. But these gentlemen have had the most impact on who I am and how I teach. 

OK, enough talk, now on to…..

The Ten Commandments of Instruction

1. Thou Shalt Teach from the Heart. 
Everything you do must come from a place of caring. After all, teaching is about sharing and if you’re angry or worse – indifferent, your students will be too. Nothing motivates and builds confidence more than knowing that someone cares about you.

2. Thou Shalt Not Make False Promises of Greatness.
Elite athletes and geniuses are born, not made. We all have different aptitudes, your job is to find out what you’re good at and develop it. Elite athletes actually need little help from you, all they need is some guidance and structure. You can’t coach greatness – only focus it. Elite people are anomalies. As for the rest of us, there comes a point of proficiency that is just good enough.

3. Thou Shalt Not Make Everyone A Champion
When I was a young black belt and just out of college I couldn’t understand why someone didn’t want to be the best. It took a few years to realize, not everyone can or even wants to be the best. People have other priorities…they’re just not your priorities. In fact the vast majority of programs that focus on the elite fighter or player, quickly find themselves empty. Everyone plays a role and even champions need a supporting cast. You’ll find your school, team or club will do a lot better when you focus on the core of the group. 

4. Thou Shall Have a Plan
I have never known ANY coach worth his salt to “wing it” at practice. Every session needs a purpose. That session is a part of a larger group of sessions that are in turn connected to a system. Using the “show up and throw up” approach when you just come to class and teach off the top of your head will result in slow learning due to poor retention. Think of learning as building blocks – each lesson is connected to the previous lesson and that in turn is connected to a purpose. Imagine coming into school where one day you learn geometry and the next…calculus – you would probably fail worse than I actually did.

5. Thou Shalt Not Have Verbal Diarrhea
I tell you right now, you talk too much. Every instructor, myself included, loves to hear ourselves speak. Back in the day I could ramble for 20 minutes straight. Remember, after the first 60 seconds, they’re not listening. For every 3 minutes of talking there should be 9 minutes of working. I have a watch with a timer. It’s set on 3 minutes. When that beeps I shut the F#CK up. In training you need REPS not TALK.

6. Thou Shall Teach the Basics
Any activity on any level comes down to only a handful of basic moves. They’re usually the very first techniques you learn. Over time those techniques evolve, get better, stronger and faster – but they’re still the same techniques. Find which ones work for you and just train them.

7. Thou Shall Keep it Simple and Stupid
Simple is what works – complicated only works on the easy opponents. When I was a kid wrestling I always wanted to learn the next, coolest complicated move…we called them clinic moves. In self defense we call them “seminar moves.” This is because they only work in the seminar. They’re also the one’s people like to practice because they look cool. The internet is filled with “seminar moves”. The absolute majority of what you see will not work in the real world. Simple works, keep it that way. Collect training methods, not techniques. 

8. Thou Shall Not Be the Best in the Room
If you teach long enough, sooner or later someone is going to be better than you. There is a HUGE misconception in martial arts that the instructor is the best guy in the room. I also challenge you to find an instructor who would contradict that statement, after all, we’re all egomaniacs and if someone wants to tell me “I’m a bad ass” I’m not going to stop them.

Unfortunately the reality is simply not the case. Eventually, if you teach enough people, someone is going to be better than you. Literally tens of thousands (hopefully someday millions) of people are training in The Self Defense Training System. I personally know people who are tough as hell using the program. Thinking I’m the toughest guy out of over 10,000 people would be a VERY BOLD statement. Thinking I’m the toughest just because I’m the instructor would be like Bill Belichick thinking he was best football player on the Pats.

9.Thou Shalt Be Humble
You never know who you’re teaching so don’t presume to have more life experiences than the people you teach. I have taught Secret Service Agents, Feds, Former Special Operations Military and a guy named Zoltan who hung sheetrock for a living (no kidding, first day the beast picked me up – right off my feet). Just because someone comes to you to learn what you have to offer, it doesn’t mean that they don’t know anything.

10. Thou Shalt Not Over Correct 
Students can only fix one thing, per session. When you start picking on everything they do they will become self conscious and they will shut down. After one correction you will sound like static to them. Keep your corrections to the BASICS. Let them do a lot of repetitions. The body, once sufficiently tired, will naturally seek the path of least resistance and become more efficient. Remember, they way one person does something is not the same exact way another person does something. Let them figure it out, they always do. 


11. Thou Shall Always End on a High Note
Time with you should be a positive experience and it’s important that your students last memory of class is a good one. Help them to be successful in their last task of the session. Again, the point is not to show them how to fail, but to show them how to succeed.

Until Next Time…

Train Honestly,

Damian Ross

The Self Defense Company

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Published by Damian (Instructor)

Founder, The Self Defense Company

Join the Conversation


  1. You are so right. I once had a combatives instructor who could just ramble forever when it would have been so much more productive to just work.

  2. ssomike We all like to hear ourselves talk –  that’s why, 3 minutes, hard stop and time the STFU.

  3. DamianRoss ssomike  It’s ok to try to be thorough when explaining stuff, but you have to know when to cut it off and apply. BTW, I’ve had the complete SDTS dvd’s for years and I consider it the most complete “system” out there. I’ve been training for 30 years (tae kwon do, wing chun, bjj, close combat, krav maga) and close combat is always the best. Keep up the good work.

  4. ssomike DamianRoss Thanks Mike, that means a lot – let me know when you want to check out the network. 

    You know – we’re all for being thorough, but even the best of us zones out after 3 minutes. Unless I’m exhausted…then that guy can talk all night.

  5. DamianRoss ssomike  What does that mean “check out the network”, what is that and what how does that work (sorry I don’t know but I’m usually busy working my ass off).

  6. ssomike DamianRoss Oh, this thing we’re on (if you look up on the main menu bar you’ll see JOIN. Essentially it’s a training platform for all of out programs. With Live support and a training community. It’s all the modules on demand with all of the manuals and the other SDC programs. Take a look, we have special membership pricing if you purchased the DVDS. If it’s something you’re interested in I can shoot you an email.

  7. DamianRoss ssomike  Yeah, send me an email . Like I said, I’ve had the SDTS dvd’s for a few years and I trained close combat for years before that ( even with some Cestari students). Let me know.

  8. Between your system and TFT. I don’t think there is ANYTHING that even comes close. I have a lot of background including a BB in Kenpo, Boxing Etc. But the ONE HUGE thing you have over TFT is if a question is asked it is answered on the net. That is worth more than anything to me. Keep up the outstanding work. As my Dad always said.” Stand up and fight or live in your knees” Nuff Said.

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