The Certification Conundrum

Wikipedia defines a certification in the following paragraph: “Professional certification, trade certification, or professional designation, often called simply certification or qualification, is a designation earned by a person to assure qualification to perform a job or task. Not all certifications that use post-nominal letters are an acknowledgement of educational achievement, or an agency appointed to safeguard the public interest.”

Our society is inundated with opportunities for anyone to obtain training in just about anything imaginable. We are hyper-focused as a culture on training, certifications, degrees and diplomas of all kinds. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to write a blog trashing education, or valid certifications. But within the concept of aikiology and all things budo, there are some points which need to be made.

Certifications aren’t always the final authority on someone’s qualifications to perform a given task. Just because someone has a certification to teach high school, for example, does not mean that he/she necessarily possesses the intuitive characteristics of a successful teacher. Or, just because someone has a degree in exercise physiology or a certification as a strength and conditioning coach doesn’t necessarily say anything about their experience and background that makes them qualified beyond the certifying body’s standards.

I don’t know everything, but I know what I know. I’ve completed ridiculous amounts of professional training over the past fifteen years, from impromptu workshops to training from a highly recognized agency’s training program. I’ve trained people and have been trained. I’ve earned certifications online and attended highly physical training in various climates. I’ve earned a B.A., an M.A. with a graduate certificate, and am working on an M.S. I’ve been trained to be a trainer in several subject areas. So, I have a certain perspective about training. It’s my experience though which has given me the biggest insight: most training isn’t worth a dam compared to actual experience.

Realizing these issues alone doesn’t do much good. Virtually all of us have been in some form of training at some point in our lives that is incredibly boring, fails our expectations, and is a close second to being water boarded. In some of these sessions, they’re required training so there’s not much we can do about that. What we can do something about, however, is the training we chose.

So when we have a choice about who our trainer will be, what should we look for? Where is the balance of education and experience, and are those the only two important factors in choosing a quality program, course, trainer, coach, Sensei or instructor? No single characteristic of a teacher or trainer defines the whole person, but here are a few areas to consider when trying to find your next yoga instructor, Ju-Jitsu teacher, professional training seminar or course, firearms instructor or personal trainer.

Nothing trumps experience. There is a strong intangible element to a person’s experience that cannot be replaced. I’ve been exposed to a lot of teachers and instructors both personally and professionally, and I’ve nearly always appreciated the experienced professional over the educated, but lacking professional. This is not to say that education is worthless, but anecdotally there is a growing perception in America that education is everything. This is not true. However, if I had to pick one characteristic for a trainer or teacher, it would be experience. I’d rather have the man who has traveled the 1,000 mile path leading me, than the engineer who drew the map from 1,000 miles away.

Education is undoubtedly an asset, and is particularly powerful when paired with experience. Many of the successful people I’ve known in industry have spent years or decades in their field without the education needed to advance into upper levels, yet ultimately have pursued education and are doing exceptionally well as a result. And admittedly, there are certain fields where formal education is a requirement, and not just a bonus.

Desire and passion are two characteristics that bring home the trifecta for a well-rounded and exceptional instructor or teacher. By itself, desire or passion is simply a dream of what someone wants to be. But when it’s merged with experience and education it becomes the missing link to an instructor’s success. Look for the desire in your next trainer, teacher or instructor.

Hopefully this information makes you think a little and helps you with making a decision for your next instructor, program or seminar. And if you are in a position to teach and train others, hopefully you’ve been given some food for thought about where you are professionally, where you want to be, and what you might have to do to be a trainer of any sort that people will want to encounter.


About Nathaniel Ryan

Nathaniel has been a martial artist since 1983. He has matched his training experience in real-world environments since 1997. Nathaniel is on the constant pursuit of refining technique and tactics for real world environments.
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2 Responses to The Certification Conundrum

  1. Excellent post! I find that communication style is also something to look for. Maybe not as important as experience (inside or outside the Ivory Tower), but I think it’s important when looking for an instructor of any kind, that they have a method of communication that speaks to you. Some of the most experienced people that I know lack the ability to put their wealth of knowledge into a format, through word or action, that makes it easy to disseminate.

    • aikiology says:

      Benjamin, great point. I would agree that if you are looking for training, and are able to determine a person’s communication style beforehand, I would be beneficial. Thanks for the comment!

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