On Training, Teaching, and Mass Effect (with Coach Elizabeth Grimm)
Continuing our interviews with the DFW Combat Co coaching staff, I sat down with Coach Elizabeth recently to talk about teaching philosophy, some of the challenges she's overcome, and advice for students in general. Here's what we talked about:
DH - How long have you been training? Where did you get started?
EG - I've been training since, would have been early 2017, so what, we're in 2023 so… wow, 6 years now.
I did some martial arts as a kid, nothing like really formal, but for the most part, everything has been here at this gym.
DH - What made you decide to come in and train with us?
EG - I moved back to Dallas at the same time as a lot of my other friends, and we were all just looking for something to get into.
I probably was watching a show that had some fighting or something in it, and I was like, “that looks really cool, let's do martial arts!”
So, a couple of Google searches, we saw Krav Maga, we were like, “that looks pretty sick.”
And so, we all came, we all signed up, I'm the only one here. So, obviously, I kind of got upset about that.
DH - Why do you think that you stayed, but your friends decided not to? What kept you around?
EG - I mean, I've probably always been a little bit more of a… “aggressive” sounds like really intimidating, but I've always had that little bit of like…
DH - Determined, maybe?
EG - Sure, determined.
And honestly I never really thought about it, but talking to my friends later on, they're like “yeah, you've always been the athletic one in the friend group,” so probably that was a bit of a component too, even though I don't consider myself athletic.
DH - Oh, I disagree. I think you are! What are you working on now? You've achieved your black belt, you're a Krav Maga Force instructor, you've done fights for the gym… do you have a goal you're working on right now?
EG - So, it's the “off year” technically, right? So, I mean… I'm sure I'll do something because next year, after we get Meg her black belt in August then I'll be start training for second degree, or at least theoretically, that's how the plan is going to go.
…Probably continue doing jiu-jitsu, I'd like to have a purple belt before I go for second degree...
And then beyond that, fight team's been really active, so…
DH - They really have
EG - Helping out with that, maybe pick up a fight… I'm not promising anything though!
DH - How has that been, coaching the fight team too? You're really busy as a Krav Maga instructor, you're coaching the kids' classes as well, you're coaching Muay Thai classes, but you're also really involved with the fight team: cornering, coaching, doing extra workouts… so how is that?
EG - It's been really cool, just because it's a different experience, right? It's been fun to watch our Muay Thai program go from its very beginning, back when it was just “combatives”, to when it was formalized as Muay Thai… now actually having active fighters that are on amateur cards… that's not somewhere that we've been before so it's really rewarding to be there and see it.
I'll be honest, there's definitely imposter syndrome. Because it's uncharted territory for me I don't have experience to fall back on, but George has been really good about, you know, kind of navigating that space with me, because he does have that experience.
DH - Where else do you derive satisfaction as a coach? Like what's the win for you look like?
EG - Just on a really small scale, when I'm in class and I'm seeing like something not getting through to a student… I can see there's a problem… or not a problem? But I see what the issue is, but I have a hard time communicating that… If you can't tell, I'm not a very verbal person.
So, when you finally figure out how to communicate it, show it, make them do it, and you see that change in that moment, that's satisfying to me.
DH - I know what you mean, but also I think first of all, give yourself some credit. I mean, if you're saying, you don't consider yourself to be a very good communicator in that regard, the fact that you're able to adapt your message to other students and get the desired results out of them… I think that speaks to your communication abilities. So what have you done to work on that over time? If you say you didn't really start as a good communicator but now you're effective at it. What would you say you've done to help that process?
EG - A lot of it is just repetition. That's everything, right? It’s developing your eye as a coach to properly diagnose what is going on and then what needs to be tweaked to improve.
You know, there's all the different types of learners. I'm definitely a kinesthetic learner. So for me, it's internalizing the problem and going “okay, if this is what I was doing, what would that feel like for me?” And then what would I need to change? And then I kind of backtrack from there.
DH - So it almost sounds like you're saying empathy as a coach is a really valuable thing to have?
EG - For sure, definitely.
You need to be able to put yourself in the student shoes, so to speak.
…Even though we don't really wear shoes.
DH - That means you're in a special position to be able to appreciate managing a student's emotions, right? Especially because you're on the fight team? You probably talk to a lot of students when they're frustrated or when they're emotional, either in a drill or in class. So what advice do you usually find yourself giving to students when they're frustrated that they're not making progress?
EG – Usually I'll tell them, like… it's okay! Everything that they're feeling is completely valid, right?
And then you have the students who are fighters - they're usually high performing people. So they're naturally going to be pessimistic when things are going wrong. They're only seeing what's wrong.
It's important to try to reframe it in that moment for them like “hey, this is an issue. You're doing this well. Let's focus on that, right?”
So it's either diverting them to what they're doing well or letting them know - “yeah, it's frustrating right now. All you need is reps. You'll get through it.”
At the end of the day the most common feedback I give people, especially if we're talking about a fight drill or a stress drill in classes is: it's what, two minutes of your time? You've probably had worse!
I think focusing on the positive is important too, right? Celebrating those even small wins. Because if you're down on yourself all the time you're not going to improve. You're not going to be as receptive to learning.
It's about maintaining a positive attitude throughout training.
DH - Having trained for all these years yourself I imagine you've had some pretty significant obstacles like that to get over. So what's a win of your own that you'd want to celebrate? Like, what's something major that you've had to overcome?
DH – Honestly I would say just being, like, a small female or relatively small… I'm petite by definition.
EG – I don't think people naturally understand it is so much more difficult just because I don't have the size advantage; I don't have the strength advantage.
A lot of times, I don't have the speed advantage, even. I have to rely on efficiency.
DH - I definitely feel that. That's something I see as a coach all the time. I agree, things are much harder for somebody who is smaller or physically more disadvantaged.
EG – So this is one of the reasons I wanted to do this, right? To help people understand that they can still, you know… get value out of this, even though they're up against stronger people.
DH – How would you structure a class then, as a coach? We want to try and get everybody learning - how can you help those people work on their technique while also giving something to the larger people?
EG – I think a lot of it is, like, those finer details, right? A lot of times in classes, like, depending on what we're teaching, there's usually something that I do that I have to do just because, like I said, I don't have a strength advantage.
If we go back to, like… a weapons technique, let's say gun from the front - locking out your arm: bigger people can probably get away with just a soft bend in your elbows.
I can't though, right? If I have that bend in my elbows, like, it's going to turn into a muscle versus muscle fight and it's not going to work.
It's making sure that those people that are smaller hear those details, but making sure the bigger people also listen because, you know… good technique is good technique, right?
DH - It sounds like being smaller and really having to focus on doing perfect technique has actually in some ways accelerated your progress, not just as a student but also as a coach. Would you say that's fair?
Yeah, for sure.
DH - So then what advice would you give to larger training partners in your class so that they're still getting something out of it, but they're also taking care of their partners?
EG – A lot of it is just being aware of when you are relying on muscle.
A lot of the time you see, like, guys built like a tank, right?
They have a lot of muscle and I don't think there's ever been a time in their life that they haven't been relying on those muscles.
So it's bringing their awareness to when they are just muscling through something.
Being built that way means they can eventually help the smaller students because you have to learn how to overcome that, but I think it's always got to be a give and take between partners.
DH - So I think some of this would also apply to women of all sizes as well. Can you speak specifically to some of the challenges you see in training being a woman?
EG –There are two extremes generally when you're dealing with people, right?
It's either people go super, super light and gentle with you and that doesn't give you realistic resistance.
It definitely develops, like, a safe environment but at the end of the day we need to make it realistic. There needs to be some kind of resistance.
DH - And then the flip side of it is when you have people that go to the other extreme, right?
EG –Like, it's definitely happened to me where I’ve been tossed across the mat.
It goes back to the big guy, right? They don't usually mean to do it, but sometimes it is and that's a different conversation you have to have.
But it's really about finding that medium.
DH – Is there a sort of an ideal class environment that you would set up? What's the utopian gym dynamic to you?
Utopian gym dynamic? …I'm going to copyright that.
EG – So, if we're talking just generalized, best class kind of deal?
One: it's going to be having people understand that you're all there to get reps.
At the end of the day I can tell you how to do something ten different ways, but you're not going to get it until you feel it.
No matter what kind of learner you are, I believe that reps are what you need for it to click for you personally.
If you're spending your class talking or correcting people, that's precious time that you're wasting, not just for your partner but also for you, because the longer you talk, the less reps you get, right?
DH – “Shut up and work?”
EG –Yeah. Just do the work.
Ideally in class it should just be about the work.
Everybody's getting training at a level that's appropriate for them.
And listen to the coach, what's important.
Leave your ego at the door too.
DH - Perfect. Perfectly said.
What's your weekly schedule look like? I mean I know it fluctuates but, like, what kind of time are you spending at the gym?
EG – So there’s the classes I teach, which are probably right around eight to ten depending on subbing out for people or not. We've got privates on top of that.
And then on top of that - I know the way I become a better coach and the way I can show up better is if I train, right?
So usually I'll be at the gym training, at a minimum, one to two hours every day we're open?
Usually it's more than that. I'm at the gym twice a day, most days, three times a day, depending on what my schedule is.
So, a lot.
DH - And obviously more when you're in fight camp, too. It's not an easy life, is it?
EG – No, it's not.
DH - Yeah. But would you say it's still rewarding?
EG – It is. I mean, you have to focus on the small wins, back to where we were at the beginning of the conversation.
Like, it's easy to get lost when you're in that kind of day-in, day-out rut of only focusing on the bad things.
So it's knowing, like, hey, like, this week compared to last week even, like, we didn't go flat on our feet
DH - I think also as a coach, too, I see people at your level now who have been training for a long time, your wins get smaller and smaller. That's one of the things that's really frustrating about training at the level you're training at: it's also harder to see those wins.
On the rare occasions you do get free time, what do you like to do?
EG – I spend time with my friends at the gym!
This is my free time.
But usually, I mean, honestly, it's going to be boring. It's just going to be being at home, my husband, my cat, watching TV, playing a game.
DH - What do you like to play?
EG –Usually, like, RPGs, honestly.
DH - Do you have a favorite?
EG – All-time favorite?
DH - All-time favorite game. Or even top three?
EG – Okay. All-time favorite game series, Mass Effect.
DH - Love it.
EG – And we'll count that as one even though it's three.
I don't really count Andromeda.
DH - You and I both recently played Last of Us.
EG – Oh, yeah. I'm going to play it again, too. It was amazing.
I haven't played the second one, so if you have, don't tell me how it is.
DH - I need to, too. I just need to get through all my other games.
EG – I don't know if it goes quite up in the top three. It was a very good game.
You just have to get past the tutorial, people!
Don't give up when you're sneaking around, people. Also, BRICK IS LIFE.
…I mean, the Assassin's Creed series has a special place in my heart because that's where I got into gaming. That's probably where I got into martial arts, too.
DH - I was just going to say that.
EG – And then, third one…
DH - I think that is three.
EG – Yeah, we did Mass Effect.
I gave Last of Us a good shout out.
DH - We'll put it up there. That's fine.
DH - So, I think everyone during these talks has consistently said video games. I mean, video games are just popular and we're also kind of a younger generation. We grew up with them, but do you think there's any particular reason why martial arts or martial arts coaches would gravitate towards video games?
EG – I mean, it's probably the fight scenes.
Like, you see them doing all these really cool athletic things and you're like, I want to do that.
And now they're getting motion capture with real martial artists.
DH – oh yeah, I actually know a couple guys that do that.
Is there anything else you want people to know, particularly students?
EG – I mean…
if you feel like you're in a rut… we all have it, right?
You're going to hit that point in training where it feels like nothing is breaking.
I've been doing this a really long time.
I've hit that rut so many times.
You honestly have to push through.
Like, take your break that you need, for sure.
If it's burnout, definitely take your time away.
But at the end of the day, the only way you get through that is by continuing to train.
To just show up and be a good partner.
Try to set a goal if you can.