I have been teaching to some capacity for over 30 years and I would be a millionaire many times over if I had a dollar for every time I have heard this one single question:
What if this? What if that? What if there were two guys? What if he gets you in an arm bar? What if he has a sniper rifle? What if he sneaks up on you? What if he's 400lbs of raw muscle? What if the joint lock doesn't work on him? What if? What if? What if?
In the past I used to answer every single "What If" question. I would show variations and variations of variations. I would debate, explain and attempt to convince someone of every nuance of their question, skepticism or argument.
It took a lot of time... More to the point it took a lot of time away from training. It took a lot of time away from that student's education and being able to work to get THAT technique down well.
"What If" questions can be a distraction to your training!
I have to admit, I used to kind of like it when people would ask me these type of questions. I got the chance to show off a bit, or I felt that I had to try to convince them to agree with me or sell it in some way. At the time I didn't even know that by doing this I wasn't being a very good instructor. As I gained experience, clarity and confidence I changed my approach to these "What If" questions.
I no longer try to "sell" the techniques to people. I rarely debate. I share and explain pro's and con's. I may demo at full speed under more "realistic" circumstances, or I may not. I will listen to what people have to say but typically I will tell the student that they came to learn and they are going to have to first be able to do the technique correctly before they try it with a resisting attacker. After they are able to do that, then they will have a better idea whether or not their "What If" question needs to be asked, not to mention they probably have a much better chance of learning something from the answer.
I often say, "Don't believe me, go try it yourself." What I mean is practice it, get good at what we are working on and then go try it yourself. You have to "own" it so to speak. You have to develop confidence in what you are doing. In order for something to work, especially under stress, the better you know it and the more confidence you have in it (not to be confused w/over confidence), the better your chances it will be of use to you. We are all responsible for our own training!
I want to clarify that questions can be good. I like it when people are comfortable enough to ask questions that help them understand something better. However sometimes questions regardless of how innocent, are not an attempt to understand something better. Unknowingly some questions are a wolf in sheep's clothing; they are distracting the student (and in this case the instructor as well) from learning.
Now when someone asks a "What If" question that is outside of asking how to better perform what we are working on, I will ask... "First, can you do what I asked?" If they cannot competently perform what we were originally working on, then I don't let them ask their "What If" question.
Why, you wonder?
My answer is this: Some people are used to distracting themselves from concentrating on getting the One Thing We're Working On Correct. If they cannot competently perform what we are working on, they don't need to be distracted by other things that would divert their attention from getting good at that.
Maybe, but it's better training, better learning which hopefully leads to the student being a better protector under the pressures of life.
Our attention span and level of patience seem to be getting shorter and shorter and often times we don't realize it. That coupled with the fear based "what if" questions become a detriment to one's own learning.
So remember questions can be good, but only if they are not distracting you from learning what you are working on. There is more than one way to skin a cat so-to-speak, but you can only work on one thing at a time.
Simple, not easy!
All the best,