It’s not always possible, but when your focus is on teaching students, as opposed to teaching material, it’s kind of imperative to know who the students are.
Rookie officers, for instance, need a solid base. Sometimes that even involves detailed explanation of the problem, e.g. the different kind of force incidents, force policy and basic priority setting and effective motion. Experienced officers, on the other hand, may need a refresher on policy and most could use some practice at articulation, but the physical part has to center around taking what they are going to do (you will not, in eight hours, entirely replace something that has worked well for twelve years of a career) and making it better.
People with a duty to act have entirely different needs than people who have a preclusion requirement in their self defense law. Someone who has trained for a decade in a hard contact style will have different holes and advantages than someone who has only trained in air. Men are rarely exposed to the types of violence women are. Someone who expects to be traveling on the Mexican side of the border or working in Pakistan or taking pictures in Somalia has very, very different needs than someone doing the same job in St. Paul.
Some general categories of information for developing a student profile:
Ranging ability (People who practice mixed-weapon sparring, for instance have skills at ranging that people who work at one range won’t be able to see)
Know the rules for stopping action (tapping, safety words)
Too arrogant to surrender?
Previous traumatic experiences
Relevant psychological issues
Relevant medical/medication issues
Largely strength, skill, endurance and pain tolerance. Mostly how physical they want; how physical they can handle; and how physical they need. Those are three separate things.
Training experience– because that will drive expectations, blindspots and habits. A lot of SD training with experienced martial artists is showing the disconnects between what they have learned about opponents and what they need to learn about criminals.
Life experience– This is huge. Someone who has been victimized in the past will have different needs and triggers than someone who has never experienced serious trauma and very different reactions than someone who deals with violence professionally. One of the instructor’s roles is to turn all experience into an advantage. Because it is, but not always in the same way.
There is a third aspect that can come from either training or experience. Call it ‘heart’ or whatever. But sometimes, especially in long-term training you have to (forgive the melodrama) forge spirit. Toughen them up and get them used to decisiveness. And there are other groups where this problem (which can be difficult and is usually time-consuming) is handed to you.
Possibly the most important: Understand why the student is there. And this can be huge, because frequently what the student wants, what the student thinks he or she wants and what they need are three very different things.
To be safer or to feel safer?
To polish or improve a skill?
Inspiration (a lot of experienced people start looking for new things when they hit a plateau. It’s a good tactic.)
To learn a skill? Or understand where a skill they already have fits? Or find the pressure point where skills break down?
To stress themselves?
To test themselves?
Because all of their friends are doing it?
And so on. There are a lot of potential reasons and many of them are subconscious. The people who show up to SD classes but don’t want to sweat usually want to feel safer, not be safer. And the ones who squirm and go into denial when they get some hard truths want an amulet, a magic cross to keep the vampires away. Some try to find arguments… they are the ones who wanted a previous world-view confirmed, not get new knowledge.
The goal is to get the maximum relevant information safely into the student.