The Difference between an “Expert” and having Expertise – Marc MacYoung

There’s a difference between an ‘expert’ and expertise. One is knowing, the other is about being able to do. (A lot of people are experts about teaching about a subject, but aren’t actually doing what they’re teaching about).


How many self-defense experts have never used their skills? Nor are they in a field where they are likely to have to go hands on?

For example I recently came across a lot of internet praise (read marketing) for a self-defense instructor’s decision to call the cops instead of engaging.

Excuse me, but WTF?

That could be Wednesday night for anyone in the city. And to anybody NOT a self-defense expert or aficionado the obvious choice of action. As such, why is it praiseworthy?

Having said that I will add. It was a good call given the circumstances to achieve a long term goal. Far better in fact than him killing someone over what was in effect a civil matter. Allowing for those we still have to ask ‘why is it praiseworthy — especially for an instructor?”

Aren’t you supposed to be teaching threat assessment, scaling force and mostly knowing — that you WILL be held accountable for your use of force decisions — knowing when NOT to use lethal force?
I mean — if you’re supposedly teaching self-defense — isn’t THAT what you’re supposed to be teaching?” Except for confirmation that this approach can work to resolve an issue, is the incident even worth mentioning?

What I’m saying is that application in the field is about impressive as someone calculating ‘the tip’ correctly. (10% plus half of that). A tip is pretty simple math. Calling the cops when you have the time and option is the same for self-defense.

But apparently not when you’re ‘an expert.’ Someone who is a renowned instructor ‘calculating the tip’ is promoted as praise for his expertise in the field.

Ummm no. It’s proof of how disconnected the field of teaching ‘self-defense’ has become from the real world, application and consequences. When the status of expert is promoted as having the same common sense your mother would have in a situation the field has floated too far from the reality it is supposed to prepare you to function in.


Pay attention to what a guy — who’s been through the shit — emphasizes first. As such issues seem incredibly small, insignificant or a ‘I know how to do that’ type topic, you’ll often have a reaction of ‘why’s that important?’ The answer is “That’s what kept him alive when bullets were in the air.” Odds are he’s seen people die because they overlooked those details. This, in contrast with someone who is coming from an academic or training only background. Their emphasis tends to be on the obvious — and by extension something that will get you killed if you exclusively focus on it instead of details that support it or can undermine it.

The educated may come up with the best plans. But it is the experienced who can look at them and tell you why they won’t work. Where things will go wrong and what adjustments have to be made. And perhaps more important what steps have to be put into place so the process can’t be hijacked and twisted.

Something that has been coming onto my radar over recent years is this.

I know some pretty amazing people. People who have in many ways pioneered fields. For this example we’ll use violence as the topic. If you bring a bunch of us together put chairs around a fire pit and whisky in our hands, you get some amazing conversations. Conversations that often include insights and ideas on the subject beyond which most people haven’t even imagined, much less figured out what questions they should be asking.

One of the commonalities of these people is that they are experienced. Some of them are educated, but it is experience and the ability to communicate well that brings them to the fire pit. (If you look at the photo at the top of the page you’re looking at easily over 150 years combined experience.) What is interesting is while there very much is a commonality, each brings a different emphasis, terminology, focus, applications and methodology to the subject. While those who have survived decades of violence do have attributes in common, the differences are just as evident.

An analogy could be made that there are only 12 notes and octaves, yet despite this you have a wide variety of musical types. Within each type you have many songs and playing styles. Yet it is all music.

What I have been noticing recently is that the people I encounter coming out of academia claim to be experts, but they’ve become a chorus. It’s not just they’re mouthing the same words, but they are all singing the same song. The timing, pitch and emphasis are all the same. They know the answers and they have no doubt they are right.

Meanwhile, those of us who have buried friends and had things go wrong are far less sure about ourselves. What’s more is that many of the words of this new song are being presented as ‘proven knowledge’ (hence unquestionable). This certainty flies directly in the face of past experience — and in fact, often discounts any other sources than academic or studies.

These are the new ‘experts’ and I have real serious questions about the real life application of what they ‘know’ and their certainty.

Now for the record Sam Walker has tried to explain to me what it is that he does. I can tell you it has something to do with STEM, but past that, as near as I can tell it’s he’s the guy who knows where to hit with the hammer (it’s a joke about 50 cents for hammer hit, $9,999.50 for knowing where to hit.) I’m okay with my stupid because I really am not that technologically competent. I’m also okay with Sam’s expertise because if he gets it wrong, the factory doesn’t work.

However, when someone starts telling me about a subject that I DO know more than a little about that’s something different — especially when it comes to people. Am I being too fussy or when someone starts talking about uber-behaviors of people (stuff that supposedly everyone does) shouldn’t it be recognizable in just a few quick sentences? I mean I can get people on the same page PDQ when I’m talking about love, hate and greed. But now I’m hearing songs about supposedly universal human behavior that takes a four year degree before you can understand how ‘right it is.’

Is that education or brainwashing? Cause inquiring minds want to know

Now personally I really want to know because these ‘experts’ are very much influencing policies.

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