With 20 years in martial arts, I’ve watched a lot of people fail. Not necessarily in the physical or technical sense, but a whole lot in the philosophy and attitude sense.
On a side note, it can often be those who excel in the physical arena that lack the correct attitude to realize their potential, while those who fail to pick up techniques easily possess the true grit to succeed.
Whatever your ability, I’ll hope you’ll enjoy and apply these five tips to avoid failure in the martial arts.
#1 – Self-Respect
Why did you join your martial arts club? Was it a fun way to get fit? Did you want to learn self-defence? Were all the cool kids doing it?
Whatever the reason is, always try to be conscious of what motivates you to be there.
You’ll have a lot of muggles out there who will never understand why you choose to spend your evenings getting hit, thrown, and mauled by other human beings rather than sit on the couch, eating chips, binge-watching Netflix. Many muggles will also try to convert you to the dark side: “It’s so warm underneath this blanket. . . Why don’t you stay in with me?”
Remember, it’s warm under a 250lbs guy in BJJ, too!
And, yes, the dark side has cookies! But just say no!
The seed that inspired you to join your martial arts club is one of self-respect. You’re there to improve yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. Every time you step on the mat, you’re doing something that most of the population is unwilling to do. Don’t let unmotivated people unmotivate you.
Self-respect is the foundation to excel in martial arts.
#2 – When There’s A Correction, Always Assume It’s You.
Often, instructors will stop a class to provide corrections, usually with a few people in mind. Always, ALWAYS, assume it’s you.
When you assume, “I’m not the one making a mistake,” that’s a mistake.
Generally, those who believe they are not the culprit needing correction, their minds tend to drift off, and they pay no attention to the instructor. However, observing and listening to the instructor during these moments are essential for acquiring new information, whether it’s for you or not. If the class’s general populace is not getting things right, the instructor usually will phrase it differently or emphasize elements you may have missed the first round.
Also, everyone, even black belts, has areas on which to improve. When the instructor takes the time to stop the class, try two things:
- Be very mindful of how you are applying the technique and ask yourself, “Am I truly performing this as I was instructed?”
- If you perform the technique in line with the instruction, be very mindful of what the instructor did to make it look so fast, smooth and accurate, and try to implement those elements.
#3 – Be Humble & Have Faith In The System You Practice.
When you join a martial arts club, you’re not just learning a martial arts style; you’re learning a curriculum and system specifically designed by your head instructor.
Just because you have experience in another martial art or the same martial art but in a different club doesn’t mean that you will be successful in the current organization you attend.
Some misguided wrestlers often assume they should be promoted to a blue belt in BJJ faster than other participants just because they have grappling experience. What determines your level at any given school is your ability to pick up the head instructor’s curriculum. If you don’t know the curriculum, you won’t get a belt, no matter your previous experience.
If you don’t trust your instructor to make a fair assessment of your technique, then why are you still there? If you are going to learn from a specific instructor, you have to have faith in what they teach. You’re not going to get very far if you question their motives and reasonings all the time. And, if you do feel inclined to do so, then you’re obviously in the wrong place.
#4 – Patience
There’s just no substitute for time. For many martial arts schools, it can take up to 10 years or even longer to achieve your blackbelt. That’s quite the time commitment. Your success in any martial art is 100% dependent on your willingness to invest time and effort into acquiring the skill.
To be good at martial arts, you have to be willing to drill techniques repeatedly, attend multiple classes per week, get slammed around a whole lot, and then patiently wait for a promotion.
In my dojo, we often tell our students, “If you have to ask to be promoted, then that’s a good sign you’re not ready to be promoted.” Those who are ready to be moved up are given a new rank on the day they are ready. So, if you haven’t received your belt, then you don’t deserve it yet.
#5 – Reciprocity
One of the most important concepts I learned in martial arts is reciprocity. Whether it comes to how people treat you, the standing you have in the dojo and the belts you receive, it is all dependent on the efforts you apply. You always get back what you put in.
When I started teaching in my dojo, it was because I wanted to learn more. I started volunteering my time as a green belt to help out with the lower belt classes. I didn’t get paid any money. I got paid with further instruction from my Sensei. As a volunteer, I was able to take advantage of the extra time spent with my instructors. I could ask them questions before and after the additional classes I attended, not to mention the value that comes with learning to effectively communicate the execution of any given technique.
I was told once to “always give 30% more than what you expect in return,” I try to apply that in all my relationships, whether with friends, family, colleagues, students or teachers. The value you offer will always be obvious, and you are, therefore, indispensable–at least, to those who also understand the concept of reciprocity.
At the heart of all these concepts is respect. Respect for yourself. Respect for your classmates. Respect for your teacher. Sensei Funakoshi once said, “Karate begins and ends with respect.” This phrase, of course, extends across all martial arts. If you’re wondering why you’re not as successful in a martial art, ask if you have demonstrated:
- Respect for yourself and others
- Patience and humbleness
If not, it’s not technique you need to work on. It’s yourself.
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