5 Tips To Avoid Failure In Martial Arts

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. 

YES! 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: 

  1. Be very mindful of how you are applying the technique and ask yourself, “Am I truly performing this as I was instructed?” 
  2. 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. 

Conclusion

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
  • Reciprocity

If not, it’s not technique you need to work on. It’s yourself. 

Message from The Martial Arts Muse:

Hi there! I hope you enjoyed my most recent blog, 5 Tips To Avoid Failure In Martial Arts ! To show my appreciate for checking out my blog, you can get 10% off at Diamond MMA with the code JENN10. Click here to check out Diamond MMA’s website and products!

Thanks again for reading! Happy Trails!

Jennifer Thompson

Enjoyed this blog? Check out Are You Practicing Bullsh!t Bunkai?

Bunkai, Karate, Oyo, Kata Applications
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Friction in the Dojo: How It Can Move You Forward

Friction. . .

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It can be the thing that helps drive you forward. . .

It can be the thing that slows you down. . .

As yellow belts, my friend Tracy and I had a silent competition against each other.

Our Sensei told us that the only person we should compete against was ourselves.

“Os! Sensei!”

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In lip service, like so many still do, we professed to one another and our instructors that this was always our goal, to simply be better than we were the day before.

A selfish attempt to be more idyllic than the other.

When we stood next to each other in line, our eyes would always glance to the other.

Watching, sensing, checking. . .

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“Is her horse stance lower than mine?”

“Did she do more push-ups than I?”

“Did the Sensei compliment her and not me?”

As these thoughts and insecurities arose in me, I later learned that she thought the same.

It was the unspoken friction that propelled us forward.

For everything she did well, I was committed to doing it. . .

better,

faster,

stronger,

than her.

And with that, Tracy would double her efforts in return.

In the presence of one another, our efforts were exponentiated. Our skill improved through the silent desire to be the best in the dojo, better than the other.

But. . .

One day, Tracy stopped attending classes. So, I was left  alone to to find another “Frienemy” to silently compete with.

As the years passed, there would be others. . .

Watching, sensing, checking. . .

Better, stronger, faster. . .

Wash, rinse, repeat. . .

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But, they would all eventually leave as well.

By the time I achieved my Shodan, there was no one left to compete with.

The Senpai above me were so far ahead, there was no competition there.

And, my students were not close enough yet to truly challenge me (although, I look forward to that day).

Without this traction, I could feel myself slowing down.

For the first time in my life, I had no one to compete with but myself.

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Where I once targeted my critical eye on those around me, I was now forced to point it at the one person I could neither defeat nor be defeated by: myself.

It was in that moment I understood what my Sensei was getting at when he said, “You should only compete with yourself.”

There is, of course, value in silently competing with those around you, as a type momentary motivation to challenge your physicality and fitness.

But, in the long run, you should define your success on your own terms. Each individual in the dojo has their own unique objectives. Sometimes people pursue martial arts for fitness, others for camaraderie, or just because they find it fascinating.

Would you want to compete against someone who is purely interested in the history of karate when your interest is biomechanics?

Of course not.

In this sense, it’s not so much about competing, but defining your unique objectives. Give yourself the recognition that you deserve. Observe the distance you’ve gone to achieve your goals. Have enough self-awareness to ask “Can I do better?” and to answer “I will do better”.

Now, when I step in line and look in the mirror, I sometimes see the gawky, awkward, teenage, yellow belt I once was and I wonder. . .

“Is her stance lower than mine?”

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The Road Less Travelled Is Not Always A Road

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain. . .”

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One night, I had a dream that I slid down a mountain and I was about to fall into the ocean. Before I hit the water, I caught onto something and started to climb back up. At this point, there were other people around me—most of which were people I loved and respected—and they were climbing faster than me and with bigger loads on their back; some were even carrying other people as they climbed upwards.  I was constantly losing my footing and slipping; I was afraid to fall, anxious to get to the top and frustrated that everyone else was doing better than me.

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Then, I noticed a river flowing down the mountain beside me and a long time friend said to me, “Let’s swim up, it’s easier that way.” He jumped into the river and swam up, reaching the top before anyone else.

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I was afraid to follow because the current flowed downwards, but because I trusted him so much, I jumped in anyway and began to swim. I wasn’t sure in what style to swim in, because my friend reached the top with front stroke, I tried his way, but I went further down. So I started swimming doggie paddle; still didn’t work. Then, I went with breast stroke and found that I reached the top before everyone else.

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Although unorthodox, I realized that by jumping into the river, I didn’t have to be afraid of falling anymore, because one cannot fall while in water. And even though I had to fight the current in the river, it was easier to flow upwards than if I had followed the methods of the people around me and I need not compete with them, because it is only through my own technique that I may reach the top of the mountain.

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“. . .But there is only one moon to be seen for those who achieve its summit.”- Chinese Proverb

9 Stupid Reasons to Be In the Dojo. . .And, The 1 Good Reason YOU SHOULD!

Have you ever met someone in your dojo who just doesn’t get it!?

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The student (and sometimes teacher) who will do martial arts for every reason under the sun, except for the reason they should!

The reason that will give them the best results. . .

The reason that will give them the greatest satisfaction. . .

So here are some of the ignorant, the creepy and at times downright stupid “reasons” to train I’ve seen over the years from students and teacher alike, and the simple answer I have for all of them.

1) When your Mom drops you off and you don’t want to be there. . .

JUST TRAIN!

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2) When you’re trying to escape your personal problems. . .

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3) When you want a way to flirt with the girls in the dojo behind your wife’s back. . .

That’s creepy! Stop it! JUST TRAIN!

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4) When you want to believe training will make you a Jedi. . .

Do or Do not. . . JUST TRAIN!

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5) When you  fake an injury just to get attention. . .

JUST TRAIN!

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6) When you have a crush on the Sensei. . .

Ugh. . .Grow up! JUST TRAIN!

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7) When you want to be the next Karate Kid. . .

Wax on. Wax off. JUST TRAIN!

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8) When you’re looking for a father figure. . .

Get therapy! JUST TRAIN!

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Well, maybe not therapy from him. . . 

9) When you want your next belt. . .

JUST TRAIN!

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10) When you want to be a respected martial artist. . .

That seems legitimate. . .JUST TRAIN!

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“JUST TRAIN!” It’s Chuck Norris APPROVED!

When you enter the dojo, there’s only one reason and one reason only to be in that room.

So, Shut up!

JUST TRAIN!

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You Invested In The Wrong One. . .

You know the one. . .

A Student

A student who showed so much promise. . .

With the ability to pick up movements with ease and grace,

An ability to strike and kick as if it was second nature, leaving you with the feeling you have found a prodigy.

You know the one. . .

A Teacher

A teacher who showed so much promise. . .

With skill and knowledge so far beyond your own.

A paradoxical ability to challenge and encourage you, leaving you with the feeling you’d be lost without them.

But then. . .

Something happens. . .

The masquerade ends. . .

And, something dark deep down seeps out from beyond their mask.

They are not what we hoped them to be. They never were.

You know the one. . .

A Student

A student who speaks wrongly behind your back

With the natural ability to lie and deceive;

A prodigy with the cloak and dagger.

You know the one. . .

A Teacher

A teacher who lacks moral stamina.

The ability to choose vice over virtue.

They submit to nothing, except their own temptations.

But perhaps the mask they once wore was not one of their choosing

It is a mask we projected.

We were so desperate to grasp at the hybrid of elegance and ugliness that we put what we desired most in the forefront only to watch it dissolve away, leaving you with this empty feeling. . .

You invested in the wrong one.

Post Script:

No matter the reason—whether it was simply a talented student who went off to university, a teacher who started teaching “chi- balls,” or something far more insidious—being disappointed by someone in whom you’ve made the careful decision to invest your time, energy and, dare I say, love is never easy. But, as the Buddha says, “all things are impermanent” and as that emptiness passes, you’ll find that in its place friendships with more dedicated students and respectable teachers will blossom far greater than the void that was left. Those are the people worth investing in.  

Martial Art Talks: Renshi Paul Lopresti

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer.

This week on the MAT, I speak with Shotokan 5th dan and Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu 5th dan, Renshi Paul Lopresti. Renshi Paul has over 40 years of experience, first starting in Karate with his father at 7 years old!

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Today he shares his experiences training MMA fighters and what he will be teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku. Feel free to watch our interview or read below.

JT: What is it about KU and Sensei McCarthy’s method that made you want to stick with it?

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PL: The fact that it was eclectic. It had everything that I didn’t have in my training as a Shotokan stylist. We were good at kicking, punching, kata and kumite, but I hadn’t done a joint manipulation, strangle, any ground work or throwing; those parts of my game were missing.

And, I guess in the late 90’s, UFC had started to become very popular and I knew that the parts of my game that were missing were either going to get me hurt or get me killed if I had to use it in real life.

Overall, I felt that KU was a complete system and I needed to go in a direction that was going to give me those missing elements.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

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PL: As you may or may not know, adult learners are generally classified three ways: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. I find that I have a direct hands-on approach and I use all three of those methodologies when I teach in a regular class or seminars.

JT: What is the process you go through when teaching or assessing your students?

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PL: I roll with every one of my students every week. I get physical with them because I want to feel their progress, so I know where their weaknesses are. I’ll identify those whether it be in class or the next class where I’ll do something like guard passing or something I know a bunch of students are struggling with.

I also have a two-hour open forum. The first hour we basically work on technique, usually directly from or something that relates to our curriculum. The second hour is an open roll for about 45 minutes or so. Then at the end of class, I take open questions from anyone on our curriculum material or on anything they encountered while rolling that they had trouble or difficulty with. Then lastly we finish up with some conditioning. That’s a typical class, step-by-step, how I run it.

And, just like anything else, there’s no magical pixie dust that I can sprinkle on somebody, it’s just hours on the mat.

JT: Your club participates in cage fighting, how is the preparation different from BJJ or Karate tournaments?

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PL: If you look at wrestling, wrestlers are put under intense cardiovascular and strength training, dietary restrictions and then they’re wrestling. Cage fighting encompasses the same thing.

Generally, we’ll have a eight to ten week camp before a cage fight. I don’t like the cut a lot of weight for amateurs only because dehydration sets in, it’s not good for their body long term, and they lose a lot of muscle mass. I don’t really like weight cuts. I determine their weight before we start a camp, generally within five pounds up or down. Then, we’ll start a camp with a lot of cardio and strength training. I have a minimum requirement for cardiovascular stamina and speed; if my fighters can’t perform to that level, I do not let them fight for me. Their strength training has to be done outside of the dojo. They have to put in their cardio and their weight training. I’m not standing over them with their weights and cardio. However, I will work on their striking, grappling and transitional game, whether its throws, takedowns or whatever.

Generally, we work for their strengths. If they’re good at striking we work mostly their striking. If they’re good at grappling were going to work their grappling and takedowns and try to close the distance.

At the end of our eight weeks, depending on when the fight is, we have the weight, the strength, the cardio, the grappling and the striking; it all comes together.

We’ve been very successful in the amateur scene and we’ll have a few pros soon and keep going.

JT: What is your greatest strength as an instructor?

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PL: My experience. I’ve had a long career and had the opportunity to train with some of Shoto Kan’s greatest instructors in the US and beyond.

Obviously now, I’m with an international group of like-minded people and obviously Sensei McCarthy is world renowned as an author, competitor, instructor, as an instructor’s instructor, and as a practitioner!

JT: How do you acquire new knowledge?

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PL: I classify myself as a visual learner. If I can see and I can question, then I can learn. I don’t have to do it because the visual pathway for me is conceptual. If I can see what’s going on, if I can see the pathway, then once I see, I understand.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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PL: I’ve been asked to run over a set of drills I’ve shown a few times in Canada. We’re going to look at those as an addition to our core curriculum. We’re looking at the ne-waza material.

I also plan to marry the lessons of the other instructors and my own. I intend to modify or amplify what has already been taught for students who need to work more on a certain principle or process.

JT: How does it feel to go from a attendee to an instructor at the Gasshuku?

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PL: First of all, this is a great honour! This is a big deal. I’ve only taught in front of Sensei McCarthy twice. So, for me to be asked to teach along side him is a HUGE honour. It’s very intimidating; he’s a world-renowned martial artist. To share the stage with someone like that, it really is a phenomenal experience for me, and very enriching.

JT: What would you say is the best part of the Gasshuku experience?

PL: You’re going to get good training. You’re going to get good information. You’re going to get good learning.

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The real “umph,” the real thing you’re going to take back is the extracurricular: the conversations that you have, the people that you meet, train and share with. THAT is what’s going to make the Gasshuku. THAT is the piece you’re going to remember.

JT: If you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

PL: You NEED to be at this event. You really do! If you do one thing this year, come out to this event, even you are going to have Sensei at your dojo, come out and get the group experience, get the senior instructors’ experience along with Sensei McCarthy’s.

My God! How do you get that much experience into one place for five days! You have GOT to get there!

JT: Wow! That sends the message loud in clear! Thanks so much for your time Sensei Paul!

 You heard the man! Get your ass to the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku!

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February’s Video of the Month: Chris Prickett

If you’re looking for a real slick take down, check out this video from former Canadian Wrestling Champion, Chris Prickett.

In this tutorial Chris demonstrates one option from the underhook in the event the opponent starts to back away.

Moving on from this position you can simply climb up the body to mount if they turn to face you. Among other options, you can also take the back for Hadaka Jime (rear-naked choke).

Another reason I love this video is because it’s a great application for the Koryu Uchinadi ground kicking drill, Ne-Keri Waza.

Chris Prickett’s simple and elegant execution of this unique technique is what makes his demonstration The Martial Arts Muse’s Video of the Month!

Check out more of Chris Prickett’s videos and the best of Canadian wrestling on his YouTube Channel, 49 North Wrestling.