From White Belt to Black Belt, the Martial Arts Journey
Whether you are a novice student training on the mats, a skilled fighter practicing routines, a world-class competitor preparing for a tournament, a coach mentoring others in the pursuit of perfection, or anything in-between, the most important lesson to remember is that, at any level, a martial artist should always be a student. Every time you train, individually or with others, you should always strive to exhibit the qualities of an engaged student. This article will highlight several basic but important practices that all martial artists can leverage to demonstrate what it means to always be a student.
In reference to being a student of life, Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” This is certainly true for the martial arts life as well; however, not all students who regularly attend classes actually improve. Showing up is essential, but is it enough? Does anyone truly set out to be 80-percent successful in any walk of life? Should we be satisfied with giving 80-percent of our all in anything we do?
True success, for any goal, lies in that additional twenty percent, which requires more than just showing up: It requires showing up with the desire to learn and the will to develop. It’s in the twenty percent where true growth occurs, and that should always be the goal of a martial artist. While training, be sure to use class time effectively and efficiently. It is imperative to stay physically and mentally engaged and to pay special attention to detail concerning the movements and techniques that are being taught in that particular lesson. Study, practice, improve, repeat. All these steps are imperative to growth, and they all lie within that extra 20 percent.
During class and training sessions, avoid the temptation to socialize instead of drill. We all enjoy the social aspects of martial arts training – and they are important – but sometimes students will half-heartedly drill a technique a couple of times and then sit and talk with their partner until the instructor introduces the next technique. This is a sure sign that a student has shown up content that day to be 80-percent engaged. This not only detracts from the student who is not focused on training, but it also denies the drilling partner the opportunity to learn and to improve. Over time, this can also damage the overall culture of the academy by setting a precedent that being 80-percent successful is sufficient.
A true student of martial arts – one who possesses the necessary desire and will – should never be satisfied with anything less than 100-percent effort. If you are a novice student, it should be your goal to exhibit maximum effort every time you train. If you are an experienced student, it is your responsibility to set the example that 100-percent effort is essential 100-percent of the time.
One of the most effective ways to improve when learning and developing any new skill is to ask questions and communicate with your training partners and instructors. It is essential to seek clarification on any uncertainties you may have and to regard your training partners and instructors as valuable learning resources. When you are working with a higher-ranked or more experienced student, be open to pointers and ask for guidance as you practice. More experienced students can help you refine and improve your technique. When you are working with a lower-ranked or less experienced student, be open to learning from them as well. They may have worked on a certain detail in the past that you may be seeing for the first time. If both training partners are open to learning from each other, regardless of rank or experience level, then each becomes a valuable resource.
Many students may feel anxious or inadequate when it comes to communicating problems or confusions when practicing a technique. Sometimes asking a question can feel like airing your own ignorance. This can be a toxic way of thinking that can stagnate your improvement as a student. Every Força member, including the teachers and coaches, began with nothing more than a drive to learn, and seeking guidance is essential to the learning process at all levels. It is very likely, in fact, that with any given problem you may be having with a certain technique, there is another student in the class experiencing the same confusion. Never be self-conscious about asking questions and seeking guidance – the best students always do. Asking questions and communicating your struggle with those around you is vitally important to your improvement and, therefore, just as vitally important to us.
Keeping a training journal is one of the most powerful tools that you have at your disposal. Whether you use a print or electronic journal, documenting your techniques, strategies, and observations incorporates an academic approach to learning and retaining concepts. It’s a proven educational technique that helps students retain information – in effect, it queues your brain to transfer the information from short-term to long-term memory. The same concept applies to skills building as well. Including a journaling routine as part of your regular training regimen will help you retain important details related to technique and strategy so that they eventually become ingrained and function as a form of muscle memory, and in any skills or knowledge development, the most important muscle is the brain.
Note taking also provides students the opportunity to organize ideas into lists, mind maps and flow charts, which are other great ways for you to familiarize yourself with your own strategies and develop more refined and effective techniques.