The practice of martial arts has a way reaching into you and bringing more out of yourself than you could have had you not done the training. It strips us down, leaving us completely naked to our own shortcomings both perceived and real. Training usually comes with a natural progression of goals that can and usually do continue over many years if you continue your training. Those goals are expected to be reached for. All of your instructors, coaches, teammates and of course yourself know that the goals are there and if you are not trying to attain them then it needs to be asked what you are training for. When there is an expectation, there is, inherently, a risk of failure and the average pleasure seeking and pain avoiding human being does not like to risk failure. This causes a sense of discomfort in us as we are faced with what appears to be the boundaries of what we are capable of. This discomfort stretches us to believe in ourselves just a little bit more and over a period of time, what we thought were the boundaries of our ability become stepping stones to even greater accomplishments.
The beauty in the challenge presented by martial arts is the fact that you can start as small as you wish. It starts with just getting through the early stage so you don’t feel like a complete dork during classes. You learn the fundamentals over your first week or two and you can get through most classes and not feel ashamed to try again. You notice one day that you’re suddenly not the newest person in class. There’s a new guy and he really needs to work on keeping his hands up. You look at his feet and notice that he needs to pivot on his punches. You feel impressed that you know this and that you are performing something at least a little bit better than somebody else. That is small win number one.
Now, your training gets a little more focused. You keep being told that you are dropping your rear hand when you jab. You start to get it but whenever you get tired or the combo is a little too long it happens again. This goes on for a while but in about a week you have mostly killed the habit. Small win number two.
These small wins keep compiling and your confidence in your ability to meet the challenges put in front of you is growing along beside your martial arts ability. The goals start to take a little longer term perspective as you settle into the martial arts lifestyle. Now you may want to look at getting your first level of ranking be it belt, sash, grade, patch or whatever the method of distinguishing levels. There is a test to prepare for which includes a particular level of fitness and a set of specific skills you will be judged on. The goal of attaining that next level is broken down into the mini goals of making sure you understand and can perform the necessary criteria for that level.
Should you pass that test you would necessarily have demonstrated your ability to set a long term goal, exercise the discipline to see it through and put yourself in the path of potential failure in the effort to achieve it. The power of that process offers a unique opportunity for personal growth. Many people do not seem to set goals perhaps because they have never had a venue that offers the opportunity, inspiration and the tools to do so. Martial arts can provide all of those things and the positive feelings associated with goal attainment become addicting.
There is, however, another side to training that looks at first to be a little darker. It lay in the fact that we do seem to have our limits and if we continue to pick more and more difficult challenges, we increase our chances of failure. It is an inevitability that one day, training will act as a big mirror and you will be looking at the side of yourself you wish did not exist. The loser will come out no matter how hard you try to keep it locked away.
At some point, if you continue to raise the stakes, you are heading for an inevitable failure and the crash can really sting. Perhaps you train for months to take the test and you are super excited to finally get the promotion. You go into the test and find unexpectedly that it is harder than you thought and you fail to pass… Another great example is going into competition and losing. First the expectation and then the letdown are just soul crushing. Part of you feels like you should never had tried to do this thing in the first place.
It is in these moments where the biggest opportunities for growth lay. If you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and dig in for another run at the goal you will have done yourself a great reward. This is not to say you rush back in with no regard to what happened. You need to sit back for a moment and take a look at the reasons you may have missed the mark. Next, you make some adjustments to the game plan and then you get to work going for another attempt. Success will build confidence and there is plenty to be said for that. The ability to work through failures, though, will build grit; and grit is the key ingredient to achieving the big goals of life.
Whether you joined martial arts simply to get fit or to become competitive in one of the many avenues it provides for that route, remember to use the training to practice goal setting and achievement. To do anything less would be an opportunity lost. Have a goal to do more push-ups/pull-ups/squats/etc… in a set amount of time. Track your progress and when you get there, reach higher. For me personally, operating this business well and passing on what I have learned to as many people as possible is a major goal of mine as is stepping back into fighting after so much time off. Both scare the hell out of me but I’m getting stretched and pulled into a more confident and simultaneously more humble person. Without all that I have already achieved in my martial arts journey, I would never have had the courage or skills to chase these bigger dreams. Embrace the possibility that you are not perfect and get to work failing your way to success. It is not the skills or things you achieve that you should covet but instead the person you will become on the way to achieving them.
Does the title of blog make sense yet?
The purpose of this blog
This blog is intended as a place to discuss ideas relevant to both both martial arts and life in general. Our school doesn't exist with the sole purpose of making great fighters but also of helping its members develop themselves into great people. The entries are about sharing ideas. I will not spend much time editing grammatical errors so please try not to let it drive you crazy when you come across them!