When I decided to start this dojo, it wasn’t for the money or because I love martial arts. I obviously want a profitable business and it’s pretty clear that I enjoy martial arts but at the core, there was another reason that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until recently. As I looked back at all of the benefits that martial arts has provided me, I began to see there was one overriding thing that encompassed the entire experience; personal growth.
From the time I was seven years old, I wanted to grow up to become a “ninja”. I was obsessed with movies displaying martial arts and I yearned to learn the secrets. Even though most people will not admit it, they begin martial arts training based on some fantasy borne of watching those old cheesy action movies or in more modern styles, what they saw in a UFC or kickboxing match over the weekend. What it is exactly that attracts each individual may differ but I imagine that for many it is the same as it was for me when I first donned a gi and learned how to tie my belt. I knew that I was about to learn secrets that had been passed down for literally thousands of years and I knew that with these secrets, I would soon be doing all the cool things I saw in those movies. What I could not have foreseen was exactly how deeply the training would affect me at the core of my being.
I met wonderful, loving people who became my friends and training partners. There were people who joined at the same time as me who I “competed” with every class. We congratulated each other on how well we were progressing and shared conversations about how things were going. I developed deep relationships with a variety of instructors who each shared their experience of martial arts with me. All of us were growing in our understanding of martial arts and unbeknownst to me at the time, we were growing in our understanding of ourselves.
I was getting what I wanted from martial arts but I was also getting so much more than I bargained for. I was able to do many of those things I saw in the movies. I was already pretty physically fit but I became even more so. I would practice every day at home, sometimes for hours and the results began to show. Other students began to watch me perform techniques with wonder at how well I could do them and how I remembered everything I was taught. New students would often shake their heads and say how they couldn’t wait to get to that good. My obsession with practice allowed me to charge through the curriculum and I received my belts quickly as I sought out the coveted title of “black belt”. Due to the great results I was getting, my confidence soared.
As I became the model student, I saw that not everyone was progressing at my pace. Some people would come in week after week and it was obvious that the only time they practiced was when they were actually at the dojo for their lessons. They would fumble along during their lessons forgetting the moves they had learned the week prior and I would wonder what they were doing there. They were wasting their money, their time and the time of those who had to teach them. I figured it didn’t matter because if they showed up every week and kept paying for lessons, it was their business.
Eventually my skill grew enough that I felt comfortable mentioning to my sensei that given the opportunity, I would love to teach. Within a week, he asked me to help out with a lesson when a potential customer walked in the door. I took over the lesson while he spoke with his customer and though I was nervous, I knew my stuff and it went well. Before long, I was hired on as an instructor.
Teaching put me back in the position of being a beginner. I was a great student but as an instructor, I was young, overly excitable and often caught off guard with questions I would have thought I knew the answer to until I was asked to explain the answer in detail. Teaching took my own learning to a new level and I realized that learning all of the moves will get you through the belt system but at the end of the day, that is not enough to create the understanding of the moves that would create a true master. Teaching forced me to explore the details of every small component of every technique and my growth in martial arts flew past a plateau I hadn’t realized I was on.
Teaching also put me in the role of trying to provide that ephemeral “something” that people are striving for when they begin their training. I became a conduit to the knowledge that students (the same as I had been only a few years earlier) were seeking. This was when I realized that those students who were wasting their money and time by not giving their all to their training were also doing a disservice to their instructors. Due to being so uninspired about their training, it was an exhausting and spiritless affair to teach them. Due to their lack of passion, the instructor was left providing their own passion to make up for it and the experience served only to tire both people out thoroughly.
The students who put their hearts and souls into their training like I had as a student provided a very different experience. Despite the fact that the lessons were generally more physically taxing, both the student and the instructor left feeling highly energized. It was as if the energy of both people would pool during the lesson and magnify tenfold. I know that when I was a student, I would go home so excited that I would sometimes be unable to sleep as I went over the techniques again and again in my living room. I could always tell when my students were going home with the same feeling.
It was shortly after I began instructing that my sensei’s son, Jason Chinnick, moved into town and brought Muay Thai into my world. Up to this point, I had been studying Kenpo which was a traditional style that offered the coloured belt system. Originally, I had joined for exactly that type of martial art because of how enamored I was with those old movies. We were lucky that our sensei had a wide breadth of martial arts experience and we learned good fundamental boxing technique. We even had a sparring class but kickboxing not being our focus, the program lacked depth. When Jason brought his knowledge of kickboxing and grappling to our school, I finally found what I was looking for.
I continued my study of Kenpo but I slowly but surely found myself gravitating to kickboxing and eventually grappling. Although I didn’t receive belts for progressing, I didn’t need them to know I was improving. Sparring became a mirror for my growth and my old obsession with practice came back to push me ahead of the class. I went home bruised and battered and hungry for the next session. I would obsess about a technique that had caught me the last week and I would plan all week how I would avoid it the next time. Over the next year, I began to separate myself from the other students in skill level and my confidence soared again.
The same energy magnification I experienced with passionate students appeared when a group of inspired training partners got together. We all became very close as we realized what was happening to us as a group. People often think that combat sports are individual sports because you compete alone. The truth is that a good team is just as important as in a classic team sport. Without that group of people who were improving alongside me, I would not have been challenged and thus would not have seen much improvement myself. The better we got, the better we all got.
After about six or seven months of training in kickboxing under Jason Chinnick, I heard about a tournament in Vancouver and decided on a whim to give it a shot. Our little club had basically no experience but Jason Boyd, one of my Kenpo instructors, had competed in the past and my decision to go inspired him to sign up for a kata division. He helped me through the registration process and we got ourselves through the thing. Jason won gold in his division and to everybody’s (mine included) surprise I won a gold medal and a Grand Championship trophy for kata and a silver medal in the advanced continuous kickboxing division. After that first experience with competition, I was hooked.
Upon returning to training, it appeared that I had blown past another plateau overnight. The competition had boosted my confidence again and people that I was evenly matched with the week previous were being easily beaten by me now. Competition had sharpened my skills and given me something to train for other than just the fun of it. I’m not sure how that works but every time I’ve seen somebody compete, they come out the other end of it better than when they went in. It’s as if they trained for a few extra months while everyone else stood still.
That competition started me on the path of becoming the competitor and coach I became over time. Training gave me lasting friendships, fitness, self-discipline and a new understanding of what I was really capable of. Competition gave me more friendships, courage, and a venue to test my skills. From all of it I learned poise in the face of adversity (a job interview just isn’t that scary when compared to some guy trying to kick your head in front of hundreds of people). I learned about how different people are motivated differently and how that needs to be respected. In short, martial arts made me a better person overall.
Getting back to “why I decided to start this dojo”, I want to be involved in something that provides the incredible benefits that martial arts have provided me. I’ve realized that it wasn’t the training and knowledge that helped me grow, it was the amazing collection of people that came together in support of that and the personal effort that I put in. The training and knowledge were nothing more than a focus that appealed to my personality. Working with the community in the dojo is where all of the magic happened. I may have practiced for hours on my own but it all would have felt empty without a place to go and share the journey with other like-minded individuals.
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!