One of the keys to excellence in the martial arts (or anything for that matter) is to keep doing it. It sounds simple, but many people fail to do this, even with the best intentions and the greatest appreciation for the art. So why does it happen? People simply fall out of the habit or fail to develop the habit in the first place.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
If you want to think big, start first by thinking small. Lao Tzu said that “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” That’s true, but the thing is, you have to keep taking steps too. Walking into a dojo and signing up to train is a great start, but many people fail to advance from that start. The reason don’t manage to work their training into a habit. If they only come sporadically they are more likely to come less and less as other things come up in their lives until their membership runs out and they just give it up entirely.
Start with a Small, Measurable Goal
To get yourself in the training habit, it’s critical to make a goal, even a very small one, that you will absolutely commit to doing and hold yourself accountable to it. Maybe to start with the goal could be to train at least once or twice a week no matter what. When you’re nearing the end of the week, the goal you set will nag at the back of your mind when tempted to take a night off training to go to a friend’s get-together or whatever. Starting with a small goal is much more manageable to plan your life around than something big like, “I’m going to earn my black belt.” This “big” goal is so far in the future that it’s easy to put off the smaller more immediate tasks required to make it there if you don’t make goals of them too.
To keep on track, you have to be accountable to your goal. There are different ways to do this. You can use digital calendars/reminders to keep track of your goal and to remind you when you’re not meeting it. That way, when you get a reminder about not achieving your weekly goal, you can figure out a way to compensate for the lack, say by going to class one extra time the following week or by doing some solo training on your own. Another way is to get someone to be an accountability buddy who will remind you of your goal and help keep you on track. It can be someone you train with, your life partner, a friend, your child, anyone who is willing to commit to keeping on you about your goals. When it comes from a person, the reminder often hits home harder because it’s not just you that knows you’re not meeting your goal, and you feel like you’re letting them down in some way.
Be Mindful During Breaks
Training breaks will happen once in a while. They can happen because of illness or injury, school or work commitments, vacations, family commitments, or even just the end of a semester when they take a break from classes before the next one begins. It can be easy to fall out of the habit and never re-establish it after these breaks. That’s why it’s important to commit to going back once it’s possible. A good way to keep your mind in the dojo is to keep in touch with people you train with. They’ll naturally ask about your progress in your injury recovery and/or ask you when you’ll be coming back to class. Or you can get your accountability buddy to stay on you and make sure you return to your commitment as soon as you’re able.
Once you’ve made the martial art training habit an inextricable part of your life, you can easily make bigger goals for yourself, like learning specific skills, achieving certain ranks, etc. The only difference between a person wearing a white belt and a person wearing a black belt is that the latter got their ass on the mats and kept it there. You have to be willing to keep doing the small stuff to get to the big stuff.
Over to you: what do you do to keep yourself in the training habit? What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?