How I Learned to Be a Student

As part of his Shodan requirements, Chris was expected to submit an essay. The topic I gave him was to answer the following question: “What is the most important thing you’ve gained as a martial artist from cross-training in Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu?”. His essay response was very interesting, served with a healthy dose of humble pie. It was as follows:

How I Learned to Be a Student

By Chris Olson

Training in a martial art can be a very fulfilling and enriching experience. It can also be very insular and lead to a very narrow view of the martial arts.

When a new student to the martial arts begins their training, it’s important they receive regular and consistent training to ensure a solid learning of basic and fundamental techniques. Organizations with a well-developed and standard curriculum offer stability, and opportunity for students to grow, and over time take more responsibility for their own training.

They begin to fulfil a necessary role in the dojo, becoming role models, assistant instructors and eventually instructors. Much of what students learn, how they learn, and how they eventually teach is influenced by how and who taught them. You can often tell who taught an instructor based on their method of instruction; the analogies they use while demonstrating, their movement in executing a technique, etc.

While this can lead to a consistent level of instruction, (hopefully a good one), it can inhibit the growth of both the style and the instructors.

Cross training can offer more advanced students/instructors several benefits to further personal development.

It provides the chance for instructors to see a similar technique taught with a different focus, providing new angles for understanding the technique. It can also expose them to entirely new techniques and concepts that can enhance their training.

The biggest benefit I have received from training in another style of Jiu jitsu is not what’s been added to my technical repertoire however. It’s the maturation of my training mind-set, and development of a wider perspective.

I started training in Can-ryu Jiu jitsu because I was looking for a replacement for my original style, Shorinji Kan. I was looking for exactly what I had before, not something new to learn.
Becoming a white belt again, and starting fresh with an open mind was much harder to do than I thought. In retrospect I did a lousy job of it.

Yes, I put on the white belt, and I said all the right things, but underneath it I was an arrogant, cocky brown belt, not really looking to learn, but looking to practice what I thought I already knew. I was lucky that my quiet arrogance was misconstrued as respect and shyness. I didn’t think I was arrogant, and unwilling to learn, but I was, I just hadn’t realized it yet.

I faked learning long enough to actually start learning, at which point, I realized, that might be a better approach. It turns out that it was better, and I’ve been very fortunate since.

Through my connection with Pacific Wave Jiu Jitsu, I’ve been lucky enough to train with professional boxers, MMA students, a Pan American games gold medallist grappler, a world renown Aikido Sensei, and numerous Jiu jitsu instructors. My wide experiences have taught me more techniques than I can remember, but the one thing I do remember is the great attitude and friendly sharing nature of the martial arts community. It’s created a healthy drive to move outside of my comfort zone and to learn from wherever I can.

After nearly a decade of training, I feel more like a student than ever before. I think I’ve finally figured out how to learn, and I am now as comfortable getting insights from senior instructors as I am from my own students.

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