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Taking Responsibility for Higher Level Learning

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I recently graded for my light blue belt in Shorinji Kan Jiu-jitsu and I’m happy to report that I passed and am feeling altogether smurfy in my new belt. As I go up the ranks in Shorinji Kan, I’m reminded of how the nature of training and grading preparation changes the higher you get. All too often students get into the higher belt ranks in their style without being fully aware of the shifts in responsibility so it’s important to understand what this entails.

The Shift in Responsibility

When you’re in the citrus coloured belt levels, your instructor more or less takes care of you. You put complete trust in them to make sure you know what you’re supposed to know for your level so that when you’re put up for your next grading, you’re aware of what is expected of you. But when you get up to the upper intermediate and senior level Kyu ranks, the responsibility shifts. Sensei is often more focused on the lower ranks’ development and you start to play a role in their development too, running warm-ups, teaching breakfalls, sometimes even teaching techniques. As a result, you don’t always necessarily get to train some of the higher level techniques that you’re expected to learn at your belt level. (more…)

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Getting Into & Maintaining the Martial Arts Training Habit

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. (more…)

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Solutions to 6 Common Martial Arts Training Hurdles

There lots of people who really want to take up a martial art, but think they can’t for whatever reasons. In many cases, these reasons hold people back from ever making an attempt or they start their training and then feel they have to give it up because of them. I can’t possibly know everyone’s particular situation, but I can say that there are a few common themes that can certainly be addressed. (more…)

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What Are YOU Training for?

The other day I was training in my class, having my assistant instructor Chris lead the instruction. I spent the whole class working on a single throw, uki goshi or ‘floating hip,’ cycling between all my more advanced students as ukes. This throw is new to me having recently learned it from my Shorinji Kan Jiu-jitsu contacts.

Having seen me working hard at improving my technique with this one throw all class, one of my students asked me, “What are you training for?” thinking that I was training with a specific goal in mind like an upcoming test. I looked back at him, slightly confused and answered, “For fun. What are YOU training for?” By this answer I meant that I had no specific future goal that I was training for. I was just training for training’s sake.

I think this is an important question every martial arts student should ask themselves. Are you training for specific goals like fitness, belt level advancement, self-defense, etc. Or are you training out of a love for the art? Goals like belt level advancement are unsatisfying at best and don’t promote a long-term appreciation of the art. I find that belt chasers tend to get bored when the period between belts gets longer as they advance or they feel that they’re not being promoted quickly enough. People that have goals like self-defense and fitness tend to last longer because doing a martial art over the long term only improves these things, but then after awhile, these students get to a level of fitness or self-defense proficiency after which they don’t see very noticeable improvements in these things and start to wonder if they want to continue.

Ultimately, no matter what reasons a person starts training in the martial arts, it is those who love it for the art’s sake that stay with it in the long term. The higher level skills are not as likely to be used in a practical context. Most martial artists, the respectable ones anyway, tend not to have to use their skills in self-defense. But that is not why they do it. They do it simply because they love it, and with continued training, this love of the martial arts and consistency of training transforms them both mentally and spiritually.

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Natural Talent vs. Systematic Practice in the Martial Arts

I read an interesting article about peak performance in the NY Times. Part of it discusses the importance of the total number of hours of practice time vs. natural talent in the development of peak performance in a sport or art.

Having taught Jiu-jitsu for 12 years, I’ve seen all types of students and what it takes within them to excel in the long run in a martial art. I agree that hours of practice does correlate with excellence. However it’s not just about mechanical repetition.

My Sensei, Ed Hiscoe, always said: “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” This, of course, does not mean he expects everyone to only practice if they can do it perfectly. It means the student should practice and consciously make corrections as they practice to continually get closer and closer to their goal. If a student only mechanically repeats movements without analyzing them for improvement, they will never fix the problems they may be having with technique.

While practice is a key component in developing as a martial artist, natural talent is also factor. Every so often I get a student who can learn and adapt amazingly fast, even without prior training. If these students put in the hours, the have the capacity to become awesome martial artists. The practice process is the same as it is for other students, except that they take on corrections and adjustments faster, which leads to their faster development as a martial artist overall. That being said, natural ability isn’t enough on its own.

I’ve seen talented individuals come and go from my mats. The reason they don’t necessarily make it as martial artists is that they don’t have the motivation and temperament to continue their practice through the inevitable plateaus that appear, particularly in later stages of development.

On the other hand, I’ve also had students who are of average ability, but because they’re motivated, they maintain their practice through the plateaus to achieve great things. It may take them longer, but by maintaining consistent motivation to train, they get there eventually.

So what should we take away from all this? I can tell you from many years of having observed my students: It doesn’t matter if you have natural talent. If you have the motivation to put in your hours of training, you’ll eventually succeed in your goals, given the right training atmosphere. And if you love what you’re doing, you won’t care if it takes longer to develop because you enjoy training for training’s sake.

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