One of the best ways to stay hungry for improvement and stave of complacency is to get exposed to high level martial artists.
Observing top practitioners of any classical style can quickly fill you with a mix of emotion (admiration, uncertainty, self-consciousness, inspiration, etc). It can also be a surefire way to stay humble.
If you think about it…a martial artist who trains with 10-15 people will eventually start to base his/her sense of ability on how they perform against those other individuals. If said martial artist starts to dominate, he/she could easily lose perspective and let ego grab hold.
If that pool of people were much bigger and included some top practitioners, the artist would be much more inclined to keep perspective.
I’m fortunate in that I have the Heilmans and their four Kyoshi to keep me in check routinely. But this last weekend’s IKKF Annual Training served as a reboot for every student present.
At our annual gathering we get a chance to train under premiere instructors like Bill Hayes (Shorin Ryu), Jody Paul (Motobu Udundi), and Miguel Ibarra (Aikijujitsu). But this year we also had the pleasure of hosting some of most senior Okinawa Kenpoka such as George Epps, Larry Isaac, Vic Coffin, and Al Louis (some of whom also brought senior students from their respective dojo). Put that together with the Heilmans and their Kyoshi and what you have is a gigantic soup of experience.
While all the teachers no doubt enjoyed reconnecting and sharing with each other, we (the students) were the lucky ones as we could not turn around without seeing or learning something interesting. I was in attendance for all three days and still couldn’t attend a seminar by every instructor.
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If you find yourself training in a vacuum, constantly re-convincing yourself that you know enough and are the keeper of “the truth”, I highly recommend making an effort to connect with other respectable martial artists. They can be within your own style, or from something completely different.
The key of course is to use such connections to enhance an already strong foundation. Being a seminar jumper or video collector without a core operating system results in a lot of surface level, superficial understanding. But, when done right, such experiences can help you keep that classical mindset of humility and curiosity.