Here is something I say with confidence – martial arts can be unnerving! It’s not all butt kicking and black belts, after all. While I’m no master, I HAVE experienced (and seen others experience) a few common concerns that seem to crop up during martial arts training. Have a read through these top 10 stressors, and hopefully, I can help you shrug a little weight off your shoulders.
Don’t Stress About…
10. Learning Super Quickly
This first one is more common than you might think. There are always a few individuals who can pick up kata or technique very quickly. While that’s fortunate for them, it can leave a residue of anxiety in other students. People who have an ingrained self consciousness about their own progress will pay special attention to students who pick things up quickly, allowing themselves to feel discouraged when they can’t do the same.
I think we all suffer from this at one point or another. It’s just like in Karate Kid:
“Daniel: Hey – you ever get into fights when you were a kid?
Miyagi: Huh – plenty.
Daniel: Yeah, but it wasn’t like the problem I have, right?
Miyagi: Why? Fighting fighting. Same same.
Daniel: Yeah, but you knew karate.
Miyagi: Someone always know more.”
What a great movie. And it also helps prove my point – no matter how awesome you are, there is always someone better. So, with that inevitability in mind, just focus on your own personal progress and forget the comparisons!
Final thought about #10: karate is a lifelong endeavor. If you stay in the martial arts while others come and go, I guarantee you’ll make it to the head of the class.
9. Keeping Up With the Joneses
This is connected to #10. In keeping up with the Joneses, which of course means trying to outdo your “neighbor”, trying to learn a lot quickly can cause even more stress. You’ll see kids do this a lot:
Kid A (the jerk): “Hey, do you know kata ____ yet?
Kid B: “No. Why?”
Kid A: “Ohh, cause I do. Snicker.”
Annoying when kids do it, but forgivable. Extremely annoying when adults do it. And they do do it. If this happens to you, try to let it roll off your shoulders and remember the long term benefits of training.
If you’re the one prodding at your classmates…knock it off.
This same concept applies to physical possessions as well. Weapons, uniforms, books, dvds…that whole business gets rapped into the martial arts very easily. Don’t feel compelled to spend money because everyone else does.
8. Looking Stupid
You’re gonna look and feel stupid from time to time. Keep asking questions and participating. Seriously. This is the best way to learn, hands down.
7. Gi Flair
As far as I am concerned, there is no good reason for your uniform to look like the flair guy’s getup from OfficeSpace.
Patches…buttons…it’s all flair.
I understand some patches, but things can get a little out of hand. If you find yourself creating a patchwork out of you or your child’s gi, just take a step back. Remember, all of these external distractions can take away from the internal goals of the martial arts. Let your personality and ability make you stand out, not eye catching gi accessories.
Have you seen Kill Bill? Do you remember the five point palm exploding heart technique? That was pretty cool. Unfortunately, some people can get overly caught up in that razzle dazzle when pursuing the martial arts.
Kyusho, or vital point striking, is experiencing a bit of a boom in popularity. When done correctly, the results can be very deadly indeed. This has led a lot of people to worry about the deadliness of whatever technique they are practicing. So much so, in fact, that some students try to learn vital point strikes off of video tapes or from snake-oil instructors who claim to have mastered them.
Don’t get too caught up in this hype. The truth is, most karate styles have kyusho integrated into them already. The trick to unlocking the techniques is a matter of becoming an expert at fundamentals. As Sensei Bill Hayes says, become “brilliant at the basics.” After that is achieved, kyusho can slowly start to seep its way into your training. Don’t rush this one.
5. Trophy Count
This Can Be Yours if The Price is Right!
Time + money = a ton of trophies. Yes, it helps if you’re good, but its not a mandatory prerequisite. There are so many tournaments with so many divisions that sometimes you’ll be lucky to get three people in your division.
If you want to, acquire a couple of trophies to prove to yourself that you can do it. After that, put that money and mental focus to better use.
4. Kata Portfolio
This is one that yours-truly had to work on. For awhile, I was very concerned about my kata portfolio. I wanted to learn a whole lot of kata and I wanted to learn them all very well. Unfortunately, what I REALLY wanted was to have my cake and eat it to.
Take it from me, don’t worry about slowing yourself down to learn fewer kata. Much like #10, learning quickly, pacing your kata intake shouldn’t be perceived as a bad thing. This is especially true after black belt.
In many martial arts, there are certain requirements as you progress through kyu ranks. Once you hit black belt, you are “ready to begin learning”, and that means taking charge of your martial destiny. It’s easy to ride the kata train, going for higher and higher material. But, ultimately, it might leave all of your material a little soft.
3. Kata Flash-and-Dash
Can’t kick the ceiling? Can’t do a triple blackflip into a split with kiai? Don’t stress.
A lot of the acrobatics and physically impressive maneuvers you see today are not really part of traditional martial arts. In fact, it was extremely rare for the old Okinawan Karate Sensei to kick above their waist!
Listen to what your body can and can’t do, then try to make small improvements from there. Listening to the natural rhythym of your body will result in much better technique than trying to force Van Damme style kicks.
…maybe next year…
2. Ass-Kicking Ability
Martial arts tend to have self defense at their core. Some styles are for aggressive fighting, while others are for flowing defense. But, ultimately, you should learn how to fight.
Where people tend to get tense is when they don’t see dramatic results immediately. This is especially true for traditional arts. Styles like boxing and MMA can show initial progress pretty quickly, which is nice. Unfortunately, old styles were designed for the long haul.
Traditional martial art basics can actually hinder your fighting ability for awhile. They make you mechanical, and force movements into your body that you aren’t used to. It isn’t until years of practice sink in that you can begin to feel those movements naturally. Once they start to become natural though, it’s a real treat.
This probably isn’t a huge surprise. “Rank” being at the top of this list is like Stairway to Heaven being at the top of “The Greatest Rock Songs” list (which it should be, because it is great).
Rank is very valuable, and very dangerous. It helps motivate us to achieve, and symbolizes skill and experience. Unfortunately, rank can also be a business. Stripes, colors, and titles are abound these days.
No matter how your school addresses rank, don’t feel driven by it, in and of itself. If you are a green belt, but have focused on improving your basics, your self defense, and your mindset, you’ll be on your way to achieving real results.
Navigating through these troubles, and a forest of others, is essential when pursuing the martial way.
I’ll meet you somewhere in the woods, and maybe we can give each other a hand
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Here is a classic problem that every martial artist will run into sooner or later. If you’ve experienced it already, you probably cringed just reading the title of this post. If you haven’t…well let’s say you have something to look forward to.
There is a strange biological occurrence that happens in people when they initially find out that you do a martial art. First, they will give you a quick look up and down. This is a flash of assessment that basically leads them to think one of two things:
1. Ohh great, this crazy is gonna punch a hole in my wall or something.
2. THAT guy/girl does karate? Haha yea right.
Of course this occurs very quickly and is promptly covered up with a pleasantry, such as: “ohh wow, cool.” or “ohh like Jackie Chan. Sure, sure.”
You, the martial artist, will find this moment awkward. Luckily these brief exchanges are usually filled with a nervous, complimentary energy. The person is trying to get on your good side just in case you’re a death touch ninja.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely to end there. If the ‘friend’ who has just found out about your training is a bold, forthcoming individual, they will meet you with skepticism very shortly after the pleasantries have subsided. People with average temperament will wait until the evening has worn on, or even until you’ve hung out a couple of times. Sooner or later, they will remark:
“Hey! Show me something karate!”
And they will demand it with this look on their face:
They’ve seen plenty of kung fu movies after all, and they are pretty sure you can’t do the stuff they’ve seen. Now you’re put into a bad spot. You’ve probably been taught over and over again that you should never use your abilities unless it is absolutely necessary. Chauvinistic displays only serve to stroke egos and intimidate innocent people.
But then, on the other hand, you don’t want to be prodded and snickered at every time you see this person. And in a lot of cases (close friends, family members, coworkers, etc.), you are GOING to be seeing this person again.
What to do?
I’ll give you the three escape routes that I have developed that coincide with martial arts theory, and leave your assailant satisfied (at least to a degree).
Option 1: Excuse Yourself From the Situation
This is the most temporary solution, but still works for the short term. You can excuse yourself from demonstrating your abilities with a legitimate concern. For example, if you are in the workplace, you can very easily suggest that such activity would be inappropriate for the office and you fear repercussions from the boss.
If you are in your home, or someone else’s home, you can use the excuse of tight quarters for fear of breaking something. Most people will begrudgingly accept this, although if it’s a nice day, you’ll have to be ready for the ‘let’s just go outside’ suggestion.
A good catch-all excuse is injury. Cite sore shoulders or a tweaked knee. If you’ve got a real injury story, launch right into it. This will probably take the conversation away from karate and into different topics thereafter.
Option 2: Make It A Lesson
This is a pretty good option. If you’ve got the time, take your questioner’s challenge as a chance to enlighten him/her. This works especially well if there are a few people around. Start off by using your questioner as uke for a few self defense techniques. Do it at a fairly speedy pace at first otherwise you’ll just get more skepticism about “that fancy stuff not actually working.” After you’ve shown it work for real, gather everyone in a little closer and begin to explain WHY it works. Most people will be really interested and entertained.
Once you’ve hooked everyone’s attention, let them try the technique on you. People have a natural comfort zone that they don’t like crossed, which is why going around and doing your technique on people is a bad idea. Instead, put them in the driver’s seat. Reassure them that you won’t be hitting them or fighting back, and that they can simply try the technique on you. Make sure you don’t resist too hard as it will shatter their trust.
Once everyone is interested, laughing, and feeling surprised by their new found technique, let them pair up with each other and try it out some more, very slowly. By the end of this impromptu class, people will be happy to know that you know karate and will begin to ask you earnest questions with little sense of incredulity.
Option 3: Everything I Do Is Karate
This is the hardest one to pull off actually, but for veterans of getting asked to do awkward demos, it can be the most fun. What you do is explain the reality of what karate is all about (sounds simple, right?)
Karate, when practiced with your full heart, seeps into every movement you make. The way you walk, the way you breath, the way you think, all becomes extensions of your martial art. Furthermore, your martial art becomes an extension of you. In the dojo, you’re no longer doing kata by the textbook. You are doing your kata, even though an impartial observer wouldn’t recognize the significant difference.
When someone asks you to do something karate, you simply respond that everything you do is karate. Standing in front of them. Talking to them. The distance you are standing away from them and the angle your body has adopted in regards to their centerline. The timing in the sway of their stance. The look in their eye.
You’ve assessed it all and needn’t even think about how to respond because the outcome has been predetermined, like surrounding your opponent’s king in chess.
If your questioner is brazen and continues to push the issue, you can prompt him/her to throw any technique they like, and you simply respond with a controlled counter (hint: heads up for a right punch). This small example of effectiveness + technique will likely quiet any further concerns they might have.
Once again, only use option three if one and two seem out of the question…or if you feel like hearing yourself wax poetic about martial arts philosophy.
Not that I do, of course.
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Hi all. I hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend. I just wanted to post quickly about a book review I did recently on Chris Thompson’s Black Belt Karate. I’m one of the “critics” over at BBMReview (Black Belt Mama’s pet project) and did a little write up for it.
I’m no end-all-be-all authority on these books and I actually admire the author’s accomplishments, both in the realm of martial arts and publication. But, I feel like I gave it a pretty unbiased review. Check it out here.
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