How to Stay Motivated in Your Martial Arts and Fitness Training
To succeed as a martial artist, you need to stay motivated — otherwise you won't even hit the dojo. This is what's worked for one practitioner for the past 40 years.
Real difficulties can be overcome; it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable.”— Theodore N. Vail
Using half his speed, the coach threw a jab at the student’s face. Without flinching, the student parried the punch. “Good!” the coach said. “Let’s try again. I’m going to pick up the pace a little.”
The student smiled and nodded confidently. The coach threw a jab at three-quarters speed, but this time, the student wasn’t fast enough. The coach pulled the punch, his fist just barely touching the student’s face.
The coach frowned. “OK, let’s do it again,” he said. “Remember that I’m going to do it faster. Try to react quicker.”
The student smiled, again with confidence, but the coach ended up having to pull his punch. “I guess I can’t go any faster,” the student said apologetically.
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The coach proceeded to throw the punch at one-quarter speed, but the student barely managed to parry it. “One more,” the coach said. This time, the blow was even slower, and again the student barely managed to block it. The student shrugged his shoulders. “I’m just not that fast, I guess,” he said sheepishly. “Wait,” the coach said. The student wondered, Wait for what?
Without emotion, the coach walked to the gear locker and slipped on a pair of boxing gloves. He approached the student and threw several fast punches. The student’s smile faded.
“OK, we’ll do it again,” the coach said. “But why are you — what are the gloves for?” the student asked.
“So you don’t get hurt too badly if a punch gets through,” the coach replied nonchalantly. “I’m not going to hold back. I’m going to hit you in the head.”
The student’s eyes bulged, but before he could say another word, a punch flashed at him half speed. The student blocked the strike with ease. “Again!” the coach ordered as he threw several more strikes in rapid succession.
The wide-eyed young man blocked each one. “Again!” This time, the punches were almost full speed, but the student blocked each one even though his technique was a little sloppy. Nevertheless, his movements had developed a new vitality. There was energy and spirit in each parry.
The coach stopped, stepped back and grinned. “OK, that’s enough for now,” he said. Somewhat bewildered, the student returned the grin and stared at his coach’s back while he walked away. He couldn’t see the smile forming on his coach’s face.
I’ve been training since 1976. The martial arts have been my profession and way of life since the early 1990s. During that time, I’ve often been asked how a person can stay motivated. How does a student get up every morning and jump into his or her training routine? How does a practitioner avoid becoming part of the majority, the people who give up before reaching their goal?
“Difficulties should act as a tonic. They should spur us to greater exertion.” — B.C. Forbes
If someone asks me what a martial artist ought to devote the most time to, I always say training. Train more than you sleep. I attribute my ability to keep on training, decade after decade, to Mister Mo. Mister Mo is motivation. Mister Mo means no retreat, no surrender — no retreat from hard work, no surrender to laziness or sloppy form.
Mister Mo should be the most important person in your life, even more so than your teacher or your classmates. It’s good to have an end to journey toward, but it’s the journey that matters in the end.
Mister Mo is the one who urges you to attend class when you’d rather stay home and watch television. He's inside you when you do the extra kick, punch or takedown. He wipes the sweat from your eyes so you can crank out a dozen more reps of that technique that’s been so difficult. He keeps you training month after month, year after year.
He drives you to face your physical and mental limitations. He forces you to confront laziness, failures and the fear of success. He makes you walk the endless path of the martial arts. He encourages you to push yourself to your limit and beyond. He helps you tune out the pain as you drive yourself to victory over yourself.
“A desire can overcome all objections and obstacles.” — Gunderson
Teachers can open the door, but you must enter by yourself. Avoiding pain might be the biggest motivational factor there is. Doing a proper technique to avoid a broken nose is an example of external motivation. Most people who train in the martial arts do so, at least initially, because they want to learn self-defense. They don’t want to get hurt if they’re attacked.
For those who enjoy the sport aspects of the arts, external motivation may be the next tournament trophy. For some, it’s the next belt. A student will sometimes quit after reaching a particular rank. The belt was the goal. Once it’s earned, the student no longer has motivation. Mister Mo leaves the building.
Unlike external motivation, internal motivation is a more difficult concept to understand. Internal motivation is the desire to excel for the sake of pursuing excellence. Internal motivation means you’re competing against yourself, not others. It means you want to do as well as you can, regardless of how others do. Internally motivated students tend to persist in their training.
While they’re satisfied with each promotion, they’re driven to succeed beyond rank or trophies. They train because they want to improve, not because they want to impress others. If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?
How can you stay motivated day in and day out?
• Search for that drive to succeed.
• Become mentally motivated. Mister Mo is in all of us. You can call on him at any time when things get tough.
• Don’t worry what others are doing. If you’re trying to surpass someone else, you’re limited to what that person has done. You must have no limits. Always strive for excellence.
• Set more challenging goals and record them in a journal or diary. Pick a time to review your goals and evaluate your progress. Then set new goals.
• Focus on your growth and development as a martial artist and as a person. Learn joyfully, then share joyfully. Daily improvement in every aspect of your life is the overall aim. Don’t just think positive; act positive.
• Be yourself, but be the best of yourself.
And when you feel discouraged, don’t be afraid to call on Mister Mo.
About the author: Morné Swanepoel is a South Africa-based martial arts teacher, MMA coach and fitness instructor. For more information, visit CombatCoaching.com.