Attaining Martial Skills
The first step toward any level of mastery requires repeating a technique or skill thousands upon thousands of times. The maxim of “10,000 times a master,” rings true here. Through endless repetitions, the student trains their muscle memory, builds up strength, trains proper bone alignment, and, eventually, acquires the speed and agility to make the technique effective. As many students and teachers know, this process is long and arduous and there is no shortcut. There is no fast track or way around putting in the work to be successful. For many, this is when it all comes apart.
It is inevitable, as we are all human, that when faced with the task of what may seem like endless repetitions of material already learned, the student may begin to think that maybe this is not what they want to do. “Maybe this isn’t the art for me,” “This is boring,” and other thoughts become prevalent, “Maybe I’ll take a break.” (Quitting?)
While mastering the fundamentals is not a sexy process, I can’t think of a more important step in a student’s development than perfecting basic skills. Time and again, when a practitioner is floundering, a return to the basics, the fundamentals, is the recipe for getting to the next step in development. For the student, a decision is made: either they will continue or they will quit. It is at this crossroads that a student is fighting with themselves, and either they will defeat the seductive whisper of surrender with renewed commitment, or succumb and walk away.
Application of Skills
Let’s say the student continues. So, they have an awesome roundhouse kick or armbar. Now what? Now they have to be able to use it. Everything works on a compliant partner or a partner holding pads, but that isn’t what they’re training for. This step would seem to be more about your opponent than the student or practitioner, but it isn’t. Facing an opponent brings a new level of difficulty, realism, anxiety, and sometimes some internal drama, to their practice. This is when, “It all gets real,” as they often say now.
As you face your opponent, whether sparring or in competition, you must ask yourself, “Do I attack now?” Which can be followed by questioning thoughts, such as: “Can they hit me?” What if it doesn’t work?” What if he counters?” “What if I lose?” All these thoughts, and more like them, have little to do with an opponent, and more to do with fear, insecurity, and the ego. It is a grappling match with the self as it works its way through the complexities of confrontation. Knowing a slick technique is great, but if it can’t be used, then it is useless. The mind must be conditioned as well as the body.
Forging the Will
Arts like Kyudo (The Way of the Bow), Japanese archery, Iaido (The Art of Drawing the Sword), and even Tai Chi Quan, are disciplines that don’t directly engage with an opponent but instead focus on achieving a high level of skill in their respective arts that can only come when the student has mastered themselves. Tai Chi Quan, Kyudo, and Iaido are arts that are beautiful to behold and awe-inspiring in the discipline students learn in executing the techniques. They each have a slow, meditative, and deliberate process of training that is useful and transferable to life beyond the dojo floor. Doing something with intention requires presence, awareness, and a subtle way of being while executing the technique. Defeating distractions, self-doubt, procrastination, and all the greatest hits of human behavior that keep us in our cycles of defeatist thinking and mediocrity are necessary as we face our greatest opponent.
The Greatest Opponent
Success in martial arts was taught to me long ago: You get out of it, what you put into it. That is true of much in life and was one of the kernels of wisdom I gleaned on my martial arts journey. Learning to have courage and confidence to defeat a challenger or attacker may be the outward aim of martial arts, but really we are training to defeat our procrastination, limiting beliefs, aversion to difficulty, and many more negative traits that can keep us from meeting our full potential. While pushing through a particularly difficult training session, competitive match, or dealing with any number of the fated setbacks that accompany our journey through martial arts, it is important to remember that we are the greatest opponent of all, and we must win.
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