As important as having hands-on instruction is in the martial arts, so too is the ability to coach yourself. You may only be with your teacher for three or four hours each week, but, spoiler alert, there are many more hours to work with in every seven day span.
While we go to class to learn and set our sights on what we need to work on, the development of our skills typically actually happens in our time outside of the studio.
In order to truly improve, we have to be able to coach ourselves and put the appropriate work in. Problem is...well, it can be tough.
It is easy–oh, so easy– to lose motivation and focus. Beyond that, it can be tough to know what to work on next.
Seemingly at odds with the slovenly state that is easy to slip into lies the fact that most of us are willing to do more for others than we actually do for ourselves. One of the most impactful pieces of advice given to me was, paraphrased, “To overcome the problem you are going through, think about what advice you would give somebody else going through it.”
Simple enough, right? Perhaps you have even received similar words from a mentor, literature piece, or insightful figure in the past. It is all too often that we are more empathetic, and more wisely perched in perspective, when giving advice to a loved one than when striving to figure out the solutions to our own problems.
In another way, as martial artists, it is also often that we harp on the mistakes of others while remaining blithe to our own performance and depth of understanding. If we truly desire an upgrade in our lives–for performance or for peace–we have to police our own actions just as keenly as we would another’s.
If not, arguably, even more so.
This requires a number of key components, none surprising however each important to remember and utilize.
In order to self coach, we need an understanding of what excellence looks like; self-awareness over our own actions, thoughts, and abilities; a plan to connect where we are to where we
desire to be; and the accountability and self-discipline to actually work towards that personal destination.
If you are reading this, it is likely there is at least an ember of interest in pursuing further levels of ability, so let’s fan the flames and burn through your place of stagnation.
Read on for a deep dive into everything you need to know in order to coach yourself towards excellence!
Can You Handle The Truth?
Coaching is about communication, often from one person to another.
Communication, properly maintained, is built upon trust in the words and advice offered. Trust stands atop many important pillars, the largest one being honesty.
If you are going to coach yourself, you have to be able to be honest with yourself, fully and in an unadulterated manner. That is to say, we can’t let narcissism or imposter syndrome skewer our perspective. Let go of ego and the distorted lens of yourself that often comes with it.
As we constantly cast a genuine glance at our own actions and intentions, with neither a condescending nor rewarding appeal, we become acutely aware of what we can do to grow.
If we only berate ourselves each day, we begin to lose faith in ourselves–and subsequently, our perspective and opinions. You can think of taking an honest assessment of yourself as laying down the proper soil before planting a seed and letting it be the germ of a powerful stalk.
Before sprouting, a plant needs the appropriate ground. Before progressing forward, we have to know who we are and what we are currently capable of.
After that, we can monitor our progress and begin to unlock a better version of ourselves.
Let Motivation Ignite Your Planned Path
Just as we need firm ground to stand upon in order to step forward with any significant progress, it can be helpful to have a goal in mind to run towards. To become good, we have to know what good is.
Otherwise, like a man sprinting in abysmal darkness, it is possible to make little true progress forward and instead wear ourselves out while wandering aimlessly.
Identifying what you are working towards is a good first step for pinning down your goal.
Keep a list of martial artists who are or have performed at the level and in the ways you desire. Whether your list is composed of tournament competitors demonstrating forms or martial artists expressing visceral energy in self-defense tactics, seeing what high level skill in reality looks like is important.
Sure, walk in their footsteps, but more importantly, seek what they sought. As you watch videos or train with your teacher, use what you see, hear, and feel to pave your path with a sense of purpose.
We are only as good as we aspire to be.
Alongside this is an audit of why you selected these resources as your motivation, your inspiration. Was it the speed they moved with? The precision of their speech and actions? The power and poise they moved with? Beyond that, why do you desire these traits?
It can seem simple to just say, well, I want to get better, however the more detailed we can get with what gets us out of bed in the morning, the easier it will be to keep from crawling back into the sheets when the days get metaphorically dark, drizzly, and cold.
Hold on tightly to the why which you determine, for it will be the hearth you come back home to each day.
Whether it is in the form of a hectic morning, personal tragedy, or overloaded work life, hard days are a fact of life. We have to equip ourselves in a manner so as to be prepared for them if we wish to have habits that withstand them.
The other half of motivation is accountability. If a mentality is to be sustained, it must be captured repeatedly. There is a scary thing we do that happens the day after the genesis of our motivation and excitement subsides: we begin to negotiate with ourselves.
We tell ourselves it’s OK if we don’t follow through with what we said we were going to do, it is OK if we add one more cheat day or thirty more minutes of snoozing in bed.
Do not waver.
You cannot negotiate with yourself.
A motivated mindset is great to have, however it is only natural that it declines over time. Rather than regress to your original problem state, use that initial spark to aim your sights and craft a plan so that discipline is easier to maintain
To stay on track, you can monitor your work and progress via weekly video, daily writing, or even simply task marks filling out a calendar. It’s all about continuing the positive momentum in life which your motivation birthed.
A plan is better with accountability for it is accountability which reinforces decided action.
Stay faithful to what you tell yourself you’ll do, you deserve no less commitment and respect than you would give another being.
The Problem With Help
I must confess.
I’m in a love/hate relationship–with mirrors.
But it isn’t only mirrors, mind you. I have thoughts and feelings on anything that allows you to become over reliant on external feedback, be it the visual cues of a reflection or the verbal cues of a hovering coach.
While these are helpful, and I daresay important, tools for reviewing and correcting your actions, it is easy to become simply great at just following along. At some point, we have to be able to get out of our mind and become immersed in the action..
This is where recording video comes in. If you have a phone, you have one of the greatest tools for building your abilities already. Simply secure it into a tripod or in the environment and hit record.
When I first started teaching martial arts, I used this feature to rehearse the communication skills I would need in order to present material appropriately.
In another way, it helped me prepare for competing as well. When a tournament was nearing, I would find an audio clip with background noise of a crowd, preferably of a sports stadium or similar venue, and blast it while recording my forms. This was to replicate, at least to some level, the roaring of an excited crowd and the watchful eyes of spectators and judges.
When you are finished, you can review the footage to identify the small details we easily lose track of during full intensity motion. Watch for hesitation, appropriate timing, disconnect in your movements, unconscious actions and telegraphing, and overall what works well and what doesn’t in a sparring match or performance. If you have footage of yourself actually in competition, all the better. You can shift your attention to the crowd and judges to see what moments in your forms really land well for them or study how your best sparring moves get set up well.
Just as we can become over reliant on mirrors and coaches, we can also become over reliant on recorded footage however. Over time, elevate your awareness to the point where you can be conscious in an action and properly feel it throughout your entire body. Feel the stretch of your fascia, the engagement of your diaphragm and pelvic floor, the intention projected by your eyes, and the sensation across your skin.
Similar to a subtle breath, these things can be difficult to discern in a video. All the more reason we must combine the various feedback methods with rehearsals intent on feeling the differences we need to make.
External feedback can be a great help, however the ultimate goal is to be able to recognize our mistakes and weaknesses in real time.
Your actions are your responsibility, govern them appropriately.
Rest easy knowing that you have all of the tools you need in order to level up your life. The first step is often the hardest, but also the one most important to take.
Take control of your actions and grow your success. When you learn how to coach yourself, you will forever be able to grow as a student.
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