You (should) suck! Yep, I said what I said.
Not only that, the best martial artists in the world–competitors, teachers, and performers–all suck.
Now before you take ‘em as fighting words, let's take a moment to understand what was actually said. (I promise, it relates to the process of becoming extraordinary in any endeavor.)
Have you heard the famous saying to “be like water”? I agree with it, but think that the description could be better expanded. Shotokan Karate Founder, Gichin Funakoshi said it well, “Karate is like boiling water”.
It must be heated constantly or else it will grow cold.
In other words, unless you want your skills to grow tepid and old–er, I mean cold–you have to keep putting in the work and make sure that flame under your butt doesn’t diminish.
Sure, that can mean practicing your kihon and kata each day, but that also entails finding new ways to experience uncomfort. That’s where growth lies, after all.
Traditional Japanese martial artists talk about the concept of “shoshin”, or the beginner’s mind. This is about maintaining the open mind of a novice, someone who understands that they don't understand and who is truly willing to grow without any attached ego to their prior experiences.
If we don't have the humility to be a beginner, we will never get the glory of being an expert. If you never suck at anything, you will forever suck at everything.
The Life Cycle of Success
Many don't understand the entirety of what failure and success can mean.
Most of us have heard that failure isn't final unless you give up. Firstly, that is true. Secondly, that isn’t all that we need to keep in mind.
A receptive mind finds that failure leads to lessons (at least, with the right mentality when facing it), and lessons guide you to success. These two phases are part of a longer cycle however, one which can lead you back into a dismal state.
Success can then lead to complacency, and complacency to failure. In other words, when we achieve success, it is easy to stay immersed in the comfort that follows (especially when it is hard earned). This complacent state is one which will quickly lead us back into failure.
Complacency is the breeding ground for laziness and sloven work after all.
The key to break the cycle is to stay uncomfortable in the appropriate ways and maintain awareness that once we reach success, we need to look back into learning lessons and growing towards success, skipping past the dangerous state of complacency and the failure that follows.
The Evolution of Greatness
The life cycle of success isn’t the only cycle to be aware of. There's also such a thing as a Confidence/Competence Loop.
Here's the lowdown: when we believe that we can do something, we're willing to take action and actually do the dang thing. As we take action, the repetitions increase our competency in it.
As our competency in the activity increases, our confidence also increases and we are more willing to continue putting the work into it–we are now more excited and comfortable with it after all.
These two attributes, confidence and competence, continue to grow in tandem. As one grows, it inspires the other attribute to soon follow and exceed.
What's important is that we have the mentality to actually take the first step, otherwise we will never grow our confidence or competence. If we see the challenge and then shrink from it, we will forever be stuck in our mundane phase.
Perpetually average and unconfident.
Growth starts with being willing to step out of our comfort zone and starting that cycle. Doing that which we are afraid of or uncomfortable with, such as sparring with high level opponents or showcasing our forms at a large tournament.
Our skills can grow, however we must first have the courage to try something new and work to build the attributes.
It will take time, however all good things take time.
Action Against Limiting Thoughts
Our thoughts fuel our actions. If we put in improper fuel, you can bet we aren’t going to go very far or fast in life.
The products of our thoughts–words and actions–both become habits which in turn craft our body, mind, and experience.
There's the classic tale of a baby elephant who is tied to a pole with simply a string. Being such a young animal, the few strands are enough to keep the elephant leashed. Though it tries and struggles in its youthful years, it never breaks free. Over time, its spirit is defeated and he just gives up.
He. Stops. Trying.
Fast forward many years and the elephant is now fully grown. An adult elephant can easily break a few strands of thread, however by this point, it no longer has the belief that it is able to escape– thus he never tries.
The threads prevail, and will continue to do so, until the elephant's belief system changes.
If we entertain thoughts of fear, uncertainty, anxiety–in other words, all of the things that often come with trying new things and entering new territory–we will never grow and discover what we are truly capable of.
Step outside of your comfort zone and explore what's out there. Perhaps you rarely compete in tournaments, shy away from working with certain individuals who scare you with their skill, never travel to train at outside seminars, or have rejected the idea of cross-training with others in your area.
What makes you uncomfortable likely has a lesson to impart with you.
If you are the smartest man in the room, get the heck out of the room–aside from stroking your ego, that comfy room will do little for you.
Growth requires action. The most impactful types of growth require the most uncomfortable types of change.
You will try new things and you will stink pretty badly at some of them. Good.
Over time, you will get better and better. Eventually, you will become an expert at what you once struggled with.
At that point, you will then have to make the decision again–stay content with your current level or get better overall by embracing the opportunity to suck temporarily.
As always, it’s your call.