My View on the Life Cycle of a Martial Artist
As I checked my cumbersome six-foot bo staff case in at the Southwest ticketing counter for a trip to teach private lessons in San Diego, the employee asked a familiar question, "Are these fishing poles?" After some small talk about the case actually containing martial arts equipment (never call it a "weapon" at the airport), he was surprised and immediately complimented my dedication for spending 15 years studying the martial arts. I left him with a "thank you sir" and began to ponder the dedication that all martial artists display, that impressed this gentleman so much. We typically begin our training in childhood, fall in love with a particular style, and some of us even make a career out of it. I believe that this life journey of a martial artist can be generalized into three phases: Introduction, Growth, and Sharing.
The Introduction Phase has by far the most variability. People begin their martial arts training for a wide variety of reasons and school owners, as they should, focus their marketing efforts on these purposes. Some children are bullied and begin martial arts to learn self-defense and build confidence. Others watch superhero movies packed with traditional combative techniques and modern acrobatics, so they sign up for classes to become the next Batman. Many students start at an older age to begin a fitness quest or simply challenge themselves with a new learning endeavor. A few, like myself, are fortunate enough to be introduced to the martial arts by a positive role model. My first-grade teacher was a black belt at a local Tae Kwon Do school and I won a silent auction at the school carnival for a two-week introductory course. Whatever the reason that we wound up in this beautiful art/sport, the reason that you are reading this blog is because you are still enthralled with it. Martial artists love the principles that we are taught, the thrill of a human chess match in combat, and the simultaneous elegance and strength demonstrated when running a form. These are the things that propel us into The Growth Phase.
The Growth Phase is a selfish one, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. For some martial artists this phase begins the moment they line up in class the first time, at the back of the room looking at the array of colors around the waists of those ahead of them. The moment that a martial artist sees the stereotypical belt-rainbow that rests on the wall of every school, we can't wait for the day we get to have the black one tied around us. This starts a journey of self-improvement in which we strive to learn as much as we can from our instructors and invest hours of blood, sweat, and tears into our craft. As each month of training passes we become more confident, stand up to bullies, unlock more Batman-moves, lose another few pounds, and ultimately become focused on being the best that we can possibly be. What's most fascinating about The Growth Phase is what we discover at the end of it. We realize that becoming the best version of ourselves is great, but teaching and sharing the martial arts with others is one of the most euphoric things that a human can experience.
This realization marks the beginning of The Sharing Phase, the most important phase in the life of a martial artist. At this point we have gained an appreciation and admiration for all the incredible things that martial arts has done for our lives. This deep respect drives us to share the martial arts with as many people as we can touch. Martial artists have become increasingly creative with how they can share our beloved way of life. School owners take on teaching the martial arts as a profession and their success is quantified by the effectiveness of their teaching and the number of lives they are able to impact. These school owners are the largest group of martial artists in the sharing phase and they impact hundreds to thousands of students each. Some of the most skilled martial artists take their talents to Hollywood to perform in stunts and become the next superhero that kids want to grow up to be. Others choose to compete for many years to develop a platform through which they can inspire thousands of children, not only with their performances, but also by teaching private lessons and seminars. The rest of the martial artists that enter The Sharing Phase become consultants that help school owners become successful, employees of companies like Century that provide enough product for millions of individuals to train, and so many other possibilities that a life in the martial arts can provide.
I believe that it is possible to live in all three of these phases simultaneously. I find myself being introduced to new styles of martial arts all the time at open tournaments or the MAIA Super Show. I continue to grow as a martial artist by pursuing the unobtainable goal of perfection and innovating new bo staff tricks as often as I can. I also love living in The Sharing Phase and spreading my love for the martial arts by teaching and performing. In fact, I am beginning a new endeavor in The Sharing Phase. This particular blog is the first in a series of blogs that I will be authoring indefinitely on BlackBeltMag.com. I am humbled and honored by this unique opportunity to share the martial arts and I hope you enjoy this journey with me as we explore all aspects of the martial arts from traditional history to contemporary innovations and everything in between.
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