This past week my school hosted a black belt class. The class is generally limited to black belts but students who are testing for their black belts in the next six months were invited to the class. When I came in, there was an eligible student in the waiting area on his phone. I went into the back to prepare myself to take the class, I took the class and when it was over I noticed the student was still in the waiting area. The teacher asked the student why he just sat there and did not take the class. The student said that he was just too stressed out to take the class. He like many others I know consider training a chore that needs to be completed to become a martial artist. That attitude is very limiting. One should find stress relief and meditation in class. The rhythm and repetition of a traditional martial arts class can give the mind something to focus on other than the stresses of life. Sparring sessions can give stress relief through the execution of strategy.
The attitude one brings to class is one of the keys to successful participation in the martial arts. Looking at training as something you have to do rather than something you want to do will limit your experience. You can see this in some children whose parents “encourage” martial arts even though the kids don’t have an interest and you see this in people who get burnt out in sport karate. You can also see it in people that spend too much time teaching and not enough time training. The person who trains because he/she wants to train will be more successful than a person who feels he has to train for some outside reason.
It is important to focus on the training instead of the potential results. Sport karate and competition is fun. I like to participate in competition myself but a trophy is not the goal of martial arts. Belts, trophies and other rewards can be gratifying but if you are not engaged in your training for the sake of the self-improvement, you will not reach your full potential. Martial arts is multidimensional. There are the achievements, there is the ability to defend yourself, but there is also (for the lack of a better word) the spiritual side of martial arts. Being able to immerse yourself into the art. Immersing yourself can wash away your stress and you can find inspiration. There have been times that I have had a tough dilemma at work and by immersing myself in kata, I have gotten ideas on how to address my issues even though I wasn’t thinking about the problem. I have also had martial arts related inspiration, like understanding a section of kata that I did not understand before. It was like someone turned on a light and I saw that part of the kata for the first time.
I have a very challenging job and have a long commute (an hour and a half each way) and since classes are after work, I am often tired and unfocused at the beginning of most classes. However, as soon as the class starts, I begin to forget the day and immerse myself in the class. There are times when it takes half the class for me to release the day, but it happens. The class relieves my stress and lets me reset my attitude. Martial arts should go beyond just learning skills and fighting. Martial arts should help you find yourself. You should be able to immerse yourself in martial arts the same way you immerse yourself in water. As water cleans the body, martial arts should clean the mind.
I know that this sounds like new age mumbo jumbo, but it’s not. I am not suggesting that you hang crystals around your house or burn incense. Just understand that you can find another level of training. A level of training that goes beyond learning skills or putting your skills against the skills of another. You can find a place where you can confront your toughest opponent, yourself. Use you training to empty your mind of stress and problems.
If you are going to be successful at anything including martial arts, you need to be engaged in it. Training for the sole purpose of participating in competition or because your parents want you to or because your wife wants you to lose weight is not a path to greatness. Training to improve yourself is the path to greatness. As an instructor you can put obstacles in your own path by ignoring your training in your quest to train others. I compare instruction to the emergency oxygen mask on an airplane. You need to put your mask on first, then help others. You can’t help other people with their mask if you can’t breathe yourself. The same applies to martial arts. It is hard to teach the full range of martial arts if you are not engaged in it yourself. It is also not good for you. You deserve to have a full martial arts journey as much as your students.
If you look at a martial arts class as a reward rather than a chore, you will get a lot more out of it and you will become a better martial artist. Sitting out of a class because you are stressed out only hurts you. You miss out on training, you miss out on relieving your stress and you can’t get that time back.