I’ve always been driven to study martial arts. From the first time I knew it existed, I wanted to know more. When I first read a book by my teacher, Stephen K. Hayes, I knew what martial art, out of all the possibilities out there, I wanted to focus on. I was eleven at the time. It took me a few more years, but I rearranged my life, moved over two thousand miles from home, and followed that path I was most interested in. I’m still driven, after over thirty years in the martial arts. It’s a drive that I see in other students too, and one that can lead to an out of balance perspective, if one isn’t careful.
Specifically what I mean is that our art seems to have no end to the growth and knowledge one can gain. Pick any technique we work on, and there is a way it looks as a color belt rank, a way it looks as a 3rd degree black belt, and a way it looks when An-shu does it. And all the levels in between. This was amazing to me since it didn’t always seem that way in other martial arts I’d been exposed to. But without the right attitude it can also lead to a ‘never good enough’ feeling in those really driven to always be better. Discovering a ‘better’ way to perform what was mistakenly thought to be just a ‘yellow belt technique’ after years of training can make one feel like they weren’t a very good student. I’ve had black belts get angry with themselves, or sometimes even angry with me, when I showed them some small change to a color belt technique they ‘thought they knew’. I know how they feel. I’ve felt that way too. How come I didn’t know that (whatever that is) until now? The truth, of course, is that change I was sharing wasn’t a small change at all, but something incredibly advanced that they were only just then ready for. It might take ten years of training to be able to perform what seems like a small change in a technique. When you’re ready for it, it can seem obvious. If you’re not ready for it, it gets dismissed, or misunderstood.
The opposite perspective can become a problem too, though that one seems to happen much less often in our martial art. The ‘I already know that’ disease. Or the belief that an already high level of skill means there isn’t more to learn. I’ve also seen flashes of it in athletic students with a high level of speed and power. They can use that to make up for the fact that there is something missing in their technique, so they never feel the need to change. It feels like it is working for them. And something is … just not the something they’re supposed to be working on.
I’m hardwired to have more of the first perspective, but once or twice in my life, I’ve caught myself going too far the other way as well. Either one can cause problems. Either one can get in the way of learning. To really be effective, and to really keep growing as a martial artist and a person, I’ve found, you have to have belief in yourself (know you deserve that rank!), but not so much that it becomes arrogance, you have to have humility (know that you’ve got more to learn from your teachers!), but not so much that you lose faith in yourself. That’s a tall order, the ability to find that perfect balance, but that’s also why I continue to be driven, especially in this martial art. There is always something more.
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