Over the past several months we have watched our adult classes grow to their largest size since our dojo opened. It is very exciting to see people of all ages reaping the benefits of the martial arts. We are also very happy to see how much progress our beginner adult students have made in a short amount of time.
Although I began my martial arts training as a child, I rededicated myself to my training during my college years, and I found that while the benefits I reaped as a child were outstanding, the impact that the martial arts had on my life as an adult were even more profound.
At first I started training because I wanted to be able to defend myself, then I continued training because it was fun, and I began spending more and more time and effort practicing. As my skills grew, I realized I could improve in other areas of my life if I would invest the time and effort. It was really an empowering feeling. For much of my life, I had believed that success was largely a matter of luck or genetics. I believed that hard work certainly played a part, but it wasn’t until I really immersed myself in the martial arts lifestyle that I realized how important of a part. It was a very empowering feeling, to have some sense of control over my success in life.
The only possible downside, it could be argued, was the sense of regret I felt for not applying myself in other areas of life. I felt like if I had worked harder and practiced or studied more, I could have done better in sports or school (although my grades were fairly strong in college, if you’ll pardon my boasting). But even these feelings were quickly appeased, when I realized that now I had an activity in which I could dedicate myself, the martial arts! I couldn’t go back to high school and practice harder before trying out for the team, but I wouldn’t want to, because now I had an activity that I could still practice, regardless of my age or the opinion of any coaches.
As an adult, if I didn’t have the martial arts, I feel that there would be precious few moments to break the monotony of the routine of everyday life. Every time that I enter the dojo, I view it as a big event, a challenge, to see whether I can perform better than last time. Training helps us to stay physically and mentally fit. The techniques of the martial arts depend upon skill, not mere strength or athleticism, so students don’t simply get older, they get better.
This is why I feel like the martial arts provide the greatest activity and personal growth opportunity to both children and adults.
The other day in class I witnessed something that I would like to share with you. Two white belt (beginner) students were practicing a technique, designed to help a student escape when someone is on top of them. The student on the bottom was struggling, and giving their best effort, but didn’t seem to be able to make the technique work. This was one of those challenging times for me as an instructor, where I did not know what to say. Of course, I first looked for any technical errors in the execution of the move, but the student appeared to be setting everything up correctly. For some reason, it just wasn’t working. I gave the student a few general tips and words of encouragement, but she was still stuck in that position.
Anyone who has trained in jiu-jitsu knows how hard it is to be stuck in the mounted position. Oftentimes, this is due to the fact that if one’s training partner is skilled enough to achieve the mounted position, they are usually skilled enough to hold it very effectively. Therefore, I had a pretty good idea of what the student was feeling, but I didn’t know what else to do other than to think, “I feel your pain,” and tell them to keep practicing. However, at this point the student on top told the student on the bottom to make a minor adjustment, and voila! The technique worked.
There are a few points I’d like to make regarding this exchange.
1.) I was very impressed with the knowledge of the student (a white belt) to be able to tell the student on the bottom what they needed to do to make the technique work.
2.) I was equally impressed with his ability to explain it in a non-condescending manner. Both students felt better about themselves after the class, not worse.
3.) Sometimes when determining why a move isn’t working or what needs to be done differently, it helps to be the “uke,” or the partner that is actually having the move done to them.
This occurrence reminds me of why the martial arts are such a wonderful individual, as well as team activity. Few other experiences can help us to learn the value and ability of teamwork. In this class, both students were winners! I feel that these white belts already understand the true spirit of the martial arts as we study them.
As many of you probably know, we are very excited for our first annual in-school sparring tournament, coming up in a few months! This will be a fun event that will allow our students to showcase their talents and hard work, as well as become familiar with the scoring systems used in most jiu-jitsu competitions. Since the announcement of this tournament, our students have been working even harder than usual, and I cannot wait to see them in action! Each student that enters the tournament will earn a trophy, in recognition of their efforts. We will also be awarding special trophies for many different categories, including but not limited to: best takedowns, best defense, best control, best sportsmanship, and many more!
Competitions are prevalent in many styles of martial arts, and some schools place heavy emphasis on tournaments. Is this a good or bad thing? Well, if a student told me that they were interested in entering competitions, I would ask them why. Is it because they feel it will help motivate them to train harder? Is it to force themselves to endure a challenge which can be extremely nerve-racking? Is it to win a medal or trophy?
Regarding medals and trophies, if I may paraphrase a quote from John Candy in the movie Cool Runnings: medals are wonderful, “but if you’re not enough without (a gold medal), you’ll never be enough with it.”
I believe that entering jiu-jitsu competitions can be an effective and legitimate source of self-confidence. But I believe that the true confidence comes from being able to say, “I overcame the challenge, got up there even when I was nervous, and gave it my best,” rather than thinking, “I won, I’m the greatest!”
Some students may choose to compete, while others may have no desire to do so. I respect, and understand, both viewpoints completely. I have gone through periods of my training where I felt competition was important, and at other times I had no desire to compete.
Perhaps the biggest question we should ask ourselves before deciding whether to compete is, “How will this help me grow as a martial artist/person?”
See you on the mats, OSSSSS!
On Friday we were extremely fortunate to have a guest instructor for our jiu-jitsu seminar, my instructor, Mr. Lee Synkowski. It was a lot of fun, with countless rounds of sparring, and everyone (including me) learned a lot that will help us to take our training to even higher levels.
At the seminar, I was reminded of the importance of maintaining a “beginner’s mindset.” I first began studying under Mr. Lee almost 4 years ago. At that time, I had already been training in different styles of martial arts for almost 15 years, but I had never had the opportunity to formally study Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I knew that this was an art I had to study diligently to become a complete martial artist, as it places heavy emphasis on defending one’s self on the ground, an area in which I had little knowledge.
In my first class, it was clear that my prior experience meant little in a jiu-jitsu match. I was routinely taken down, swept, controlled, and otherwise dominated by students with as little as 1 year of experience in jiu-jitsu. I experienced a range of emotions at this time. One the one hand, it was very exciting to be learning this art that was clearly very effective and a lot of fun. On the other hand, I kept thinking to myself, “I already went through this process of being the new guy and getting beaten by everyone like 3 times (when I studied Ninjutsu, Kung Fu, and San Shou), it’s not fair that I should have to pay my dues again!” It was a frustrating and humbling experience.
Thankfully, I continued my training and started working my way through the ranks, attaining my Blue Belt over 2 years ago. I wish I could tell you that I was able to gracefully drop my ego and learn to be a beginner again, and certainly I was forced to swallow my pride somewhat, but I think that the main thing that got me through those first couple years of feeling like a fish out of water was the fact that the classes were just so much fun. As humbling as it was, I couldn’t wait to get back on the mats again.
I have been studying Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for about 4 years, about as long as it takes to get Black Belt in many styles, and am currently working towards my Purple Belt. However, I still train with Purple, Blue, and even some White Belts that give me serious trouble in sparring, and I am constantly reminded that there is always more to learn.
That’s the wonderful thing about martial arts; we can always get better through hard work, and because the techniques are based on leverage and positioning, our skills don’t have to decline once we reach a certain age; we are always learning, and growing.
This also helps instill a sense of modesty in the students. The students that make the most progress are the ones that enter each class ready to learn, not simply looking to show how much they already know. My goal for our students is for them to remember that any person that they meet knows more about them (the student) in some area(s).
Simply because we have more experience in the martial arts (or any other field) does not mean that we should not treat others with respect. Even if we have more experience than someone in the martial arts (or any other field) we should treat that person with respect. As a Blue Belt in Jiu-jitsu, I should try to treat the White Belts the way I would like for the Purple and Brown belts to treat me.
I am reminded of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Every man (or woman) I meet is in some way my superior, in that, I can learn from him (or her).”
I believe that maintaining this “Beginner’s Mindset,” is one of the keys to making progress and friends in our training. Take a look at our students and see if you agree.
Ahhh! Spring is here and there has never been a better time to be training in the martial arts! The energy levels in class have been sky high. Many of our students are participating in other sports and I know that the focus, flexibility, and strength they are developing in the martial arts is carrying over to those other activities. How do I know? I used to play baseball and basketball as a youngster, while working towards my Black Belt and I know that my martial arts training gave me a distinct advantage on the field or court.
That’s one of many wonderful things about the martial arts: they impact all areas of our life. Sure, a youngster can learn the value of teamwork and get great exercise playing lacrosse, but how is lacrosse going to help them if they get attacked? The student could get in serious trouble if they use their lacrosse stick on a potential attacker.
Youngsters who are involved in so many activities are really setting the foundations for success and a productive life. If you want something done, give it to a busy man, woman, boy, or girl.
The only real drawback I see to such a lifestyle is that the child isn’t getting enough TV watching or video game playing (just kidding!).
Therefore, to all of our students that are staying busy with other sports, traveling, etc. over the spring and summer, and are continuing their training, I salute you. We actually have more students training now than we did in the fall/winter, and that’s because they understand the value of the martial arts, and how they permeate all areas of our life.
The students that stay so busy with productive activities are still children of course, just as an axe is still an axe after it has been sharpened. It’s just sharper, more efficient, and productive.
After all, how many parents think, “I’m worried that my kid is going to accomplish too much!” or “My child hasn’t watched enough TV this summer!”?
Now, there is certainly such a thing as “too much of a good thing,” and burn out is something we all need to watch out for. However, with planning, organization, and a clear definition of my priorities, I was always able to stay on track to earn my next belt while still participating in other activities and enjoying my summer.
Speaking of which, get ready for some amazing classes this summer, as we take our students to even higher levels!
When doing a faceoff in lacrosse reaction times are 90% of it along with quick movements. When I used to do faceoffs two years ago, I would win around 65% of them and now after 1.5 years of martial arts I win every single one. Martial arts also helps with dodging and everything else. I attribute my improved performance to my martial arts training! ~Casey Nelan, MMA Student and Lacrosse player