In this final article on the subject of ‘training’, we are going to look at some of the ways in which we avoid the difficulties inherent in Martial Arts training. Some may strike a cord with you, some might remind you of training partners current or past. It is important to point out that I have personally done many of these things, especially early in my martial arts training life. So this shouldn’t be read as preaching but as coaches guide from my experiences and observations, that may then, in turn help you to face your own Excuses!
Let’s not beat about the bush here, Martial Arts can be hard. In fact, I would say that martial arts SHOULD be hard! It doesn’t matter if you are working on a Tai Chi form, practicing Iaido, or sparring with MMA Professionals, it’s never ‘easy’. Of course the way in which it is hard may vary, it might be hard because of the physical exertion, it may be hard because of the precision you require, it may be hard because you cannot be relaxed enough!
Training will invariably be mentally or physically challenging, it may require intense concentration or an ability to withstand a beating. But, hand in hand with the challenge of the actual training, comes an even greater challenge, the requirement to be brutally honest with ourselves
Nothing levels your opinion of yourself like getting your arse handed to you in sparring, and certainly, this is one of the easiest ways to honestly appraise your level. I have trained with people much smaller than me than have provided me with a very substantial ‘ego check’. But many martial arts do not use live training in the way that arts like Judo, BJJ or Muay Thai do.
For those other arts, which may be focused on other things like the maintenance of tradition, precision of technique or understanding of forms, partner drills etc, realising when your ego is getting ahead of you can be a little difficult. The body and mind are hard wired to find the easiest route and sometimes that easiest route is to create illusions and excuses that allow us to maintain an opinion of ourselves in the face of failure.
There are those who will defend their opinion of themselves at all costs and will go to elaborate lengths to do so unknowingly stifling their own progress. How do you know if you fall into this category? Hopefully this list of 10 things will help drop away the big ‘I am’ and illuminate some of the common 'traps'.
1) I don’t have time
There are 24 hours in the day, you DO have time to train! Whether making 30 minutes for your solo MartialBody training or, getting to that 3rd Aikido Class per week. The ‘time’ excuse is pervasive and, as most coaches know, this excuse is almost always the one that people use who haven’t been to training for a while.
Student - “Sorry coach, I have just been so busy!”
Coach – “Oh yeh, what have you been up too?”
Student – “uhh, umm … ohh you know, work.”
In fact, most people have plenty of time, they simply prioritise other things, be that Game of Thrones, Instagram, or some other distraction.
It is good to wind down of course but let’s not pretend that limited time is a factor for most, especially when thinking about supplementary solo training like that found in MartialBody. In fact, when I have looked at many of the MartialBody Private training group and discussed their time with them, almost all have spare time, they simply don’t recognise it as such. What do you do while waiting for a kettle to boil for instance? What would you feel like if you got up 30 minutes earlier? Do you lay on the couch to watch your favourite show? All of this is time you could also be doing something fruitful towards your training goals.
2) I’m too old
There are some for whom this excuse is somewhat valid, those older athletes in their 60's + may need to be very selective about their training. However, most often this excuse is spouted by people who are distinctly middle aged.
I am just shy of my 40th Birthday and I spar and roll with everyone. From the elite level 20 somethings to the new huge white belts, to the old guys with the ‘infamous’ old man strength. Age simply isn’t a consideration in my mind.
This lack of consideration for age is extremely nourishing. It forces the body to remain ‘young’, it is a pressure for the body enforced by the mind. I am convinced that 'staying young' is partially due to ignoring age and the limitations that age ‘should’ have on my abilities.
For the traditional artist, it is important to remember that nearly all of the ‘Legends’ of the Martial Arts were highly capably into their 60’s, 70’s even 80's!. Age was not a factor.
3) I’m not fit enough
This one really is a trick! The first question to ask yourself is, ‘How fit do I need to be to do X martial art?’ Most people don’t need to be an Olympian to go to the local Judo school but many will use their current level of fitness as a justification for not training or beginning something they think they will enjoy.
As someone who has put himself through the mill many times, let me re-assure you that ‘fitness’ is not absolute and is definitely not static. You will find things hard, but you should find things hard and over time your fitness levels will transform and adapt. In the JiuJitsu school where I teach, I have seen a large number of people transform their fitness levels.
Remember, every moment you spend training is a moment where you are improving your fitness to train!
4) Hey, they are much bigger than me
How many martial arts do you know that claim to give the small person the advantage? I could count 10 off in my first breath!
Yet time and time again I have heard this excuse! Even from the teachers of those very arts. Size is a factor in some martial arts and there is a reason why there are weight divisions in some combat sports, but working with larger partners and opponents should almost always be viewed as an opportunity. Especially for those martial arts where there is a focus on superior mechanics and use of the body. We should be seeking out those bigger partners to really test out body methods.
When we run a Randori session, I will almost always pick individuals how out weight me, normally by 10kgs or above. If my MartialBody doesn’t work in these situations, it is useless (happily it does!).
Usually people avoid the big guys for fear of getting beaten in one way or another, this could be an inability to perform a set technique against their mass, or a loss in free sparring. There a many ‘little’ wins to be had however, if we allow ourselves to learn.
5) They have been training a lot longer
Let me let you into a little secret, you are probably not the best martial artist in the room… There I said it. People are surprised when I teach MartialBody seminars and say that I am likely not the best martial artist in the room during my opening statement. But it is simply a fact. If you can accept this fact, you can train!
You cannot, however, use this fact as a reason to accept your losses, or be comfortable with your defeats, to not strive to be the best version of yourself. This is the next trap for our ego, the idea that ‘its ok if they win cause they are more experienced than me!’.
In the gym where I coach, I breed an attitude where the new lower belts will try as hard as they can to defeat the upper belts. They rarely get the best of them, but their own level progresses quickly. The upper belts have to stay ‘on the ball’ and the lower belts learn by doing. There is no excuse that those upper belts have been training longer or are ‘better’ and as such, advancement is rapid and purposeful.
6) My teacher’s legendary masters master is amazing!
This little ego boost is rampant in the traditional martial arts. I have been into countless rooms of people who are not training hard or displaying good levels of skill, but who, when talked too, bang on about how their founder was some invincible super soldier.
Unfortunately, simply training the style some badass created, doesn’t make you a badass. You have to do that for yourself. Instead of standing on the shoulders of giants, stand beside them.
7) I am ‘injured’ … when I loose.
Injuries occur, they are a natural part of combative endeavour where strange forces and directions can sheer knees or break ankles. If you are injured, respect the injury and the requirement to heal. But we all know when an ‘injury’ actually occurs to the ego, rather than the body.
Many grapplers will be aware of this situation, you are rolling or wrestling flat out with someone, there is good exchange and you are both struggling to get the upper hand. But you manage to submit your opponent at some point. It is at this point that the opponent turns around and utters the immortal words;
“Yehh, I wish I didn’t have this knee problem, I am not at my best” or something to that effect.
When the ‘injury’ is absent from everything but the final submission, it is usually an injury of the ego that the opponent is really nursing.
8) I knew what you were doing but thought I would let you do it anyway, to help you out.
This is one of the most infuriating ego tricks a person can use to protect themselves. The situation is, again, prevalent in the grappling arts, but can be applied to drills like pushing hands or other non-cooperative methods.
Here you do something and ‘win’ the exchange, only to be met by the partner proclaiming that they were letting you do this in order to help you train. Normally the people will often then go into some rambling explanation about how you “should try to do this or that … next time”. The reality is that they are annoyed or upset that they were caught, and therefore go ahead and try to massage their opinion of themselves by pretending it was all planned in the first place.
Don’t be ‘that guy’. I have seen it result in actual fights due to escalation and often then the result is unambiguous.
9) Let me show you how this is really done!
Usually there is one coach or teacher in a training environment, and it is their responsibility to provide instruction on specific methods. However, there should also be room for what a friend and long-time martial artist, calls ‘Mutual Enquiry’ where you both explore concepts together and give feedback or possible improvements. To be clear, this is not what I am talking about here.
No, this trick is something more commonly used by people who are concerned about their own skill level, or position in the hierachy and in turn want to display their understanding by ‘teaching’. I have had 1 year White belts with no experience in any other martial art, start coaching something in a class full of high grades, usually to an even newer student! It is more often than not this occurs when that newer student, who may be athletically gifted, beats them in a free rolling situation.
“ok sure but let me show you how to do it properly, grab my arm like this … no like this”
Once again this is a product of their ego taking a beating and their reaction to re-assert themselves as the senior individual in the exchange.
10) I decided not to bother with X Gym, I didn’t like that place.
Of course, sometimes a gym or style isnt for you and that is not what we are talking about here. You should be training in an environment you enjoy and feel a part of.
However, it is also common that if a training environment doesn’t massage our ego, we can revolt and leave in order to protect our opinion of ourselves. Sometimes you will be passed over for a belt or promotion, you will be passed over for praise or you will be asked to put more effort in. If we are not careful, these things can eat away at us and we transfer our own insecurities onto the gym, the instructor or coach. We claim that they ‘have it in for us’ and end up leaving. When really, it was just we weren’t ready for that praise or promotion yet. When thinking about leaving a training group, ask yourself the question, are you leaving because it is challenging or is it really a not a good fit.
These are 10 common tricks we can play on ourselves. I am certainly not immune to them and have fallen guilty of many in the many past years of martial arts training. But knowledge is power, and hopefully, understanding how you trick yourself will help you escape such traps.
Happy Training All