How to Advance as a Martial Artist (3)

Tsuruga castle in Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima, Japan

Be open minded

Be open minded

Try new styles. As you learn a martial art, you get glimpses into specific situations and how you can react. Today, most every martial art has branched of into its own specialty. Taekwondo specializes in kicks, Karate in strikes, Kenjutsu in swords, Jodo in Jo, judo in throws, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu in grapplingIf you limit yourself to a single style you’re left trying to change every situation to fit your specialty. It makes sense, but it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll always be able to do so. The specialization and dedication to the arts is fantastic and to be respected, but overspecialization creates holes. Those holes reduce your essential ability to react to any situation.

Take the Samurai for instance.  They trained in empty hand arts that branched to judo, jujutsu, aikijutsu, aikido, karate, and more. From there they would learn as may weapon arts as possible. Archery, swordsmanship, naginata, sickle and chain, and anything they might potentially face. There is so much more to this but I think you get the point.

If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong  

If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re not doing it right.  I don’t mean that everyday needs to be rainbows and butterflies, but if you don’t like what you’re doing, why are you doing it? You should be able to push yourself each day, and after practice, be happy you went. 

Safety  

  You should feel safe within your dojo.  It is not only an training space, but a sanctuary of sorts, where master and student get together to perfect their art and the outside world should not be the main thing on the mind.  Everyone is free to have their own opinions, and some harsh truths are needed.  If you are scared to train, talk to your sensei.  If you don’t have trust in your sensei, how are you supposed to train whole-heartedly and trust what they say to be correct.  There are often multiple dojos of the same styles. More famous styles like Karate and Taekwondo have hundreds of thousands of dojos. There are times to stay where you are and times to explore new options. I always recommend being as straightforward as possible.  

 Be you  

Your style will not be exactly the same as your sensei, nor should it.  You are different people, have different bodies, and different life experiences. Work hard and be who you are.  The best part of training with others is getting to know the real them.   

Notes:
This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but if you can do this, you’ll be well on your way to improving.  More thoughts to come.

How to Advance as a Martial Artist (2)

Enzoiji Temple in Aizu-Yanaizu, Fukushima Japan

Record yourself, and study your own movements

There is so much you will be able to see regarding your form, fluidity, and more that makes recording yourself an absolute must. Each time you think you have something down, record yourself, and you will likely be able to find at least one, if not a handful of aspects that could be improved. The best time to record yourself is when you think you’ve perfected something, and when you have been taught new minute details that need to be corrected.  But really, any time in general works wonders.  You can also record those that are much better than yourself (with permission of course).  That way you can do a side by side comparison with your own video.  You can also use the recording as a stand in sensei when you are practicing alone.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

You might be new and not know much, but that doesn’t mean that you have to train like it! Get into the habit of working on techniques at home.  There are obviously aspects that can’t be done alone, but nothing is stopping you from working on your strikes, kicks, forms, weapon swings, terms, and more! You become the best by training like the best.  Go home, and practice what you learn in any way you can, especially if there are days where you don’t have practice. If your training days with the sensei are limited, use that time as a way to learn new material, correct any errors that only your sensei will notice, know how to correct, etc.

You can take this to an even higher level by finding times where other students from the dojo can meet up and practice with you outside of dojo hours. This will help you both and a second pair eyes or body to work with really makes a difference.

Master the Basics

This may sound a bit obvious, but many people try to hop the boring, repetitive basics and shoot themselves in the foot by doing so. I can’t say I blame people, who doesn’t love to watch the flashy, jumping, spinning movements. And yeah, they can look cool. Is it worth it though? You’re much more likely to injure yourself and likely to never use most of the techniques in a real situation if one was to arise… I hope not anyways.

If you try to quickly memorize or even bypass the basics and try to move on to the more advanced, cooler-looking moves too fast, you are setting yourself up for failure.  I’ve been there, and done the same, and I’ve had to stop, go back, and relearn everything that I did halfheartedly (and worse, take time off and restart after injury)… Definitely not something I recommend to anyone.

Notes:
This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but if you can do this, you’ll be well on your way to improving.  More thoughts to come.

How to Advance as a Martial Artist (1)

Tanaka Sensei sheathing his sword at Tsurga(jo) castle in AizuWakamatsu, Japan.

Something that I often ask myself and hear from others is “How can I become a better martial artist?” Here were some of my thoughts (with more to come later).

 Find people better than you

     Often in larger schools it is difficult to see the head instructor perform techniques, ask them questions, or generally get much one on one time.You should have at least one person, if not a dojo (dojang, school, etc) full of more skilled and or knowledgeable martial artists that you can use to your advantage to propel yourself to a higher level each day. If everyone else there just started, or you’re the only student there for that matter look up to the sensei (certainly the sensei should be the best source).  It’s difficult to increase your own level without seeing someone better than yourself. Obviously it can be done even if you are training alone in your house, but that is far from the most direct way.

Listen to and watch those around you

     Now, I’m not saying listen to everyone about everything… If you do that, you could be running around in a circle of mismatched advice that will leave you exhausted and no better for your efforts. What I mean is to really pay attention during your lessons/ practice sessions.  Watch the movement of your most skilled senpai. Sometimes you are likely to be frustrated, but that’s all part of learning something new.  If it was easy, and everyone could do it on the first try without effort, where would the fun be in that?!

     It is often best to pick a few trusted sources from the more skilled and higher ranks of your dojo. There are times to go directly to the sensei (when you have conflicting advice) and when you’re OK with the higher ranks’ knowledge.

Ask Questions

     This is key at any level.  I’m sure I’ve driven a few of my sensei insane by the number of questions I’ve asked, but it is a life saver.  I learn by seeing and doing much faster than by just hearing and reading concepts. I like to know why a movement is done a certain way. I envision a situation that it could be used, and try to break down the move, find its weaknesses and see why it’s not done one way or another.  Usually it can be done differently, but what we are taught is the basic building block of the advanced movements. After you learn something try it out, and write it down.

Write EVERYTHING down

     I use to be against the idea of writing a notebook of techniques, form movements, names, styles, and such.  But then I started learning more and more.  I started practicing multiple styles, and am more and more fascinated by the plethora of ways to come to the same end.

     I was also annoyed by lack of space in my notebooks and the constant need to replace pages, hunt for what I was looking for, and such.  But now, with resources like OneNote, Evernote, and more, it’s incredibly simple to edit entries, add notes, and organize your thoughts in a way that works for you. I like the idea of having a small physical copy of some form with me, editing and adding notes by hand as it’s faster and then editing the digital copy later.

Notes:  

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but if you can do this, you’ll be well on your way to improving.  More thoughts to come.

Kouhai ( 後輩 こうはい ) refers to a junior in comparison to someone else.  Whether it be from age, rank, or skill.
Senpai (先輩 せんぱい ) refers to a senior in comparison to someone else. Whether it be from age, rank, or skill.
Sensei (先生 せんせいrefers to a teacher; master; doctor. Literally translated as “person born before another”