Let's Be Honest
A large part of martial arts training is the search for inner peace and understanding. Most people who study the arts will never get into a fight, but there is a drive to learn and improve. Of paramount importance is the ability to be honest with yourself as you continue your training. If you can do this with your martial arts training, you should be able to do the same when analyzing your life in general. In the martial arts, it is easy to fool yourself into believing that you are a great, invincible fighter. There are thousands of black belts who think that they can beat anyone around, just because they have a black belt around their waist. Even if this isn’t your mindset, let’s ask a few hard questions. When is the last time you were in a fight or competition that was full-contact? If you have never been in a full-contact fighting situation, how do you actually know that you can fight under those circumstances in a street altercation? If you have been in a tough situation and came out on top, good for you, but who was it against? Was it a drunk whose alcohol induced bravado got the best of him, or a well-trained athlete? If you don’t get into fights, good for you!! You should, however, put on the protective gear and spar hard occasionally until it is not foreign territory. You don’t have to get injured, but it is vitally important that you are comfortable in the wild environment that occurs during an all out street brawl. You don’t want to find out what it is like for the first time in the street.
It is common for martial artists to shy away from this sort of attitude toward training, especially if the artist has achieved a high rank in his or her system. It is easier to hide behind the rank than to actually explore the possibility that there is much more to learn. It doesn’t just happen in traditional martial arts, it also occurs in fighting sports such as boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, and free fighting. It happens everyday outside of the martial arts as well. Scientists, teachers, doctors, and business people all tend to reject change in their respective industries. This is why the study of the martial arts is so valuable to your everyday life. You can take the lessons learned as you strive to be the best that you can be in the realm of fighting, and transfer that knowledge and information to any aspect of your life. Your quest for the truth must be constant and without filters. Sometimes we find things that we would rather not know about but you can use the information to improve yourself.
I have had many experiences that were hard to take, but of immense value in the long run. One example was my stick-fighting experience. I had trained in kali and eskrima for many years, and was known as being pretty good with the stick. After years of training, I heard of a stick tournament and entered. I lost my first and only match very badly. I had driven 8 hours to the tournament, lost the very first match of the entire tournament, and now had a long, lonely drive back to Los Angeles to look forward to. Now, I’m glad it happened. This experience made me think of all the things that Guro Dan Inosanto had said in class. He would show a beautiful, intricate technique with unbelievable speed and precision, then casually say “Of course, I would rather just stay outside and hit the hand.” Sometimes he would say “If you want to be a good fighter, you should spend time just making the X on the heavy bad, but that is your homework.” Now it made sense to me. So, I gradually changed my training methods, and ultimately fared much better in the tournaments. Then, much to short term dismay, but eventual benefit, I met Eric Knaus.
Eric is the founder of the group which is now referred to as the Dog Brothers. The current head of the group, Marc Denny, introduced us, and arranged for us to stick spar. We put on good helmets, some hand protection, and an elbow pad, picked up a substantial rattan stick, and got ready to spar. Since protective equipment was minimal, I assumed that we were going to spar very lightly. As the first thunderous backhand shot past my head, I realized that the stick in my right hand was the protective equipment! Once again, I survived, but was able to mount no offense to speak of, and displayed only a decent sense of defense. When the environment changes, you must change and adapt or become extinct. After some major overhauls in my training methods (training the basics well and often), the stick fighting is functional when the pressure is on.
I went through similar experiences with kickboxing. I knew many techniques and could hit the pads hard, but in a full contact situation I didn’t perform well. Grappling range proved to be the same story. These situations leave us at a crossroads where we must make a decision. I had to choose between being humble and starting as a beginner again, or to just pretend that I had a bad day and hide behind my instructor credentials. I am glad that I made the difficult choice and just dove into training. It has paid huge dividends, not just in my martial arts skills, but by giving me peace of mind. I know that I am doing my best to improve, and I know that I am giving my students the very best training that I know how to give. I don’t have to agonize subconsciously about pretending to be a high performance martial artist, because I work on it everyday. I take these lessons and apply them to other areas of my life that I am improving as well.
If you have gained some sort of “success” in the martial arts or life, but feel unfulfilled, it is probably because you have some weak spots hidden deep within. Look within, be honest, and get to work on the weaknesses. You will turn them into strengths, and you will enjoy life to it’s fullest!
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