Martial Musings #1: “When do I get to the cool stuff?”

In this new series, I aim to share insights and experiences I’ve had through the years in both my own karate training and in my teaching. Hopefully you’ll find something that is not only interesting, but useful in some way, shape, or form.

Gimme the Cool Stuff

Sometime ago, a now former adult beginner student asked questions about advanced self-defense applications to a simple drill we were exploring in class.  I answered by explaining the technique and I believe I even demonstrated a more advanced application.  But, much to his displeasure, I ended by saying something like, “…but you really need to assimilate the basic principles first or this won’t work for you.”  He nodded in understanding, but I sensed he was not satisfied.  

A few classes later, he did it again.  He asked a question that in essence revealed that he was really wanting to “get to the cool stuff”. And again, I answered his question, and explained he needed to just keep training, but I knew he still was not happy with the answer.

Abilities, Unlocked

Several more classes came and went before he asked again, but this time, I changed my strategy.  I asked if he ever played video games and when he responded in the affirmative, I explained that our training was a lot like playing a video game.  In a lot of games, players must be in-game for a certain amount of time, or complete given tasks, or meet a bunch of milestones before certain characters, or exotic weapons, or special abilities are unlocked and made available to the player.  

The same is true with traditional martial arts training: only through consistent and purposeful training can the deeper, more “advanced” insights and abilities be revealed, or unlocked, and then assimilated. There are movement principles that the body has to execute over and over through the basics that cannot be learned without focused repetition and targeted correction; only then can an adequate mental and physical understanding be reached.

The Only Way

Unlike video games, there are no cheat codes in traditional martial arts training, but there are a few vital hacks that can be applied in order to accelerate one’s learning and skill-retention:

  • Be consistent in training and study
  • Be present and purposeful each and every time you train
  • Keep an open mind
  • Ask yourself why, and how, and what if, often
  • Figure out how to “train” all the time, in your everyday life, even when not executing karate techniques
  • Stay humble

My video game analogy seemed to be just what he needed to hear.  He still asked questions, but he was a bit less…impatient with the answers.

Keep training,