If you’re looking for inspiration, the first episode of the Jocko Willink podcast is the place to go. I’ve written about Jocko on this blog before, and I think he’s got some great thoughts about leadership. So, I decided to give his podcast a try, and it motivated me. In it, he joked about numbered lists being popular. Thus, I decided to create my own numbered list. Today, you will learn the five, very easy steps to martial arts mastery. These steps work. I’ve spent the past five years watching martial artists in varying stages of their journey, and in that time, I’ve noticed five traits that are common to those who are continually improving in the arts. This applies regardless of style, age, or ability. Follow these guidelines, and you, too, can one day be a phenomenal martial artist.
Step One: Find a Martial Art that You Love
This will be the hardest of the five steps. Finding a martial art that you love and that inspires you is very difficult. I wrote some thoughts about how to find a martial art, and my CTS brother, Russ Haas, has written about the Rumsfeld method of finding an art. It can be as easy as going to the first school on your Google search, but the first school isn’t always the best fit. If this is the case, don’t give up. Keep looking. It took me years to find Counterpoint Tactical System. Before CTS, I trained in a lot of arts that I enjoyed, that were fun, but just not the right fit. That doesn’t mean those arts or those people are bad; it just means that it wasn’t correct FOR ME. In CTS, I found the right mix of material, training methods, training philosophy, instructor, training partners, and support network. Master Zach Whitson teaches in a way and has organized his system in a way that matches my optimal learning habits. On top of all of that, the art itself inspires me. There is so much depth to the material that I’m learning that one lifetime journey may not be enough. I recommend that you take your time in this step to find the art that inspires you. Here’s a list of clubs and instructors that inspire me.
Step Two: Go to Class
A martial arts class is many things. It’s exercise; it’s a social time; it’s stress relief; it’s a chance at self improvement. It’s also a place of failure, of ego crushing, of losing, of self reflection. All of these are equally true depending on your outlook. The path to mastery is not a straight line. There will be setbacks, obstacles, detours, and the occasional stop for a scenic view/roadside attraction. But all of that is progress. Skipping class is not progress. If you don’t attend class, you’re not even on the path. You can watch videos or YouTube. You can talk, debate, and argue about martial arts in real life or internet forums. You can read articles, such as this one or the others on my website. None of that replaces going to class. There’s no substitute. Class is the place to learn and get feedback. Instructors can correct little details and help you with an honest assessment of your progress. Instructors are guides along the path; they cannot walk it for you. Good instructors will walk with you down your path. Great instructors will cheer and celebrate your accomplishments along that path. I am very lucky to have found an instructor that not only guides my development but supports me as I struggle to find my way in both business and blogging. These people exist. It may take a little work to locate them, but there are many instructors who are dedicated to improving students. When you find one, the easiest way to thank that instructor is to show up to class. And every class that you attend puts you one step closer to martial arts mastery.
Step Three: Practice
This is self explanatory. Do the work. Now, on to step four.
Step Four: Practice
It turns out that the advice of practice isn’t quite as self explanatory as I may have led you to believe. Practice means putting the work in; do your reps. When you’re in class, don’t stand and talk during training time. Work. When you’re home and have a free moment, do the work. Get your reps in. Set some goals so that your practice has a purpose. If you’re doing the work, look for ways to supplement your training. Keep a journal; watch a video; read an article; visualize yourself achieving your goals; write an article; teach. But don’t confuse supplementing with actual training. The reps, the work, is what gets you closer to your goals. When you put your mind to accomplishing a task, you are awesome. I’ve seen it a number of times, and I know this is true for everyone out there. Decide on a task, be honest about yourself and your skills, practice the skills necessary to complete the task, and then practice some more. Do the work. Do. The. Work.
Step Five: Practice
Seriously, you have to practice. Life will get in the way. Financial difficulties, work conflicts, personal issues, tragedies, unexpected joys, injuries, illnesses, weather, all of these and more will get in the way of your training time. That’s okay. It happens to everyone. Take the time to deal with these bumps in the road as they come up, but get back to practicing as soon as possible. Be honest about your difficulties and don’t let them become impediments to your goals. Find a moment in your living room to do a little footwork. Swing some sticks in the back yard. Shadow box before you get into the shower. These little moments will motivate you to get back into more serious training. I recommend all of these things even if your training is going well. Do the work. Do the work. Do the work.
The Secret, Hidden, Bonus Step: Only Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday
For the low, low price of reading this far, I’ve decided to include a bonus step. This is the secret hidden at the heart of Counterpoint Tactical System. Upon discovering this step, all of my burdens became lighter. Stress decreased, and enjoyment increased. Spending time looking at other people’s journey can be inspiring, but it also takes away from our time working on ourselves. I love seeing people achieve their goals, and I’ll celebrate anyone’s success with them. Watching someone overcome a difficulty is inspiring. But these don’t replace doing the work. On the other side of the coin, trying to gauge your skill against someone else’s is a losing battle. We’re all different, with different strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. We progress at different rates; we are impeded in different ways; and we learn at different speeds. This is the true beauty of life with variety and diversity. This makes comparison impossible because there are too many variables to account for differences between people. The only consistent and true comparison is with yourself. So don’t look across the classroom at the higher skill levels to gauge your progress. Don’t look at the person that started on the same day you did. Don’t look at others that are the same rank as you. Look to who you were yesterday. Are you better than that person? Somedays, the answer will be yes. Others, the answer will be no. Both are acceptable as long as you keep practicing. Don’t measure yourself against anyone else. Each journey along the path to martial arts mastery is unique, and while we’ll never achieve mastery, we will have successes along the way. The only true failure in martial arts is quitting.