Often we hear that the martial arts is a lifelong journey. I tell this to my students, and I see it put into action by my instructor, Master Zach Whitson. But it seems like it’s up to each of us to determine how to maintain that journey. Most of the advice I’ve heard about how to continue the journey comes down to fitness and diet, but what about motivation? Rarely do I get advice on how to keep motivated. Those who stay in the martial arts discover their own motivation whether it’s because of monthly dues or the need to earn money or to support a friend. Over the course of the last six years, I’ve stuck with Counterpoint Tactical System in a way that I haven’t with other arts. During this period, I’ve had some large personal challenges and changes that could have derailed me at any point. In fact, lesser obstacles made me falter in the past with other martial systems. As it’s easy to tell from my blog, I love CTS, but the journey hasn’t been easy. Progress hasn’t been a steady increase; there were times when I had to dig deep to stay engaged. In the end, it paid off with skill and a better understanding of the martial art. So, what changed in me over the past six years that helped me stay a part of the martial art that I love? I learned to celebrate small victories.
No one’s trip on the martial arts journey is the same as anyone else’s because each life is unique. While we can follow a similar curriculum, physical, mental, and emotional differences mean that we interpret an art individually. Progress varies between each person as well, and some may show steady improvement while others are sporadic. But each of us face moments when we wonder if we’re truly getting better. Why am I not improving? Am I wasting my time?
One method of combating those thoughts is to look at the small victories we make each day. The instructor showed three techniques but you can only remember one? Well, that’s better than none. Out of the ten punch combo you were working, you could only do the first five? Good. Got destroyed in sparring? You showed up, and you gave it your all. Humans, for whatever reason, notice everything right that others do but only the wrong that we, ourselves, do. In reality everyone does some things well and some things poorly. Humans are imperfect but not absolutely so. No one does every single thing wrong. At the end of class, if you’re feeling down, look at the improvements that you did make. If you feel like you’re stuck, look at where you were last week, last year, and you should see that you’ve come a long way. And you’re much better off than the person sitting on their couch saying they’re gonna train martial arts. If you’re still doubting your improvement, ask your instructor. Your teacher sees the improvements that you may not notice.
Now, this is not to say focus only on the small victories or to constantly bug your coach. Noticing small victories and feedback from your instructor is part of the overall self-evaluation. It’s important to know where improvements can be made, but be careful not to swing too far into self criticism or self praise. To stay motivated, the student needs a healthy balance between recognizing areas for improvement and progress made. Looking for the small victories, for the incremental improvements, will help us stay motivated for the life long journey.