July 14, 2020, Israel
It is said that only two out of ten thousand who walk into a martial arts training center will someday earn a second dan black belt. (a basic level of competence). Many use this quote to praise the few who earned this lofty status but I see it as a mark of failure. We need to find ways to improve the speed of learning, we need to find ways to help students acquire the self-defense skills that they desperately need. And yet this is rarely the case.
The fact is most will get discouraged and leave. They will feel frustrated in their progress, they do not match the image that they saw in the cool advertisements and they lose hope. This blog was triggered, motivated, by a comment from one of my students who wrote...I can't even get the basics, I keep forgetting things. I just think that in a real life situation I will forget everything.
I understand her frustration. And I share it.
So I offered her the following analogy. I am trying to learn German (and Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian etc...we are international after all). I am not taking formal lessons, I am not in a German speaking environment, and yet I am trying, with my limited time available. I take small steps, I learn a few words, I memorize a sentence. And then the next day I forget most of it. And I try again.
Does this work? Well, for those who attend my seminars you know that I have taught seminars all over the world. I have taught seminars in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and even German. And I have succeeded!
I am NOT fluent in any of those languages and when I try to have a conversation in any of those languages I get frustrated. Heck I forget words in English sometimes!
But what is my trick, and my message? Keep moving forward, don't stop and don't judge yourself so harshly.
My little grand nephew is 4 years old, he was born in Israel. He understands German fluently. And yet I have been learning German longer than him and I am no where near his level. His mother is a native German speaker and as she says has been speaking to him in German since the moment he was born. He now speaks German, Hebrew and English, sometimes all in one sentence, I heard him say to his little brother, aged 2, Das ist mein Matanah (gift in Hebrew) Spiderman (This is my gift, Spiderman).
Small steps forward, take pride that you improved on one step, one technique. Frustration is natural but we must learn to accept ourselves and know that each one of us progresses at his, her own level and speed. Don't leave class angry, enjoy class, be happy that you understood something a little bit better.
During my years as a student I have received nearly every insult imaginable. I have been hit by many instructors and was even insulted as I received my second dan black belt. I am not a natural athlete. So what is my winning strategy? I will summarize it here.
1. Never Give up. No matter what, remember your goal, remember why you started initially, Give your goal in mind and never give up. No matter what! No ifs or buts, never give up!!
2. Attend every training that you can. I can't tell you how many times I finished work and started justifying got myself why "just today" I will take a break. But then I caught this lie, this weak excuse and I drove to the dojo, or got on the train, or walked. Itay Gil used to say, "As much as I know that the sun will shine tomorrow I know that Moshe will be on the matt tonight." And I have achieved the highest ranks he has ever bestowed.
3. Don't "Save" - I was not earning a great deal of money during the years I was a martial arts student. And yet there was NEVER a seminar I did not attend, never a Video I did not buy, never a new T shirt that I did not purchase, (yes, even that is called Supporting Your Dojo, you buy the T shirt even if you don't need it because You need the dojo.) When I traveled to the USA to train I attended every class that I could.
I will give you just one example. I was in Long Island, I was driving with my dear friend Harry and I noticed a Brazilian Jujitsu school run by Rodrigo Gracie. The cost was I think $35 per lesson. I wanted to attend but I really could not afford it, I was thinking out loud. Later that night my friend Harry put the money in my hand and said, I know how much you want to attend that class, I will drive you there and pick you up after class.
We just put out a series of totally up to date gun defenses, world wide sales are now at 8 units, where is the desire to learn and improve? You want a black belt but you don't want to invest in your training?
4. Sacrifice - I never missed a training session. I sacrificed parties, weddings, you name it. For lunch I purchased only a falafel but no drink. The money for the drink was put aside for training. I thought, 5 Shekels for a drink? no, I will put that money aside for training. And now you know why I hold the rank of 7th dan black belt.
Summary: Train, forgive yourself for not being perfect. Forgive yourself for not having a perfect body. Forgive yourself for not having a photographic memory. But don't forgive yourself for being lazy. Don't believe your own excuses for not training. Train, make small progress, OK, tomorrow you might forget it, so come back, train again, eventually you will get it. Remember, the water eventually defeats the rock and shapes the rock. You can do it. I know you can.
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