Hit The Walls Running

“If we’re gonna walk into walls I want us running into them full speed.”
-Leo McGarry, from West Wing Season One, “Let Bartlet be Bartlet”

Safety in the martial arts is important.  It is critical to learn how to move so as not to hurt yourself or your partner.  Nobody gets better while their sitting on the sidelines.  So I never have a problem with a student holding back when there is a direct and material possibility that they might otherwise injure somebody else.

But like so many things in life, a lesson learned early for sensible reasons later gets taken way out of context.

So often, students hold back for a variety of reasons.  They’re not sure if they know how to execute a technique.  They’re not sure if they even know which technique they’re supposed to be doing.  They can’t remember the name.  They can’t figure out what would be the best response to an attack.  They don’t want to look foolish to the class, to their Sensei, and perhaps more importantly, to themselves.

So what happens?  Students hesitating in the face of an oncoming attack.  Students standing and looking skyward while their frazzled memory tries to remember what to do next.  A room full of students performing a kata, each glancing quickly to the left and the right, and trying to do each move a half second later than everybody else.

Sometimes, it helps to remember that there’s nothing more foolish looking than standing there doing nothing.

Doing the wrong technique may be foolish.  Doing a poor technique may be ineffective.  But if you’re going to be foolish and ineffective, then be foolish and ineffective with your body, mind and soul.  Commit to doing something, anything, and worry about what it looks like when it’s all over.  Even the wrong technique can sometimes work if you give it your all.  But the perfect technique is useless if done after the attack has landed.

So go ahead and make a commitment.  Commit that you’re going to do the wrong technique sometime during your next class, and not worry about it in the slightest.  Do the wrong technique with such power and flair and confidence that everybody watching you thinks “Jeez, I guess I never knew how to do that technique – THAT must be the way it’s supposed to look!”

That’s true martial arts.

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Muscle has Memory!

Today’s special Guest Blog is from my great friend and mentor, Master Professor Jerry Kunzman.
Kudan, Zen Budokai Ju Jitsu
Sandan, Kodokan Judo
Nidan, Kodenkan Ju Jitsu (now Danzan Ryu)
Shodan, Kyokushin Karate

Have you ever watched a Master in any martial art with wonderment and awe at his/her lightning fast and perfect response to an attack?  Have you ever wondered how he/she does that?  How long do you have to train to be that fast and perfect?

When you start your martial art training (in any system), you are looking at hundreds of techniques you will need to “master”.  Your Sensei or instructor will demonstrate and maybe even explain a technique, and then tell you to go practice it.  How many repetitions can you do before he/she stops you and introduces another technique to practice?

Think about what you have to do for each technique when you are first learning it.  What is the proper response to this particular form of attack?  Is my body posture correct?  Is my hand position correct?  Have I broken my opponent’s balance (i.e. strength) properly? Is my ki flowing in the right direction?  All of this takes time to think through, so at first you can only do a few repetitions before moving on to the next technique to learn.  But over time (months to years) and many more repetitions later, you will get faster and smoother.  But no matter how fast and smooth you become, you have still not “mastered” the technique as long as your brain is involved.  Thinking takes precious time!

To really “master” a technique requires thousands of repetitions; not to make the thinking process faster but to train your muscles to react automatically without instruction from your brain.  Muscle has memory.  And for any memory to persist, it has to be firmly imbedded, in this case, in muscle.  There are two major types of skeletal muscle fibers; slow and fast twitch fibers.  The slow twitch fibers are responsible for endurance actions such as distance running.  The fast twitch fibers are responsible for instant responses like blocking a punch without thinking about it.  It’s these fast twitch fibers that you want to train to react without waiting to be told to by the brain.  But reaching the fast twitch fiber memory is more difficult than training the major slow twitch fibers.  And that takes repetition; thousands of times!

So how long do you have to train, or how many repetitions does it take to “master” just one technique?  I tell my students “Here is how you do it.  Now repeat 10,000 times.”  And they think I’m kidding.  Suppose you train 3 times per week for 50 weeks per year (unlikely) and you could do 20 repetitions each time (also unlikely given the hundreds of other techniques you also need to practice).  In 1 year, you would have done 3000 repetitions.  To reach 10,000, you would need more than 3 years of practice for just one technique!  That’s what it takes to become a “Master” of just one art.  That’s why it takes more than 50 years of practice to become a “Master” of your martial art.  You need to train your fast muscle fibers to remember (through repetition) in order to react instantly to a physical threat without thought.

Now go practice more.  You are falling behind the curve.  Make your Sensei proud!

Jerry

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Enter the Sloth

Martial Artists are not, as a category, renowned for their laziness. It takes a certain degree of gumption to show up at the dojo several nights a week when you might otherwise be watching TV or reading a book. We spend those hours in varying degrees of exertion: punching bags, throwing opponents, and engaging in other activities that usually leave us gasping and sweating by the end of the evening. Some superficial observers might think Tai Chi is an exception to the laziness rule, as its slow motion movements looks less engaging than a slow walk. Those observers have probably never trained Tai Chi the traditional way, in which you’re not even allowed to begin training until you’ve spent an hour standing with your knees bent and your arms held horizontally in front of you. Five minutes of that was enough to give me a very healthy respect for anybody who can pull it off.

So yes, we Martial Arts tend to prize ourselves on being energetic. The most active and energetic students are praised.  The lazy ones are considered the bad apples, and ordered to shape up or ship out.

Is it time for us to reconsider this situation just a little bit?

Being energetic is a fine thing, of course. But it’s useful to reflect that it’s an attribute to be used, not a virtue to bask in. And it’s essential to remember that the best technique is the one that the laziest person can use.

By way of example, and at risk of dating myself, a few decades ago there was a raging debate going on in the pages of Black Belt magazine about the efficacy of high kicks. Opponents of high kicks said they simply didn’t work. Bruce Lee famously said that kicking somebody in the head made as much sense as punching them in the foot. Proponents of high kicks responded that the head is the most vital target, and if you can hit it hard, the fight will quickly be over. They also noted that the leg is much stronger than the arm, as it carries so much more weight, and therefore a great tool to use for hitting the head.
A devoted practitioner of Tae Kwon Do at the time, I was in the pro-head kicking school. My stated reasons were the ones above. My real reason was that it just looked so cool when the hero would head-kick his opponents in the movies. Having developed a fair degree of flexibility, I got pretty good at executing a head kick in sparring, and would use it regularly. It was an effective tool at keeping off opponents who might shrug off attacks I made to their torsos.

I’m older now, and my flexibility isn’t quite what it once was. I’m less enamored of head kicks than I was when I was younger. Does this reflect an evolution of my thinking to a wiser perspective? Or is it just sour grapes that I can no longer pull off this wicked cool move?

The biggest challenge in kicking somebody in the head is the time it takes to move your foot from the ground to the five or six feet in the air where the opponent’s head is perched. For sake of argument, let’s allow that it is possible for a martial artist to train him or herself to have sufficient speed to execute this kick faster than the average opponent is likely to be able to react. I’m not saying this is an easy attribute to train, but let’s call it possible and leave it at that.
Now that martial artist is facing their opponent in combat, and has a choice:

  • Kick their opponent in the head with a reasonable chance of success
  • Kick their opponent in the knee with a much higher chance of success

Because remember, however fast you’ve trained yourself to kick somebody in the head, you can raise your foot to knee level if a third to a fifth of that time. If you head kick is reliable, your knee kick will be unstoppable.

So. Even if the ultimate plan is to kick your opponent in the head, wouldn’t it be better if they had a broken knee to start off with? They’ll be limping around, not able to move effectively, and quite possibly their head will be much lower than it was originally as they lean down to grasp their leg in pain.

In other words, it’s not a question of whether or not a head kick is feasible. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not, but you’ll always be that much faster when attacking a lower target. Why choose a somewhat efficient technique when you can choose a highly efficient one? Why be energetic when you can be lazy?

This principle extends far beyond kicking targets. In our dojo we spend a lot of time throwing our opponents. The hardest students to train are the ones that are naturally strong, because they find that for most of their opponents, they can simply lift them up and toss them down. Well and good as long as you’re fresh and your opponents are not much larger than anybody in the dojo. But what about when you’re not? However effective you may be at throwing somebody energetically, you’ll be much better if you learn to throw them with very little energy. If you want to then use additional energy to supplement your efficient technique, that’s fine, but don’t make it the cornerstone of what you do.

So while working out in your dojo, remember that while it’s good to emulate the strong and energetic students, it can be useful to study and emulate the weak and lazy ones as well. Watch them especially when they spar or grapple. If they make something work, it’s because they’ve found a very efficient way of doing it. Something that will work well for you when you’re out of breath and can barely lift your arms or legs.

Your next encounter may well depend upon it.

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Remove What is Not Essential

To the beginning student of the martial arts, it seems like there’s so much to learn.  Technique, posture, footwork, breathing, timing… the list seems endless.  Students look at me like I’m crazy when I say “Keep it simple!”

They have a point – its hard to keep things simple when there’s so much going on.  But I have a point too.  At the end of the day, succeeding in the martial arts is only to a certain degree about what you do.  So much of it is what you don’t do.  We train in footwork not because there’s only one way to use your feet, but because the average student uses their feet so inefficiently.  Too many steps, big steps which are too slow, and so on.  We teach posture not because there’s a “perfect” posture, but because you can attack and defend much more effectively when your body is balanced.

So yes, there’s a lot to learn.  But at a certain point, its less about what you add in, and more about looking at your base and seeing what you can take out.  We take out the wasted motions, the extra steps, the tensing of the muscles that don’t add to power.  Michelangelo said something similar about sculpture: “When I look at a block of marble, I see the sculpture inside it.  All I have to do is remove what doesn’t belong.”

Like most good ideas about martial arts, this extends far beyond what you do when you walk into the dojo.  It applies to your entire life.

There are far more people with an interest in the martial arts than those who actually practice them.  The reason they don’t practice is that their lives are filled with too many other things.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  You have to make choices, and maybe your interest in the martial arts is exceeded by your interest in running, or playing the guitar, or watching TV.  If that’s the case, then good for you!  Keep at what holds your interest!

But every so often, we get stuck in routines.  We sit down and watch TV, or read articles on the internet that we’re not really interested in, because we’ve forgotten that there’s a good alternative, and that we’re not really doing what we want to do.

So it’s a good idea to periodically throw out everything that’s not essential.  Toss out all the old magazines and books that you’re never going to read again.  Donate all the clothes that you’re never going to wear again.  Remove all the favorites from your browser menu that are no longer really a favorite, and simply serve as a distraction when you’re tired or bored.  Create empty spaces in your life, and figure out what you really want to be doing with the space you’ve created.

Life isn’t simple.  But it can be simpler if you make it so.  Focus on what is essential.

Discard everything else.

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Fight Today’s Fight

It’s been said many times, in many different ways.  Warren Buffett noted that you have to drive by looking through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror.  Ram Dass was more succinct: “Be Here Now”.  Nobody really disagrees with this in principle.  But do we live it in fact?

As I come to terms with running a dojo, I find myself busy with a lot of organizational activities that I may not be comfortable doing.  Recently, I bit the bullet, and charged into one of these activities.  I got a lot of important things done, pushing myself and growing in the process.  It felt great, and I had a glowing sense of achievement.  My immediate reaction was that I wanted to go back and do keep doing more of this important and difficult activity.

Which, when you think about it, is not a good reaction.

It’s understandable, to be sure.  My reptilian brain was saying “Hey, that resulted in a pleasurable emotion.  Let’s do it again!”  But the fact is, the job was done.  And while it was an operational activity that will never completely go away, there was no real reason to keep working on it at that point in time.

I was stuck in the past, driving while looking in the rear-view mirror, rather than the windshield.

Even worse, I kept congratulating myself on challenging myself and doing what needed to be done.  Which was distracting me from what I should really be focusing on in the present moment.

Sigh.  Back to the drawing board.  Breathe in, breathe out.

What does this have to do with the martial arts?  Everything.

I see it so often in sparring, including with myself.  I score a hit on an opponent using some particular technique.  It feels good.  It’s tempting to do it again.  That technique clearly works, and I want the emotional buzz that comes from success.

But that’s the exact wrong way to succeed in sparring, or in life.

Sun Tzu probably said it best: “When I have won a victory, I do not repeat my tactics but respond to circumstances in an infinite variety of ways.”  Even if the circumstances don’t change and that technique might work again, repeating it will only train my opponent what to watch out for.  I might deliberately choose to do this if I’m training a student how to read a situation, but if I’m actually sparring to win, then I never want to use a pattern that might be predictable.  I want to be fluid.  Unexpected.  In the moment.

So easy to say.

So difficult to do.

But worth constantly pursuing.

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An Unexpected Journey

I didn’t really expect this promotion. I didn’t even know a promotion like this was possible.

I’ve been through belt promotions before. I thought about them, trained for them, expected them at periodic intervals. They consume much less of my attention now than they once did, though I can’t say they consume none of it. But the point is, they’re a familiar part of the landscape. I know what to expect.

I didn’t expect a conversation late one December evening, when the owner of my school said “I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I think I’m done running the school. Would you like to take over?”

I’m sure I said something respectful, something suave, something that indicated I was surprised and honored and of course would be up to the task. My memories of my brain seizing up and just babbling incoherently for a few minutes are probably just the same type of false memories that lead Brian Williams to believe he had been shot at while riding in a helicopter.

Run the school? Me? Ridiculous. Sure, I’ve advanced tremendously from when I was a skinny white belt pushover. But I know what school teachers look like, and I’m not that. They look like John Kreese, the Sensei at Cobra Kai from the original Karate Kid movie. Or Master Ken from the more recent (and hysterically funny) Enter the Dojo web series. Or even Mr. Miagi. The point is, these people have something in common. A sense of absolute assurance and self-confidence. They radiate power and knowledge (even if they’re sometimes wrong), and are ready to dispense unlimited wisdom (or at least ideas) to those around them.

Whatever qualities I may have, that’s not one of them.

I teach, sure. I’ve been teaching for years. But mostly, because that’s the best way for me to continue practicing and learning. A means to an end. And it’s not new for me to run a class. Or introduce a new student to the art. Or develop a new approach to instruction. Or maintain the school website. Or contact people about advertising opportunities.

But, but…

But what exactly?

I guess when it comes down to it, it’s that I have a preconceived notion of what the owner of a school looks like, acts like, and does. And is. And I don’t fit that preconceived notion. Never mind that I’m already doing many of the activities involved with running a school. I’m simply not a match for my mental image of the job.

Which embarrasses me profoundly to admit. Isn’t this a point I constantly stress to my students? Don’t react to what you believe your opponent will do, or should do. Be in the moment. Observe what they actually do, and move accordingly. Don’t get hung up because the big guy is unexpectedly nimble, or the small guy is unexpectedly strong. Live in the moment.

So then who am I really? And what does it mean to teach martial arts?

At the end of the day, I’m a student of the martial arts. I come to class, and I teach, because I want to learn more. I like working with different body types because it teaches me something about these techniques. I like having people with different backgrounds, because it challenges what I know, or think I know.

So maybe I can’t be the macho instructor who could take on a class of 30 students and knock them all on their backs without breaking a sweat. I can teach what I’ve learned about being skinnier than most people I face, and how to use technique to make it easier to face a larger opponent. And I can teach something about not teaching because you’re filled with what you know, but because you want to learn. And if that’s not what somebody is looking for, then they can always go elsewhere.

It’s not perfect. It’s not ideal. But it’s what I’ve got, and who I am.

If it works for you, then I’ll see you in class, and teach you everything I can. And maybe you can teach me something too.

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Managing Your Willpower

One of the greatest paradoxes of human nature is how much attention and effort people spend on goals that they are capable of achieving, but never do. I’m not talking really hard achievements like becoming a billionaire, or an Olympic caliber athlete. I believe achieving goals like that require a special blend of talent, persistence, opportunity and luck, and are simply not possible for the majority of the population, no matter what. What I’m referring to are the perennial New Years resolutions, always made, rarely fulfilled, and yet eagerly attempted again when the next year rolls around. Lose weight. Quit smoking. Get to the gym every day. Stop drinking. Stop overspending and pay down your debts. These goals are within the reach of almost every person who attempts them.  But they are achieved by only a small percentage. Multi-billion dollar industries have been created towards helping people achieve these goals which, on the surface, don’t seem to be that hard. What’s going on here?

The most common problem is a failure of willpower. Willpower is a subject of deep concern to any student of the martial arts. It’s needed to get to class each night, when it would be so much easier just to sit in front of the TV with a cold beer. It’s needed to persist in training in the long term, when you’re feeling discouraged and frustrated that you’re not improving as fast as you think you should. It’s needed to keep punching the target with everything you’ve got, even when you’re really tired. It’s needed to keep fighting, even though you’re sure you’re outclassed and it feels like it will just hurt too much to go on. Willpower should be studied more thoroughly than any technique or kata.

And yet, for all the importance of willpower, people know remarkably little about it.  Or at least, our knowledge of it doesn’t impact the way we treat it. Willpower is often seen as similar to muscular strength, which is a pretty good analogy.  And yet, a failure of willpower is often seen as some kind of character flaw. We don’t think a person has a character flaw if they are unable to bench press several times their weight, or if they get tired after a long workout. Why do we think it’s different if a person can’t muster the mental energy to do something really difficult, or can’t stay focused after a day full of distractions?

We also consider it perfectly reasonable to exercise to improve our strength.  For some reason, we don’t necessarily treat willpower the same way.  There seems to be a disconnect here.

Increasing amounts of research point to willpower as having all the properties mentioned above.  Using it all day leaves you with very little by the evening. Exercising it can make it stronger. Saving it for when you really need it can make a world of difference when it comes to succeeding at key tasks.

When you plan how you are going to improve at the martial arts, managing your willpower should be a key element in your plan. How will you conserve it during the day? Remember that decisions require less willpower when it’s easy to make them. If your bag is right by the door, it’s easier to grab it and get to the dojo than if you have to go hunting for it in the basement. If you’re going to really push yourself for a hard exercise in class, do it early in the evening when you still have the mental energy. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator.  Do you have a martial arts buddy to inspire you to go even when you don’t feel like it?

How are you working to improve your willpower? Working out is a start. Is it enough? Do you need to supplement it with meditation, or some other discipline of willful focus?

Willpower is not an accident. It is an attribute you develop over time. Make sure you make an effort to cultivate and manage it, and you will be more effective, not just in the martial arts, but in all aspects of your life.

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Cultivating Student Spirit

I love practicing martial arts. I’ve been at it for a couple decades, a constant in a life in which almost every other detail of location, vocation, diet and philosophy has changed. There’s always something new to explore, something new to learn.

And yet, every once in a while, I feel like I’m getting just a little bit burnt out. I’m in a rut, not progressing, and not enjoying the process. It usually creeps up on me quietly, so that I don’t notice until I suddenly realize that I’m looking for excuses not to go to class, or practice, or whatever.

Whenever this happens, I usually discover that I’ve lost my student spirit. Student spirit is a magical and fascinating thing. It’s the bright eagerness to learn and to make progress in an activity. It’s what you felt before school started when you had all your new supplies laid out and they just made you want to do something with them. It’s what you feel when you get a new gym membership and you’re just itching to swipe that punch card and hit the stair-master, knowing that it will make your body hurt and you’re looking forward to it.

Student spirit comes naturally. It usually doesn’t last- witness the difference in how many people are exercising at the gym in January, versus how many are still at it in May. But the great thing about student spirit is that it can be cultivated, and regenerated. I’ve found a couple of techniques that work for me. They may work for you, or spark additional ideas for how to recharge your enthusiasm for being an eager student again.

Keep a Journal

If you’re going to be a student, then really be a student. Buy a journal, and don’t use it for anything but your martial arts practice. (Depending on your life, you might have multiple journals to track different activities and projects.) At the end of class, write down what you’ve learned. It doesn’t have to be a fantastic insight, it might be finding a new combination that is effective against a single person in sparring, or a slight variation on a technique that is worth exploring later on. Make a note of things you don’t understand or want to get better at, and make a plan for how you will address these items. Rate your skill in various areas, and track it over time. You may prefer to keep things chronological, or you may prefer to organize it by topic. Make it your own.

Empty Your Cup

Stop focusing on what you already know, and try to find something to learn from every situation. Maybe somebody is demonstrating a technique you already know. Is it EXACTLY the one you know, or is it a slight variation? What are the pros and cons of that variation? Watch the people around you – what are their strengths and weaknesses? Even if you can out-fight somebody every time, is there some small aspect of their sparring that you could learn from? Take the attitude that every moment has an opportunity to learn something, if only you have the eyes to see it.

Stop Judging Yourself

Stop getting down on yourself because you’re not as good as you want to be. Stop congratulating yourself because you’ve achieved so many of your goals, or are better than some of the other students at your school. Lose yourself in the moment, keeping your focus only on what you are doing and what you are learning.

Aim Your Compass

Stop every once in a while and take a realistic assessment of where you are and where you want to go. Are you learning the right things? Are you progressing the way you want to? Is this still the right school for you? I’m not suggesting you constantly jump from one style to another, but you should definitely make sure you know what your goals are, and that you are headed towards them. Set your goals, and then make a plan to get there. And then execute.

Ask For Help

If you have questions or concerns about how you are progressing, or need guidance on your path, ask your instructor or one of the senior students at your school. Chances are, they’ll be eager to help out, give you an outside perspective, and share what they have learned.

I wish you the best of luck, and hope to see you on the mat soon!

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In Search of the Perfect Technique

“Tom swung his leg backward, and in an improbable, ungainly arc. It was a downright ugly maneuver. Graceless. Something that would have had him laughed out of his dojo in Stanton Oklahoma. But it worked. Father Thomas’s boot crashed into the shade’s stomach.”

Seventh Son: Descent, by By J.C. Hutchins

Some of my favorite moments in the martial arts have been learning what a huge difference the exact right technique can make. More times than I can remember, I’ve struggled to apply a wrist-lock, escape a grab, throw a person, finding myself straining my muscles against a larger and heavier opponent, only to find that a small correction in my technique makes all the difference in the world. Getting just a little lower makes my opponent hurl easily to the ground. Sliding my wrist just a bit inwards lets me easily escape a crushing hold. Knocking my assailant just an inch off balance makes them unable to resist my attack.

This is reflected in the way I teach. I hassle the details, make my students practice the same thing over and over until they get it just right. I have to make allowances for the different lengths of people’s attention spans, but left to my own devices, we’d work just two or three techniques over the course of a full class. On a few occasions I’ve done this with a particularly dedicated student, and they’ve always been pleased with the results.

This becomes even more critical when dealing with somebody who has limited flexibility, or limited strength, or an injury that prevents their full range motion. Sometimes a certain technique will simply be infeasible for a given person, but sometimes I find it will still work, and work well, but only if they master the detail with far greater precision than the average student. Most people can make a sloppy technique work if they muscle it. When that isn’t an option, it has to be perfect, or nothing.

So I’m definitely a fan of getting the details of a technique exactly right, and I spend a lot of time and attention on that point.

And yet…

The world is a strange and complex place. Sometimes things go awry in the oddest ways. People move the way you’d least expect them to, or you fall to the ground despite your best efforts to stay stable. A solid punch bounces off your assailant harmlessly, or an insubstantial tap knocks them off their feet.

The important thing is to not stand there like an idiot, wondering “What just happened?” Keep moving. If it was bad, recover. If it was good, keep going. If you’re finished, don’t stop, scan your environment, be ready for the next attacker, or somebody on the ground who maybe isn’t quite ready to stop moving.

Expect the unexpected.

I love great technique. But the perfect technique? It’s whatever works.

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Work with what you have

“Why? My fat friend asks me why? He sits there on his world-class ass and has the nerve to ask me why? Yeste. Come to me sometime with a challenge. Once, just once, ride up and say ‘Domingo, I need a sword for an eighty-year old man to fight a duel,’ and I would embrace you and cry ‘Yes!’ Because to make a sword for an eighty-year old man to survive a duel, that would be something. Because the sword would have to be strong enough to win, yet light enough not to tire his weary arm. I would have to use my all to perhaps find an unknown metal, strong but very light, or devise a different formula for a known one, mix some bronze with some iron and some air in a way ignored for a thousand years. I would kiss your smelly feet for an opportunity like that, fat Yeste.”

-The Princess Bride

Are you fit enough to learn martial arts? I’ve talked to many people who have an interest, but something is holding them back. They’re concerned that they’re too out of shape, or not flexible enough, or have an old injury that prevents them from moving the way they think they should be able to. Maybe they think they’re too old. Maybe they think that they’ll be able to start in a few months, when they’ve solved their problems and everything has magically come together. In my experience, that day almost never comes around.

Sometimes, a new student will come into our school who has everything going for them. This person will be strong, limber, and have a good visual, audio and kinesthetic memory. It’s fun to teach these people. But it’s the former group that really gets me engaged, not the latter.

Because the martial arts are not about mastering the platonic ideal of the perfect technique. They’re about learning to use what you have, in the best way that you possibly can. Maybe a knee injury prevents you from kicking well with one leg. Great, lets spend our time focusing on your other leg. (Bill Wallace did fairly well with this strategy). Or maybe you’re too short to effectively kick your longer-limbed opponents. Let’s focus on bridging the gap and fighting in close where your opponent can’t kick at all. Or you have a shoulder injury that prevents your arm from having a full range of motion. OK, lets not try to force your arm past that limit and risk exacerbating your injury. Instead, lets see what you can do with that arm inside your comfortable range of motion.

We have a lot of different techniques at our school, and while we want everybody to learn all of them, we are mindful that not every one will work well for every student. We ask students to learn each technique well enough to demonstrate it (and eventually teach it), but then to figure out which of those techniques really work for them, and focus on maximizing their effectiveness with those techniques.

Not everybody has it in them to be a championship MMA fighter. You need a unique combination of physique, talent and drive to achieve that goal. But anybody can learn to maximize their own resources and talents, both on and off the mat. In my mind, that’s what the martial arts are really all about.

(Btw – you can stop wracking your brains now. You’re not recognizing the quote above because its from the book, not the movie.)

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