A couple of years ago, I had a student who had waited almost 50 years to start taking martial arts classes. While he knew his age would be a factor, he stated he was prepared to endure whatever it took to learn to be a good martial artist.
During my initial phone conversation with this gentleman, I also knew his age was a factor. But anyone willing to drive over an hour to train with me (that’s an hour in each direction) deserves a chance, and clearly shows a willingness, if not an eagerness, to learn.
Initially, things went well; I started him off with a program to increase his level of fitness, while instilling some strong fundamentals. I purposely limited what I would exposed him to; after all, the older you are the longer it takes to heal if you get hurt. Even minor bumps and bruises feel more severe as one gets older. I know that first hand, and I’m only 45.
Of course, every now and then I would push him. I would do techniques I knew he wasn’t ready for and didn’t have the technical capability to execute properly. I didn’t do this to make him feel bad or inadequate. I did it simply to expose him to different techniques, and to show him how important mastering the fundamentals were before moving on. I wanted to show him how the fundamentals form the core, the foundation, of all techniques that follow.
As time moved on, I could see he was getting more and more impatient, and bored, of doing the basics. While I fully understood his position, all I could do was try to keep up his morale, while reminding him over and over again about the importance of mastering basic body movement.
Unfortunately, this issue grew and grew; I could see his frustration building. Things finally reached a point where all he could keep asking me was “how could I do things so much better than him?” “Why could the senior students do things so much better than him?” “What was he doing wrong?”
Well, the simple answer would have been that I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. However, the answer I gave him was more honest, “practice.” Practice, practice, and more practice. It requires many hours, weeks, and years spent doing repetition after boring, sometimes painstaking, repetition. My ability to do what I do took a lot of will, a desire not to settle for mediocrity, and a whole lot of suffering–not to mention sacrifice.
Of course, this is not the answer he wanted to hear. He wanted to know the “SECRET.”
Secret, what secret? There is no secret. There are no shortcuts. I tried to tell him that he had waited 50 years to start practicing, so he shouldn’t be in a rush now.
As you may have guessed, this answer didn’t appease him. Eventually the long drive, and lack of perceived progress, discouraged him from continuing training with me. In a way, it was too bad, because he was making a lot more progress than he realized; and if he had focused more on the material than his desire to learn “the secrets,” he would have progressed even faster.
Now, this story is nothing remarkable, and I’m sure every teacher has encountered such a student from time to time. We’ve all met people who have the desire to achieve something, but do not have the internal fortitude, “the heart,” to do what is necessary to accomplish such a goal. This is especially true when it is a goal that requires a great deal of dedication and hard work, coupled with physical hardship.
The importance of this story is that it can be used to teach future students. It’s a good story to tell new students when they are facing the same circumstances. Such was the case recently, which of course leads to the main point of this essay.
In this case however, the student wasn’t asking for secrets, or looking for shortcuts. He simply wanted to know how to motivate himself to persevere thorough the arduous, often tedious, training regiment he was facing.
It’s a good question, and though I tried my best to answer, I don’t think I really connected with him. Fortunately, I have some excellent students who often have the ability to express things in a manner that I lack. Many times we may be saying the same exact things, but somebody needs to hear it in a different way. Such was the case this particular day.
Basically, the conversation centered on two aspects of training which are often overlooked: the Will and Suffering.
Now, I could go on and write a long, wordy essay about this, but fortunately, I was given a link to an article that explains this better than I ever could. Though it was written in regards to mountain climbing, it is applicable to almost any endeavor, and the parallels to martial arts should be clear enough.
The article is titled, “Will and Suffering,” and was written by Mark Twight. It can be accessed by going to: http://www.gymjones.com/knowledge.php?id=23
Anyone who is a regular reader on this blog knows I’m not in the habit of linking to someone else’s web page, but in this instance it’s warranted. I fully agree with what Mr. Twight writes.
One must have the will, the desire to accomplish something. They must have the will to put in the required hours, seek out the proper instruction, and endure the obstacles that may slow down their progress.
They must be willing to suffer. Not just physically, but also socially. If one’s goal is to be a professional fighter and they have a choice to train or go to a party, the training has to come first. It’s a no-brainier, but it is a sacrifice few are willing to make.
The truth of the matter is that a lot of people have will, especially in the initial phase of starting a new endeavor. Unfortunately, few have the will to suffer in order to achieve their goals.
Let’s face it; few people have the patience and/or internal fortitude to complete anything they start. Furthermore, in a day where we are exposed to so many opportunities it’s very hard for people to hold an interest in any one thing for very long.
Unfortunately, those that give up when the going gets tough, or when they become frustrated, never learn a very valuable lesson. The real “secret” of success.
During last night’s practice, I asked a new student who has had trouble learning to execute a forward roll she had been practicing. She smiled and answered yes, and proudly stated that she had finally figured out how to do a forward roll.
Sure enough, she executed a forward roll, and then another one. They weren’t picture perfect, but her improvement was a major accomplishment for her. At least this time she did not hit her head, slam her shoulder, or make that awful thudding sound.
However, she was still unsatisfied with her progress, and complained about her lack of ability.
“Baby steps,” I told her, “you learn by taking baby steps.” There was no response, but she nodded in acceptance, as if there was no other way.
Did she have the Will? Clearly, her effort, her determination to learn to roll shows she did. Did she suffer? You bet, and she has the bruises to prove it.
The real question is, did she gain some insight, some introspection, about what she is capable of? I believe so, and that is the most valuable lesson one can gain from any endeavor–when they don’t quit, or take shortcuts to achieve their goals.
By having the will–the drive to succeed especially during adversity–and the willingness to suffer in order to achieve said goals, one develops a sense of self, a sense of self-worth, and the knowledge they can in fact accomplish their goals. That is the most valuable lesson one can ever learn, and something money can’t buy.
Mark F. Twight is the founder of Gym Jones, a private invitation only facility. He rose to prominence in the world Alpine mountaineering community in the late 80’s, and recently was credited with training the cast of the movie “300.”