When I started training, I was in awe. I was going to learn to kick ass like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris! Woohoo!
Things obviously didn’t turn out that way and I soon discovered there was no shortcut or a guaranteed way to acquiring skill and knowledge in the martial arts.
Fast forward 25 years, the last 20 of which at a regimen of 1-5 training hours a day.
I still can’t kick ass like Mr. Norris (nobody can) and I’ll always be too heavy to move like Mr. Lee (No cheap shots, thanks…:-)) As false humility is just as bad as being an arrogant prick, here goes: I think I know a little bit about the arts I train in. More than most, because of the amount of training and time spent in these arts. Less than others, meaning my seniors, my teachers, etc. The longer I train, the less people will fall in the latter category. At least, that’s how it should be if I keep on training and progressing. It’s my plan to do just that so I’m hopeful…
But what does that mean? How do you quantify it.
I don’t think you can. Knowledge and skill are too difficult to pin down. Especially because these things are never written in stone:
- Skill deteriorates if you don’t keep on training.
- Knowledge becomes outdated if you don’t keep up to date with the latest developments.
So when you chose to live a life in the martial arts, you’re always striving to learn more, get more skilled.
My teacher said it real well: you have to be a student, in the truest sense of the word. It comes from the Latin word “studere” which means “to be eager, to pursue, to desire”. That’s exactly the type of mindset you need to do a lifelong study of anything:
- You’re always eager to learn more, to try new things.
- You pursue your dream, your vision of skill and knowledge.
- You desire it, not just want it. There’s a difference.
In these 25 years, there were numerous times when I wanted to give up. Or I grew tired of all the training. Invariably, something happened that rekindled the flame (read about the arts, saw somebody do something really neat on video, got to know an amazing teacher, etc.) and I became a student once again. I plan on remaining one until the day I die.
Awesome! I’m in!
Cool, jump on board. But here’s something I didn’t realize when I started.
As a 13-year old, I was too young to understand this concept. When I hit my twenties, I didn’t think it mattered and figured I was bad-ass anyway. In my early thirties, I discovered this first hand by meeting and training with people I call “masters”. Now, nearing my forties, I think it’s absolutely crucial to understand the following concept:
Take a look at this illustrated guide by Matt Might.
After all the time I spent training, I think I now have my equivalent of a PhD. This implies several things:
- I’ve only contributed a very, very small piece to the overall pool of knowledge in my area of study.
- I’ll never be able to reproduce the same depth of knowledge in other martial arts or fields.
- There is an insanely huge amount of knowledge and skill I don’t have and never will.
The old saw of “the longer I study, the more I realize I don’t know much” is true. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how much further you go past the boundary, you’re still in the same boat as everybody else.
Which is why I loathe those keyboard-warriors who can’t shut up in the forums or guys with 5 years of training who insist you call them “Master”. If you take one look at that illustrated guide and truly look at your own training, you can only come to a handful of conclusions:
- I’ve still got a long way to go…
- I may be right about what I know but that doesn’t mean somebody else is wrong. He’s probably pushing on a boundary at a totally different place than me.
- I know Jack about the hundreds of other martial arts and combat sports I don’t practice. People who do train in them are much better placed to comment on them.
- I’ll never be as good as I want to be.
Damn, you’re a spoilsport!
Not really. I’m not writing this to make you feel bad. I just happen to think it’s the absolute truth. And it applies to me just as well as you. So once again, we’re all in the same boat.
Instead of seeing this as a negative thing, it should spur you on though:
Precious few people will ever get to the same exact spot on the boundary than you. Regardless of how much of a dent you make in it, making it that far is it’s own reward.
Seeing how deep you can make that dent, working your entire life to dig more and more, is perhaps even more rewarding.
Special thanks to Kris Wilder for the inspiration.