Earlier today, I was chatting with a friend of mine. He had bought the Combat Bundle I provided one of my books for (the deal ends today so you better hurry if you want to get it) and was having some trouble downloading the files. We were talking and he mentioned one of the problems he faces is getting off his butt and actually train. He thought this would be hard for me (as a personal trainer) to understand. We talked some more and this (along with my first training session in a month) got me thinking.
This post is the result.
As I explained previously, I had surgery one month ago. Today is the first time I worked out since then. I took it slow and easy, was careful not to rip open the wounds, paid special attention to everything the physical therapist had told me, etc. As I was warming up, I thought about the two ways I could view this first session:
- The negative. I was bound to suck. After such a long time off and having to be careful to avoid additional injuries, there is no way I would be able to train hard.
- The positive. I would get to move again! After such a long time of inactivity, I could train again. That is awesome!
I chose to focus on the latter. Sure, it was nowhere the intensity I normally like to train, but it was the first step towards that goal. I know there will be many more steps along the way, but that’s OK. I know where I’m going and I’m going to enjoy the journey getting there. I lost years of training time because they couldn’t diagnose me correctly. I won’t get those years back, along with the skill and conditioning I lost in the mean time and that sucks. But the one good thing to come out of this whole ordeal is that I am a lot more grateful for every good day I have. I no longer take my training for granted, because I now know how quickly it can be taken away from me when my body refuses to let me.
So I focus on the positive, on what I can do. Even if it isn’t what I used to be able to do. Even if the goal I’m training for is still a long way off. I don’t care. I’m going to enjoy each training session. Right now, that’s what keeps me motivated.
But it isn’t always like that.
Motivation in martial arts training
I’ve been training in the martial arts for about thirty years now and finding the motivation to keep going has been an ongoing process. Sometimes it was easy, other times not so much. I am fortunate that I can teach professionally, which means I am training every day at least a little bit with clients, but that’s not the same as making sure I have my own progress in the arts. Which brings us to the question I think is key to have long-term motivation to continue in the martial arts:
Why do you train?
We all have different reasons to train. For me, it was originally a way to burn up energy and learn to defend myself. Then it turned into competing against other fighters to see how far I could go. Then self-defense became a bigger motivation than before, once I stopped competing. In the mean time, I had started learning several different arts and they were all extremely interesting so I just wanted to learn more. As I get older, staying healthy and in shape increasingly becomes a motivation to keep going. Looking back on it all, my motivation to train has changed many times, just like it has for most people who stick with it for a long time.
But there were many periods over the years that I wanted to give up or didn’t feel like training at all. Sometimes I gave in to those feelings, other times I trained anyway. Sometimes I felt like I was wasting my time with all this fight stuff and should find a “real” job. Other times, I was over the moon when I gained a new insight or managed to do something I couldn’t before.
This process has never stopped. I’ve always had those negative periods where I had precious little motivation to train. Then they went away and I enjoyed it again. But during those periods, it was extremely difficult to get my butt off the couch, just like my friend has problems with it now. There were always other things I could do: watch a movie, play video games, hang out with friends, etc. Basically, the regular stuff we all have access to if we want to procrastinate. That said, I did pick up a few tricks along the way that helped me find the motivation to train when I really didn’t feel like it. Here are some of them:
- Anything is better than nothing. I would do one-minute work outs, just repeating a technique, doing a quick form or shadowboxing a bit. I’d do it for one minute, stop and then go on with my day. It’s not much, but it’s a whole lot more than nothing and it stopped me from feeling too guilty for not training hard. The trade-off is that you can’t push yourself as there is no warm-up, which means you get injured if you crank it up.
- Train elsewhere. If you always train in the same dojo or your garage, go someplace else. Doesn’t matter where, just change the scenery. It can go a long way in getting you psyched for training again.
- Keep it short, but intense. Instead of doing 60-90 minutes of training, keep it to 20-30 min. max. but make every minute count. Do a good warm-up and then hit it hard for 10-15 min. Then you do a cool-down and go about your business. Those short sessions can be fun and rewarding because it is a change from your regular routine but they are intense enough to make you break a good sweat, giving you the satisfaction of having trained well.
- Set a short term goal. Just focus on one technique or a number of reps you want to attain or anything else you like. But start on Monday and set your goal for Sunday. Then you try to do some training every day to reach that goal.
- Do what you love. We all have preferences in the curriculum of the martial art we practice. If you lack motivation, try focusing on the parts you really love. If you enjoy high kicks, do a few workouts only working on them. If it’s something else, do just that. Give yourself a break from your regular training and just indulge in the stuff you really enjoy. It’ll help you reconnect with your motivation.
- Pick up another art. Even if only for a little while, go train in an other art than the one you normally practice. At a minimum, you’ll be a beginner again and will learn a lot, which is fun in and of itself. At worst, you’ll discover you like your own art so much more and find in that the motivation to train harder again.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Like the Japanese say: fall down seven times, get up eight. Don’t focus on your failure to train, focus on tomorrow when you get another shot at it. Just keep on trying.
There is more, but this is what I did to keep me motivated to train. As things stand right now, I have no need of any of those tricks. I’m thoroughly enjoying getting back into regular training and making progress again is what motivates me the most. That and just enjoying the hell out of it after I couldn’t train for a long time.
There is nothing wrong with having trouble finding the motivation to train in the martial arts, even if you love it. There is something wrong with accepting this as an unchangeable fact. As with anything worthwhile in life, it’s up to you to make it work; nobody will do it for you.
I remember one afternoon, when I was 17 years old, I went to see my White Crane master. I was a bit depressed and I had hoped to receive some comfort and sympathy from him. I told him that I was depressed about the fact that there were some White Crane techniques which I could not perform as skillfully as one of my classmates, who was a couple of years younger than me.
My master took a look at me and said, “Little Yang, why do you look around at what others are doing When you plow a field, plow it because you want to plow. You do not plow because others make you plow. You do not plow for others’ approval. So why would you look around at others Why would you care If you look around and see that you are ahead of others, you would become proud of yourself and then you would become lazy. If you are behind, you would become depressed and discouraged. Don’t look around, simply bow your head, look down and keep plowing. One day, when you feel tired and take a break, you will look around and suddenly you will realize that there is no one around you. You have left them far far behind you. You will see how far you have gone and yes, you can take some pride in that, but then you look ahead and see how far there is still to go (and there will always be more to go). That’s when you put your head back down and go back to plowing.”
I always liked this story.
However slow or fast, just keep on plowing.