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Don't Fight the Shark!

There is a lot of value for any martial artist to learn about the characteristics and weaknesses of other martial arts styles other than their own. One of the universal principles of martial arts is that no style or person is perfect and that each person and style have weaknesses just waiting to be exploited. Yes, even your own style and yourself have exploitable holes to be discovered by your opponents. One of the best ways to overcome this is to get out of the way of ego and look at yourself honestly. No matter how much one may love their particular art or arts, there will be inherent flaws that should not be ignored.

Tips on how to evaluate yourself:

1. Be honest with yourself and don't evaluate yourself with your own ego. The ego is a liar and makes things appear as we want them to be instead of how they are. Ego is a direct enemy of truth and can stop your progress cold.

2. Become familiar with the tactics and strategies of other arts. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Use this to evaluate your own art and find your own weaknesses.

3. Test yourself. This means sparring practice with others from your own school along with other disciplines. Make sure you are good at what you do, but then see if any modifications need to be made once you are up against others that don't think like you do. You can consider this as a form of beta testing to see where your weaknesses are.

4. Learn from your wins and your losses. Are your opponents finding a consistent weakness in your strategy? Are you being defeated in certain combat ranges? Your sparring partners should be the most important part of your personal development. They will teach you what you need to work on, and what your strengths are.

5. Discovering your own strengths is just a valuable as learning what your weaknesses are. Your development should be focused around how to maximize your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses.

Even after working on your own self-evaluation and evaluating others, one also cannot afford to ignore situational and environmental factors. You may find different scenarios make weaknesses or strengths appear that normally wouldn't. It would not be a good strategy to use bouncy footwork if the ground is covered in ice for instance. You may find that your super-low Karate stances that seem a bit dubious in self-defense shows itself extremely useful on icy or slick surfaces. You may discover different environments take away your advantages and uncovers weaknesses in yourself. You may find your long-range attacks lose their potency if attacked while between two parked cars for instance. The environmental and situational factors are limitless and it is very important for a warrior to know their environment and know when they are at a disadvantage.

One of my favorite lessons is to ask students how would they fight a shark. Would it be in your best interest to jump in the water and slug it out with the shark in its own environment? I think not! In the ocean, humans are not necessarily always at the top of the food chain. If you try to fist-fight a shark in the water, you are about to have a bad day. What would be a better strategy? Maybe catching the shark and pulling them out of where they are dangerous and place them on the beach instead. They are still dangerous, but the odds of you coming out okay are astronomically better, right? How about we evaluate further? If we have to fight the shark, it is better to not fight it on its own terms. Look for a tactical advantage. How about pulling the shark onto dry land and using a harpoon or something? That would radically increase the odds of success, right?

A great warrior is constantly evaluating themselves and their opponents. Be aware of the environment and skill-set of your opponent. Always be aware of how your strengths and weaknesses change depending on the environment and situation. Be aware that this also changes the threat level of your opponent. Be smart. Be cunning. Lose the ego. Be honest with yourself. Always try to put yourself in an advantageous position. Never fight from a disadvantage unless forced to. Lastly, if you are in the water, don't fight the shark!

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