Everyone has their reason for beginning their journey into martial arts. We all have different goals and completely different measures of success. What means success for one could be a failure for another. Just like there are many different types of martial arts in the world, there are even more types of people. To complicate things even more, people are constantly changing as well! I am very different today than I was twenty years ago or even five years ago. However, no matter the discipline you study, or the type of person you are, there are certain attributes that have to be developed to achieve your goals.
Key Point #1: Set realistic goals for yourself. Everybody starts their martial arts journey at different places. Some are younger, while some are quite a bit older. Some are athletic, and others have difficulty with basic coordination. You may be a quick learner or maybe you find yourself needing way more time and practice than your classmates. There is nothing wrong with this, but most martial arts students quit due to discouragement. They get discouraged when they compare themselves to other students or even compare themselves to their own mental image of how they should perform. It has been my experience that most students set such high expectations for themselves, that no matter what they do, they are always unhappy with themselves. No one becomes a black belt or martial arts champion overnight.
It is okay to fail in your quest for perfection. We often find our greatest improvements through our adversities, not our successes. Enjoyment in martial arts isn’t in the results as much as in the constant small improvements you make. Your only realistic expectation should be small improvements week by week. In fact, you may be improving at a really fast pace, but sometimes the improvements are subtle and you don’t even notice. Discouragement and doubt are two of the biggest stumbling blocks along the martial arts journey.
Key Point #2: Be persistent. Perseverance is probably the greatest virtue needed for success. This is where a lot of people fail on their path to black belt. They work hard, but they don’t stick to it. The biggest key to success is simply not quitting. Set realistic, attainable goals for yourself and keep striving toward it! Many have quit after being injured. Injuries happen to athletes all the time. It is part of being an athlete. I have gone through several debilitating injuries and even major health issues that drastically altered my training. Notice that I said my training was drastically altered, not halted. I went almost two years unable to even run or push my body hard. However, during that time I kept doing the physical training that I could and kept training my mind. I found many alternative ways to perform my techniques that allowed me to sharpen my skills despite my health problems. I kept improving. Not at the pace I wanted, of course, but I didn’t quit. Even when life has you down, you can find a way to do something.
I threw my back out at a martial arts seminar years ago. Instead of wasting the time and money that I had already invested, I came back the next day. I laid down the best I could since I couldn't stand for very long and spent my time writing down every technique and drill I could so that I could go back and practice it later. Life will always find a way to knock you down. It is up to you to find a way around it. Remember, some training is way better than none.
There are many more keys to success in your martial arts journey, but let’s stop and focus on these two for now. Re-assess your training mentality. Are you enjoying the small but steady improvements, or are you heading for burn-out by pushing way too hard to maintain? Remember, the martial arts journey is a marathon, not a sprint. There may be some short sprints mixed in at times, but the name of the game is truly perseverance.