Thursday, April 17, 2014

Your Master: The GPS Of Your Martial Arts Journey

As discussed in my previous post, the most important person in your martial arts training is you.  However, your master is a close second.  While your warrior spirit is like the driver on a road trip, your master is like a GPS.  An excellent one will get you to your destination in the quickest and most efficient way possible.  A lousy one will cause you to wind up lost, frustrated, cost you valuable time, and is ultimately a waste of money.  Here are seven tips for finding an excellent master to guide you on your martial arts journey:

1) Your Master Should Be Someone You Like

In many cultures, the master is more than just a teacher.  Over time, they become a trusted mentor and eventually, a surrogate father/mother.  Obviously, you shouldn't make parent-shopping your chief goal in looking for a master.  However, your master should be someone who you admire and respect. 

2) Your Master Should Have Received Advanced Training In Their System

In other words, their training should consist of more than a six-hour seminar from Angry Bob's Fighting Shack.  They should have received expert training themselves from a reputable master.  Most masters who run their own schools are fifth-degree black belts or higher.  I personally don't recommend training under someone who is less than their system's equivalent of a third-degree black belt.  That being said, quality of instruction is more important than rank.   

Note: If your master has studied multiple systems, give them one dan ranking for every instructor-level rank that they have received (i.e. five different first-degree black belts=5th dan).  

3) Your Master Should Be Able To Properly Explain Their System

In addition to showing you how to properly execute a technique, your master should be able to explain CLEARLY why it works.  This should go hand-in-hand with the previous point, but that's not always the case.  I once had a language teacher who couldn't teach me their native tongue.  Likewise, some masters are able to perform techniques from their "native system."  However, they lack the communication skills, self-awareness and patience to pass the moves on to others.  If your master makes you flail around for an hour without telling you what you are doing, or speaks in pseudo-zen gibberish that would leave a Shaolin monk scratching their head, ditch them for someone who is actually willing (and able) to teach you something.

4) Your Master Should Have Integrity

The world is full of people who want to cheat you out of money, manipulate you into giving them sexual favors, or even worse, abuse your kids.  Do a background check on your master before you start training to make sure that they aren't one of these people.  This background check is EXTRA important if they are going to be teaching your kids.  If your "scumbag alarm" is still going off after you do a background check on your master, trust your gut and train somewhere else. 

5) Your Master Should Be Affordable

What is affordable will vary significantly depending upon which country you live in.  Regardless of where you live, make sure that your training costs are low enough for you to still provide yourself with the bare essentials (i.e. food, clothing, rent, etc.).

In the United States, $90-$140 a month will usually get you a reputable master.  That's roughly the same amount as a car insurance payment.  Since your body is worth infinitely more than a car, it's definitely worth the investment to protect it.  If you are getting charged more than that, there better be a good reason (i.e. you're receiving private lessons or getting a package deal at an MMA gym).  If the only reason is the master's name and ego, then it's time to find a different school.  As previously stated, the world is full of people who want to cheat you out of money.  You don't need your master to be one of them.   

6) Your Master Should Care About The Well-Being Of Their Students

Some masters routinely injure their students just to show how big and bad they are.  Additionally, some of them allow (and even encourage) their more advanced students to haze the rookies.  One of the reasons why you are taking martial arts lessons in the first place is because there are numerous people in the world who are willing to hurt you for FREE.  Why should you pay someone to do it?

If your prospective school has the social vibe of sharks during a feeding frenzy, don't even think about training there.  Find a place where the master and their students are willing to help you and each other grow as martial artists

Note: Speaking of well-being, make sure that your master is willing to provide a safe training environment.  For example, if they are teaching you throws, they should have some mats handy.   
7) Your Master Should Make Your Development As A Martial Artist Their Priority

If you are a 45-year-old businessman or career woman, your master shouldn't be training you to step into a cage with Jon Jones or Ronda Rousey.  Nor should they try to make you into a clone of themselves or their star pupil.  If you are gifted, they shouldn't tear you down to appease the envy of your peers, either.  You and your fellow students should work together as a team.  That being said, what works for you may not necessarily work for the 18-year-old male Olympian or the 50-year-old single mom with two kids.  Your master should understand that you have your own unique personality and body type.  They should be willing to do anything within reason to help you excel in your personal martial arts journey.  If they aren't willing to do that, they aren't even worth your time, much less your money.

Remember, the average black belt takes at LEAST 3-4 years to earn.  In some systems (such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) it can take 8-10 years!  For that reason, you want to make sure that you pick the right master to guide you.  Having an awesome master is like having a excellent GPS on a road trip: it will allow you to focus completely on enjoying your journey.        


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Most Essential Element Of Your Martial Arts Training

Once you have a firm spiritual, social, financial, and intellectual foundation, you are ready to begin your martial arts training.  That being said, there is one important thing which you need to understand before you start.  The most essential element of your martial arts training is not your athletic ability, your style, or your master.

The most essential element of your martial arts training is YOU!

Your determination, your heart, and your fighting spirit will determine whether or not you will succeed in your martial arts journey.  You can have a potbelly and study Angry Bob's Couch Potato Drunken Fist under Sensei Moron, but if you are truly determined to become a warrior, you will succeed.  Likewise, you can have an Olympian physique, have a membership to Greg Jackson's gym, and train under Bruce Lee's best successors.  However, if you don't have the passion or the drive, you won't be able to fight your way out of a petting zoo.

Katas, drills, mat time, and sparring don't create martial artists.  They reveal them.  Whether or not you become a martial artist is decided before you step into the dojo.  And the person who makes that decision is you.

If your heart isn't in it, you won't make it past white belt.  If you are wishy-washy, you won't make it past the intermediate ranks.  You will only become a black belt if you are truly determined and put your heart and soul into it.  To survive, much less thrive, in the shark tank known as the advanced black belt ranks, you will have to make an even deeper commitment.

If you are truly committed to becoming a martial artist, then nothing will stop you from achieving your goal.  If you are not, all of the talent and instruction in the world won't help you, so you may as well stay home.