By Lee Wedlake
Dedication, frustration, motivation and more. The title should really be the “tions” but I went with the sounding out instead. These, and others, are all ingredients of our practice and instruction of the martial arts. They are in no particular order.
If you want to achieve, you have to be dedicated. It’s the rare person who can be shown something and then do it with little or no practice. And by doing it, I mean doing it well. One of my students, Dr. Marc Rowe, used the phrase; “A fertile, prepared mind.” This mind or attitude goes far in reaching goals. When you determine to set aside time for going to class, reading, practicing, discussing, experimenting and so on, you increase knowledge, understanding, ability and proficiency.
When I was a teenager, one of my best friends was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Danny had a fertile, prepared mind and was a brilliant student in school. They told him he wouldn’t make it past his teens and he didn’t. However, in the time between that and when he passed, he fought the disease by standing at his desk for hours. This disease attacks your muscles and he dedicated time to work his leg muscles by forcing himself to stand. I was told that he lasted longer than he should have. It was by force of will – dedication.
Humans tend to want to take the easy way. Blowing off a class, not practicing at home and similar actions (or non-actions) slow down or even eliminate your reaching the goal. I’m not saying you can’t take time off, you just have to be disciplined enough to get back to it when you slack. And that takes dedication and discipline.
There is a student creed or pledge used in many karate schools that includes the words “I am dedicated, I am motivated…” I would joke that the word “motivated” should be replaced with “medicated”. The reason was that over years I had seen such an increase in children on Ritalin and other drugs to treat ADD and ADHD. Fact is, many drugs of all types affect performance, both mentally and physically. Sometimes even emotionally. In our culture we just take the medication we’re told to and don’t look into what else it does. We joke about how the drugs’ side-effects are often worse than the condition they treat but we take them anyway. But if you look into how even some over-the-counter medications can affect people, you see that they have a variety of effects. Slowing response time, causing irritability and/or dizziness are examples. Coumedin, for example, calls for a person to eliminate contact sports.
Know what you’re taking, check the possible side-effects, and note how they affect you. You should probably advise your teacher or workout partners, too.
My tai chi teacher told me there is a built-in frustration factor in the process of learning tai chi. Actually, it’s built into almost everything. Learning the arts is a challenge. Challenges often lead to frustration. Frustration can lead to quitting. Quitting means you don’t reach the goal. It’s a slippery slope.
Once again, the discipline involved is cultivated by the process. You may disciplined by another person or by yourself.
In the process of learning we encounter such elements as not having enough time to make it to class or to practice, finding certain sequences or movements are difficult or seemingly impossible, or even feeling our teacher just is not that interested in our progress. That’s frustrating. The teacher is a key element here. Simply telling a student to expect frustration often alleviates the situation to varying degrees. Knowing that others experience the same problems is a relief to many. Others don’t consider themselves to be like everyone else and dislike the thought that they are falling victim to the same challenges as the “average” person. That’s frustrating for them.
Working through the frustration is rewarding, since you’ll see the fruit of your labors. In the traditional teaching methodology, frustration was a tool to weed out students. One instructor would only consider one to be a serious student if they stuck around for 25 years. The Law of the Jungle works this way in that only the strong survive. The Law of the Farm is the opposite, in that students are nurtured to become strong. It is not an uncommon story to hear that the confident instructor you know was once bullied, abused, considered to be sickly or weak, to have below average intelligence and overcame such things to stand out. They could have come down either path but I think more people make it when they are “raised” with some compassion.
The root of the word profession essentially meant to take a vow. It was reserved, at first, for those in the clergy and law. It spread to other fields, over time becoming a word to indicate someone who did something for a living that typically required more than an average education.
When we teach we should be professionals in the contemporary sense of the word. I do not consider taking money to be part of the equation in being termed a professional. I was a flight instructor for many years and was paid for it. When I volunteered my time as an instructor for Civil Air Patrol, I was no less professional as an instructor.
Be thorough, keep up on your education, maintain proficiency and all the other aspects expected of a professional. Teaching helps us stay on top of our material and brings up a new generation in our art.
You “gotta wanna” do something. That’s not to say a person who is not really into an activity or pursuit can’t be good at it, but it sure helps if you are. We all have our reasons to taking up something and that’s our motivation. For example, the short list of reasons people take karate lessons is people want to 1) be able to defend themselves, 2) get in shape, 3) just want to know more, 4) for ego, 5) something to do, 6) to meet new people (socialize), 7) to connect mind and body, 8) improve health and possibly to develop the discipline we are known for. These are motivators.
Most people are not drafted into the arts, they self-select. One day they thought it would be a good idea to look into taking classes. They motivated themselves to look online or stop in the local studio to check it out. They get off the couch to go to class. It’s up to the teachers to help them stay motivated. The draftees would be, for example, cadets in a police academy who are required to learn combative techniques, or military recruits who have to do it in boot camp. It may often be something they simply have to get through and really have no interest in learning more about it. Their motivation would likely be just being able to do it well enough to graduate.
There are some others that go with this, such as formation and deliberation. Too often we see Kenpo people moving too fast and the formation of their natural weapons suffers. Chops are done with the forearm and/or the fingers spread. Heel-palms without the compact unit, again with fingers spread. A finger thrust with the fingers stiff, increasing the possibility that one will break or sprain one or all on contact with the skull if they miss, which is easy to do.
Use the Six Harmonies when doing tai chi. Relaxation is key.
Be deliberate in your movements. Mr. Parker used terms such as “pronounce a move” or to have a “meaningful conversation”. To pronounce is to be accurate. To have a meaningful conversation is to be understood in the give and take. By slowing down and being a bit more deliberate in movement, you have time to properly form yourself. Sloppy works sometimes but we want to be better than that.
The first paragraph of this article mentions dedication, and it’s tied to execution. How many more can you think of?
Until next time,