Disclaimer – The advice in this post is purely based on own experience, one student to another. Check out the 10 tips for beginners here.
So now you’ve been doing this for a while, and you’re picking up some decent skills. As your confidence grows, so does your appetite for more challenges. But beware – the initial honeymoon is now over, and the early spike in your skills as a beginner is now starting to level out. To keep developing your martial arts you will need to work harder and take a more active part in your development.
- At training, make the most out of your partner selection – when paired up with a senior belt, observe them and try to pick up on the difference in how they do things. When working with a lower belt, hone your instructing skills and help them up their game. Try to see the lesson every encounter brings. If possible, work with those better than you – it’s normally the best way to improve.
- Never stop practising your fundamental basics. As tempting as it can be to ever keep pushing forward, keep in mind that you need a strong foundation. Keep your knowledge fresh by revisiting your old drills and techniques. Showing good basics will earn you the respect of your seniors, regardless of your level. To avoid complete boredom, experiment a little – for example, if you have learned a form in a certain way then do it again but this time mirrored. Start with your right side instead of your left, block with your left arm and so on.
- Avoid your comfort zone. Focusing too much on what you’re good at will create a gap in your skills, which will one day be exploited by someone whose knuckles hunger for your face. If you’re a good kicker, practise close range clinches and elbows. If you’re an experienced grappler, learn the basic kicks and punches for those times when you can’t afford to get caught up with just one attacker.
- Volunteer to be the teacher’s ragdoll, as having techniques demonstrated on you will give you a first-hand experience of how it should be done. See if there are opportunities to help as out as assistant instructor, as teaching others will clarify your own thoughts and understanding your art. When students ask questions that you don’t have the answer to, don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ – then go find out, and grow as you do.
- Widen your horizon – there are as many types of martial arts as there are human personalities. To get an appreciation and respect of what else is out there, try out a workshop or seminar when the opportunity presents itself. Pick a style that you’re unfamiliar with, preferably one that is opposite your own. If you’re a Karateka, try the ever flowing style of Capoeira. If you’re a Jiu-Jitsu grappler, have a go at some weapons training with Arnis or Kung Fu. This will give you a sense of how vast the world of martial arts is, and may even open your eyes to aspects of your own style that you were unaware of.
- Heal thyself! At this point, you should start looking after yourself (if not doing that already). Book in a monthly massage session, eat healthy, see a physiotherapist about any injuries and add in some weight training to condition your body. This will help prevent some of the aches and pains that almost invariably come with long term training of any kind. Don’t shrug it off, either – most serious health problems start out as trivial annoyances.
- Realise that quality martial arts can only happen when body, mind and soul work as one. Apply this to every aspect of your training. Focus on the moment and what you’re doing with all your attention, be aware of the technique and how your body moves. Feel the energy and how one thing leads to another. Sense your surroundings and your opponent. Become a fighter at heart by devoting your will, heart and passion to one purpose. Obstacles are but honing stones for your patience and determination.
- At this point, you should take an active part in your own learning. As helpful as your instructor is when he is around, he can’t supervise you at all times. You, on the other hand, are always there. Make yourself aware of what’s happening at all times by analysing yourself so that you may correct any shortcomings. Say for example that you’re always losing balance when sweeping an opponent – check your stance. Are you grounded? Can you prepare for the shift in balance when the sweep happens? Which way are you falling over? Be your own critic and try to see what you can do better.
- Do not get romantically involved with another student or teacher from your school. This is a hard rule that you should follow at all times. Breaking it almost always leads to bad outcomes, with emotional drama impacting your school and class. In doing so, you’re tainting a place that should be committed to pure dedication and focus which is highly selfish. Worst case scenario, a lover’s spat may lead to students taking sides and even leaving the school. Problem is, we always gravitate to other people that share our passion and interests so it can be hard to avoid getting attracted to others. The recommendation I would give is to only consider relations with someone outside of your own local school – such as someone from a sub-group, or an associated school (or a person you met at a seminar). Still, you may find that you have no choice in the matter; but if so, make damn sure that it’s much more serious than just a fling and be very discreet about it.
You can also have some success at the gym
- Consider where you want to take your martial arts. Whatever the reason was that you started training may have changed now, based on what you have learned and seen since then. Setting a direction or goals will give you a focus to your training. Do you want to keep at it until you reach black belt? Or one day win an amateur fight, maybe even a tournament? Become so proficient with your skills that you can one day break ten bricks with a single punch? Overcome a physical handicap? Once you know your aim, you can envision how to get there – then set the milestones you need to achieve along the way.
Hope this helps. If you have any tips of your own, feel free to comment!