The secrets to martial arts progress – Motivation, Part 1

Motivation is the ideal partner of Consistency – make good use of both and chances are that you will one day fully realise your potential. This is part of an articles series on advise on how to keep progressing in martial arts.

In your average school, you normally find that some students stand out from the rest. It becomes noticeable that there is a fundamental difference in how these individuals go about their training, even whilst doing the same exercise as everyone else. These students tend to develop their skills faster than the others, ever growing in ability and appetite for more. You find them working harder, being more focused on the exercises, always showing up for class and never giving up in spite of any and all obstacles. The difference between these individuals and the other students often lies in motivation rather than actual talent or potential.

Motivation is the driving force behind the choices we make. Since we’re all different, our motivation will be triggered by different purposes. It’s also a variable factor – we may take up martial arts with a certain goal or aim, only to find further down the track that the goal in question has changed (sometimes without us noticing it). It’s also multifaceted; few of us are so single-minded that we have only one reason to why we train. In this post I’ll go through my own take on how to harness motivation, as it can be instrumental in making you reach your goals and steadily improve in martial arts. If you find that it all sounds like project management, then you’re correct – because if you want to make something happen, then you need to take charge and push for it. Which will take some organisation and focus on your part.

Square One – if you haven’t done so already, take a moment to define exactly why you’re doing martial arts. Make it as clear as possible. Be completely honest with yourself, so that you have a candid view as to what brought you into this to begin with. Even if it seems a silly reason, face up to it and accept as part of the journey. When I started out as a teenager, my reason would probably sound something like ‘because martial arts are the coolest thing everrr’. Admittedly, not much has changed since then so it still applies.

End goal – now that you know your starting point as well as your current situation, set a long term goal. Make it something that you know will be a tough challenge to achieve, because nothing in life worth having comes easy. Also, the harder you work for something the more you appreciate it. That said, what makes a ‘tough challenge’ depends on your circumstances; if you’re obliged to fulfil duties at work, be a good parent, look after a family member etc then you need to take that into consideration. Make your end goal something that is really clear – ‘get really good at sparring’ is too vague. ‘Winning an amateur-level fight’ is much more defined, or ‘reaching Black Belt next year’.

Try not to make it ego based though, as measuring success in terms of ‘win’ or ‘lose’ will just make you superficial and might tempt you to cheat to ‘win’. Instead, make yourself strive for something that will see you grow as a person. If you’re a beginner, go for black belt. If you’re competitive, see if you can push yourself to the level of skill that will see you win competitions (notice that the focus here is about skill level, not the win itself). If you’re injured, set yourself to push all the rehab hardships and come back to normal training. Put this on paper, and put that paper somewhere that you will see it from time to time. This will not only materialise what your end goal is, but also keep you on track and remind you that you’re still on the journey there.

Milestones – As imposing as your end goal might be, every journey begins with a single step. Problem is, there will be countless steps on your way there and this can be demoralising to many students. However along the way will most likely be checkpoints that will highlight that you’re making progress, celebrating the effort you have put in so far. Define these milestones and chart out what you have in front of you so that you get an overview of your challenge. An obvious example here is going for black belt, which will see you passing several belt or level gradings on your way there. If you’re aiming to escape obesity, your milestones could be based on combinations of weight levels and fitness achievements. I’m sure that these milestones are popping up in your head right now – again, put them on paper in their order of appearance.

Flickr Tim Green

12 more miles and you have reached total Zen mode

Prepare thyself – OK, so you have an impressive end goal and you know the milestones you need to pass to get there. Time to analyse what you will need along the way! Look at the whole picture here to get a full view of what you need to reach each milestone. For example, if your milestone is to perform well in a competition then the buck doesn’t stop at pure skill. You will need to reach a certain fitness level to perform at your best, may need new gear, money for travelling and participating and so on. If you’re going into a sparring scenario then you’ll want experience beforehand in fighting different opponents, using the ring to your advantage, knowledge of dirty tricks and mind games (to guard yourself against them). These requirements need to be kept in mind and fulfilled as you approach each milestone.

Deadline – Put some productive pressure on yourself by adding a timeline to your end goal. Sometimes this is already done for you, eg. a competition will already be on a set date. So with a defined amount of time between now and your end goal, you can then probably set deadlines for your milestones there. This may also give you a re-check on how feasible your goal is (which may require you to rethink your options), and give you an idea of how hard you’ll have to work.

Make it happen – now you have all the tools you will need to get your head around fulfilling your end goal. Armed with this knowledge, it’s time for you to get out there and make it happen! By feeding your motivation with meeting your milestones, and preparing for upcoming challenges on your way there, you can do it if you stay consistent. This will take both initiative as well as patience from you, and there will undoubtedly be sacrifices along the way. But as long as your end goal is worthy of your efforts, and your milestones (and deadlines) on your way there are balanced against all the other things going on in your life, then you can do it. So make it happen.

Von's Fitness Tips

Check out the second part of this post for practical things you can do to keep yourself motivated. Liked this article? Feel free to share it with others. Also, see here for even more advise on training.

– Lobo

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