Congratulations! At this stage, you have considerable experience and solid skills in your style of martial arts. Undoubtedly this comes from consistency and motivation, channelled through dedication and hard work. Well done. Watch out though, as you now face the higher level aspects such as rivalries, politics and raised expectations. You may also have reached a skill level that demands constant maintenance in order to stay sharp, which is not helped by the boredom that may kick in from doing the same thing for years on end. Hopefully these ten tips will help keep you moving forward.
- Practise, practise, practise – Still sounds straightforward, doesn’t it. But let’s break it down:
– Practise so that you always maintain your skills, they need regular maintenance lest you find yourself wanting.
– Practise becomes part of keeping your own character in check, making sure that you don’t allow yourself to become the type of instructor that can’t live up to the expectations that comes with your position.
– Practise is contagious; your example will inspire others to keep up their own training.
- Criticize yourself – you may find that you’re now in a position where beginners admire you, instructors respect you and even the senior teachers treat you like an equal. In such an environment, that can get to your head and tempt you into going darkside. Be your own harshest judge and keep yourself humble and earnest; there is always more to learn and discover.
- Avoid the politics – as you reach the upper echelons you will probably come across people that hunger for power and influence, become exposed to school rivalries and so on. You may be asked to promote products in your classes or show support for the head instructor’s decision in some matter. Instructors from other schools may even try to get you to join their school. Sometimes this sort of thing is unavoidable, and when that is the case then do what you must. But at all other times, avoid this sort of thing like the plague. Maintain your own integrity and self-respect by focusing on the actual training/teaching of your style, rather than to get tangled up in surrounding dramas.
- Listen to your instructor as if it was the first time you heard his instructions. This is a key point. At this stage, you may feel like you’re treading water and not really going anywhere. The stagnation of your development feels overwhelming and so your passion for the art is suffering. What you may not be aware of though, is that your teacher may actually be trying to show you the way through his instructions – but you’re shrugging it off whilst thinking that you have heard it all before. Try to actively listen, and actively realise, what he is showing you. Your pre-fixed idea of what the lesson is may be wrong, and so you could be blocking yourself from moving forward.
- Break it down – to deepen your understanding of your art, analyse it in depth by dissecting the techniques (particularly the basics) and analyse all their aspects from all angles. This will give you a more conscious awareness of the principles that your style is built upon, but it will also lead to numerous questions. Don’t despair though; it’s the search for answers to these questions that will keep you moving forward.
- Widen your horizon. Learn First Aid, teaching methodologies, study anatomy, remedial massage, competition judging, research your art’s history, and so on… There is much more to your training than you think, and exploring these complimentary aspects will not only benefit yourself as a martial arts practitioner (and as a person) but also keep you stimulated and passionate about what you do.
- Go on a martial arts safari! Take a break from your training and a couple of weeks exploring other martial arts. You may find this refreshing and interesting – seeing how other styles operate in comparison to your own sort of gives you a second opinion and hopefully deepens your understanding of the culture and principle that lies at the heart of your own style.
- Accomplish something. At this point, you have spent considerable time honing your skills and may even be in the shape of your life. Don’t let this go to waste. What is a (martial) artist, that does not create? It would be like learning how to paint, and getting all the material and brushes for it but never actually creating a painting. Catch the day by making something that will last – create a montage, go competing, write a book, record a fight scene… you could even get your own blog! Ahem. The world is your oyster.
- Get a place of your own. This one is optional, but may be necessary. Chances are that you started training in your current school with its own head master, senior teachers and a deeply entrenched culture. This may not suit you, and at this stage in your journey it may stifle your progress. To keep pushing yourself forward, you may need to move out and start teaching outside of your own school. If handled correctly (and with the support of your teacher) this will get you to stand on your own legs, create your own legacy and help spread and maintain your style. The idea is to add value to the bigger picture, not to compete with your old school, so be tactful in how you go about this.
A shining example for you: Mestre Marcelo Caveirinha (you may know him better as Eddy Gordo from Tekken) once told us at a workshop that his own teacher (Mestre Suassuna, leader of Cordao De Ouro) actually encouraged him to ‘move out’ and create his own separate organisation, so as to foster the diversity and variety in Capoeira.
- Keep it real. As you advance through the ranks and climb the hierarchy, you will probably hear and see things that do not sit right with you. Corrupted paperwork, double standards, exclusive cliques, racism, exploiting students… No one person or organisation is perfect but it’s up to you to decide where you stand. Do not simply do as you’re told – at the end of the day, you will answer to yourself for the actions you have taken (and what more, the actions that you did not take). As an advanced student, you’re inevitably a noticeable person in your organisation. Masters will expect you to follow their policies, and junior students will look up to as role model. Nonetheless, your integrity is your own; do not sell your soul by enforcing rules and cultures that you do not agree with.
Hope this helps. If you have any tips of your own, feel free to comment!