Goal Setting in Martial Arts

Andrew Green

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One problem that I see restricting the progress of many martial artists is a complete lack of “useful” goal setting. Now I say useful because many do have goals, usually obtaining some colour of belt. But this sort of goal setting is not really all that useful and I will try to explain why.



The objective of goal setting is to give focus, increase effort, develop new skills and strategies and increase persistence. For some people it does some of those, persistence being one. Many people stay in martial arts longer so that they can reach that goal. Which leads to the lowering of requirements for that magic rank, making it more attainable so that people stick with it till they reach it rather then giving up and quitting.



Let’s say you got a person who has been training for 2 years and is considering quitting, but the black belt is only a year away and that has been there goal. Chances are they will stick to it for that time and try to reach their goal. Now if that goal was 5 years away they would probably be on their way….



Attainability, is one of the requirements for good goal setting that actually helps. So there is a good reason behind making the time to black belt shorter, and that is it keeps more people doing martial arts longer. As coaches / instructors, that SHOULD be one of our objectives, to get people into martial arts, and keep them interested and motivated as long as possible. As business owners, it is what puts food on the table.



Another requirement would be to set short term goals, not just long term goals. Once again this has been adapted into the belt system. First by adding more colours, and then adding stripes to the colours. Which once again is a step in the right direction, but something is still missing.



Goals that are set should be performance goals, not outcome goals. In a team sport like basketball this could be something like “Our team should work towards recovering 65% of the rebounds” as opposed to “our team should win 65% of our games”. The first will change the way the team plays in order to develop a specific skill. The outcome of the game (practice game, not competition) is irrelevant, what matters is the skill development. The latter will not develop any specific skills, it will keep players in their “comfort zone” and cause skill development to plateau.



Belts are an outcome, not a performance goal. They are the end result. Using them as a goal does not promote any specific skill development, it does not get you to change the way you train to develop anything specific.



The next thing you want to make sure of is that you express goals in terms of what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do. There is a difference in saying “I want to catch x % of passes” and “I want to miss less then x% passes”. The difference may seem trivial, but your mind plays an important role in performance, and you got to feed it right to get the most out of it.



Goals need to be specific, and measurable. YOU should be able to tell when you reach your goal, exactly how far away it is, and exactly how far you come. Something like a belt is not that. Someone else tells you when you reach it, someone else tells you how close you are. Let’s say I’m running and my goal is to complete a 5 mile run in under 40 minutes. I can right it out on paper and chart my progress towards that. I can tell you how much progress I’ve made, I can tell you when I’ve reached it. But notice the difference between that and “I want to get faster”.



So now you got a goal, it is specific, it is measurable, it is performance based, it is realistic and you got a target date. Now you need a plan. A simple breakdown from now till then on what you should be doing and how you should be progressing. After all it’s fine to say “I want to make 5 miles in under 40 minutes by Halloween” But if all I do is sit at home and watch tv while eating Doritos it isn’t going to happen…



So I look at where I am, where I want to be and figure out how I am going to get there. I also can’t just go out there and try to make it every day until then. I got to break it down. Do I need to work on speed? Endurance? Both? Form? What else? And from that I lay out a training plan.



So now you got an idea on what to do, but how do you go about doing it?



First forget about your belt, it will only hold you back. If your school / system uses them that is fine, but it is not for you to worry about. They will come on their own and someone else will deal with that. In fact they will probably come faster once you start ignoring them.



Second figure out what needs work. Then, more importantly, WHAT needs work. “I get popped in the nose too much.” That sucks… but WHY? Do you get popped in the nose too much, once you know that, you know what needs work. Is it footwork? Timing? Hand positioning? Leaving yourself open when you attack? What do you need to work on? Can’t sink a triangle to save your life, ok… Why not? What aspects of that do you need work on?



Once you got that, break it down. Figure out all the things you need to do to improve in that area. You get dinged with counter punches all the time cause you got no footwork, open up when coming in, telegraph your attack and have a poor jab. Good, now break it down into steps and work one at a time. So you got a long term goal, split into smaller short term goals.



Now you need to figure out how to improve in those areas and set a time line and you are set. But remember, everything is flexible. You might have to adjust things as you go and that is fine. But stick to your plan as best as possible and take it one step at a time.



The tricky part lies in staying on task and forgetting about the outcome. If you go into every match trying to win you will not progress very fast. If you go into every match not caring who wins but trying to learn and progress you’ll probably find winning is a lot easier then it was before… “Everytime I try a arm bar from guard I get stacked and sidemounted” could very easily cause a person to never bother trying an arm bar from guard. But by not trying it you never get better at it. If you do try it you will probably loose because of it, but in the long term you will improve your skills, which is more important then who won the 4th round of Monday nights sparring session anyways.
 

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This is a good article Andrew, so I thought I'd post to bump it so it doesn't get buried tonight.

Hey Mods, if you have the ability to late-edit this post, please consider enlarging the last paragraph.
 
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Andrew Green

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Thanks, and sorry about the shrunken paragraph. It was cut and pasted in from word and I guess something got messed up in the transfer...?
 

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That was alot to discuss but I can see where you are coming from. From the viewpoint of the student, he/she is an individual so will progress differently than the next person. I notice this phenomena of training for three months then all of a sudden working on the requirements like self defense 2-3 techniques, slow motion kicks and breaking in the last one or two weeks before a test. Like that is supposed to make a difference.

After I reached blue belt I realized I had to do start making up my own "program". So I practiced all forms on Sunday, did pushups, totalgym, ran, got a standup bag for home and practiced jump back, tried to rig a paddle for spin heel, that sort of stuff. I made my goals to reach his goals for testing. I made my goals so I would have sufficient practice in for tournaments.

A sheet of individual goals to reach monthly would be good. Probably too much work for our master. He travels to 5 towns now. Probably too hard to coordinate a class of individual goal seekers. But if we had more varied classes instead of a whole week of just front, round, axe and then forms like last week, arrghh, it wouldn't be such a waste. (this was for a basically black belt class)

I would like one class designated sparring during the week, one class designated self-defense regularly-twice a month, variable class time, alot of cardio. We get taught rather randomly. It gets really frustrating to keep to a schedule of goals. I did so much better individually at home this summer with my own list. But I had no partners and no sparring. Trade-off. Didn't miss a beat in physical training though.

My second dan test was hard but I set goals to learn alll twenty forms and practiced them regularly. I set conditioning goals. I did totalgym for upper body and 400 pushups, guys in sets to improve my upper body. I conditioned my hand and focus on rebreakables so I could break concrete doing knife. (his requirement) I practiced all kinds of ways of doing jump back jumpspin heel but still haven't done that. I practiced the dropped board spin heel, rigging pennies in cardboard until it weighted like a real board. That was my 3rd cardboard board though. I found a way.

So, what happens. A relative, woman is coming up on her 2nd dan test, doesn't have to practice nothing as he has lowered his requirements to make it easy. No knife through concrete, no hand technique at all required. No drop spin heel. He cheapened my effort and cheapened the belt.

Why make goals if there is no end goal? Physically fit, I am. Could have gotten that from an aerobic class. Be able to defend myself, I can, probably a few years back. Or is the goal just to be a better martial artist, in my own mind? Although a tournament competition would show differently, I don't care to be the one to have to prove it all the time and keep others going because a 55 yr. old can do it. A belt is the only way for a goal. But if the belt has been devalued, then the goal isn't there anymore except to the unknowing wantabe. This puts me in limbo and I can only train to the belt that it meant before. So I still have the jumpback/jump spin heel to do and then I have no goal. TW
 
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Andrew Green

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It sounds like you where agreeing with me right until the end when you through in the part about a belt being the only way to a goal ;)

It isn't.

I tossed my rank aside a while back, and it has made things so much easier. Now I train for me, and where I want to progress.

Your goal wasn't the belt, it was the things you thought the belt meant. Completeing those requirements was your goal, not the belt itself. That is good for progress, but frustrating when you realise that the belt itself, the thing you where aiming for, is not anything more then a belt...

What you are doing is very impressive, but not because of your belt, but because of what you can do.

So after that 2nd dan you can either look to what someone else says you need to do for 3rd and be dissapointed again. Or take what you can do, set your sights higher then that. And if someone wants to hand you a belt somewhere along the way that is just a bonus.

So what do you want to be able to do in a couple years? Not what do you want to be wearing ;)
 

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This is very thought provoking stuff, Andrew. How did you make the transition from having rank related goals to putting them aside and making performance oriented goals? Was it a tough process? Is there a story behind why you changed? Great thread.
 

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class, weekly, skill, belt, system goals should all be clearly outlined for student and teacher as well.

Like a road map. I think the frustation that may help people lose motivation or interest is when the 'goal map' becomes a 'time table' and those who obviously demonstrate a readiness for the next piece (both mentally and physically) don't get it because the time table is more important to the system/instructor than the development.

"Train to task, not to time" was the phrase in military instruction and I think it fits here too.

Now as far as testing and promotion, that should be on a clear schedule. So, if student X knows Brown belt skill even though he is only ranked a Green or something, that is fine, but until he demonstrates that skill during a test/assessment for recognition (if your school does formal testing), he should not be awarded the rank.
 
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In the end we must realize that belts are useless.

When the fighting starts, our belt will be nowhere to be found.

In the Bujinkan iv'e heard stuff like

'When you get your shodan, that's when the training really begins.'

And i don't really like the idea of just training to get the next belt, of course we want to get better, but what does the belt matter?

I train because i love budo, i don't train for the goal of my next belt.
 
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Andrew Green

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lonecoyote said:
This is very thought provoking stuff, Andrew. How did you make the transition from having rank related goals to putting them aside and making performance oriented goals? Was it a tough process? Is there a story behind why you changed? Great thread.
Very natural process. just occured on its own. I guess the change happened when I began to take over my own training.

Belts got removed from my adult classes when I got fed up with dealing with them and all the problems they create.
 

loki09789

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AaronLucia said:
In the end we must realize that belts are useless.

When the fighting starts, our belt will be nowhere to be found.

In the Bujinkan iv'e heard stuff like

'When you get your shodan, that's when the training really begins.'

And i don't really like the idea of just training to get the next belt, of course we want to get better, but what does the belt matter?

I train because i love budo, i don't train for the goal of my next belt.
I know what you mean, but I know that, in an artistic sense, this idea that the training begins at xyz level just means that, until then, you are learning the complete set of techniques, forms, ...what ever. Basically until that point you are learning 'more material' but once you do that, the 'real training' is making personal discoveries and connections and understandings.
 

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I like the artice. I also feel that goals are not always meant to be met, but more as something to aim at. Reach for the sun, and come down with a fist full of stars.
 
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Andrew Green

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DeLamar.J said:
I like the artice. I also feel that goals are not always meant to be met, but more as something to aim at. Reach for the sun, and come down with a fist full of stars.
And a really nasty burn ;)
 

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Andrew Green said:
It sounds like you where agreeing with me right until the end when you through in the part about a belt being the only way to a goal ;)

It isn't.

I tossed my rank aside a while back, and it has made things so much easier. Now I train for me, and where I want to progress.

Your goal wasn't the belt, it was the things you thought the belt meant. Completeing those requirements was your goal, not the belt itself. That is good for progress, but frustrating when you realise that the belt itself, the thing you where aiming for, is not anything more then a belt...

What you are doing is very impressive, but not because of your belt, but because of what you can do.

So after that 2nd dan you can either look to what someone else says you need to do for 3rd and be dissapointed again. Or take what you can do, set your sights higher then that. And if someone wants to hand you a belt somewhere along the way that is just a bonus.

So what do you want to be able to do in a couple years? Not what do you want to be wearing ;)

Well, I would bet you are young. What I want to do in a couple of years? I want to be able to walk. But I also want to do Taekwondo, to jump. Those two things don't mesh. Especially further down the road I get. There is no third. Its not just a belt, its a symbol that I accomplished my goal, my final goal except for teaching. I ultimately accepted the goal, it became my goal. I nearly stopped at first but I certainly won't make 3rd. Not on these knees. Our belt rank is separated by the ability to do those impossible breaks, then after 5th, it is more mental I've heard.

I might have bought into what you said, had I not been some thirty years older than you and older than most on this board. Its fine to set your own goals but what if they are wrong and heading you down a non-productive road? How do you gauge your progress, what standard, who oversees you? Who tells you after years of perfecting form in your own head that your form is far from perfect. How many "arts" do you need to learn to defend yourself? How much is too much? How much is needed to balance your life? The art of war is not all there is to art of life and not all is learned in the dojang. TW
 

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TigerWoman said:
Well, I would bet you are young. What I want to do in a couple of years? I want to be able to walk. But I also want to do Taekwondo, to jump. Those two things don't mesh. Especially further down the road I get. There is no third. Its not just a belt, its a symbol that I accomplished my goal, my final goal except for teaching. I ultimately accepted the goal, it became my goal. I nearly stopped at first but I certainly won't make 3rd. Not on these knees. Our belt rank is separated by the ability to do those impossible breaks, then after 5th, it is more mental I've heard.

I might have bought into what you said, had I not been some thirty years older than you and older than most on this board. Its fine to set your own goals but what if they are wrong and heading you down a non-productive road? How do you gauge your progress, what standard, who oversees you? Who tells you after years of perfecting form in your own head that your form is far from perfect. How many "arts" do you need to learn to defend yourself? How much is too much? How much is needed to balance your life? The art of war is not all there is to art of life and not all is learned in the dojang. TW
TW being in your age bracket I agree with you to a point, Your Master is trying to put everybody on the same level which is impossible for everybody. I'm 45 - twenty five pounds overwieght bad knees and if I had to do your belt test, that he wants you to do I would fail right now. All of your breaks should not stop you from reaching your goals as a MA'er. real MA'ers find the inner peace withen ones self, I really hope one day I can meet you, for you are a true MA'er never give up, try has hard as you can and push yourself to limit you never thought was possible. God Bless you and America
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terryl965 said:
TW being in your age bracket I agree with you to a point, Your Master is trying to put everybody on the same level which is impossible for everybody. I'm 45 - twenty five pounds overwieght bad knees and if I had to do your belt test, that he wants you to do I would fail right now. All of your breaks should not stop you from reaching your goals as a MA'er. real MA'ers find the inner peace withen ones self, I really hope one day I can meet you, for you are a true MA'er never give up, try has hard as you can and push yourself to limit you never thought was possible. God Bless you and America
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You can say what you don't agree with, I can take it. I was told a long time ago that black belts aren't given out and certainly not 2nd degrees. Well, apparently now those belts are given out now with reduced standards to make it "possible for everybody". I told him I guess your goal is to have alot of black belts running around even if they aren't that good because they don't strive the extra mile. They just get by. Practice the last two weeks before the test. After all the breaking is alot easier. But it is the master's goal and he is making it a requirement for BB's to teach a class every week. Lets him off. Free help. He has his own set of "goals". I probably expect too much of myself at this age, and my goals have gotten me into confronting a cement wall. But you're right, I won't give up, and hopefully accomplish the goal before it finishes me. And maybe this is, in part, because when I did earn my black belt, he told me I didn't earn it like he did (as a 22 year. old) and then proceeded to prevent me from progressing to 2nd. TW
 
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Andrew Green

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Which, once again, I believe backs my point up.

Using someone elses goals is a mistake, because they are someone elses goals. We are all different and have different goals in training, and different abilities.

We should progress along our own paths, not follow in someone elses.

"because when I did earn my black belt, he told me I didn't earn it like he did "

Because you had to work three times as hard for it? Seems like the wrong thing for him to be saying...
 

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TigerWoman said:
You can say what you don't agree with, I can take it. I was told a long time ago that black belts aren't given out and certainly not 2nd degrees. Well, apparently now those belts are given out now with reduced standards to make it "possible for everybody". I told him I guess your goal is to have alot of black belts running around even if they aren't that good because they don't strive the extra mile. They just get by. Practice the last two weeks before the test. After all the breaking is alot easier. But it is the master's goal and he is making it a requirement for BB's to teach a class every week. Lets him off. Free help. He has his own set of "goals". I probably expect too much of myself at this age, and my goals have gotten me into confronting a cement wall. But you're right, I won't give up, and hopefully accomplish the goal before it finishes me. And maybe this is, in part, because when I did earn my black belt, he told me I didn't earn it like he did (as a 22 year. old) and then proceeded to prevent me from progressing to 2nd. TW
TW and everybody else I cannot believe any instructor would say you did not earn you BB like they did, for this is ludicous. As a instructor myself I would never say that for that speaks bad about my inner self and my personal training if they did not earn it, why give it to them,speaks bad for his personal being so sad for you all to be told that and to ever say he is your Master what a guy!!!!!!!!
 
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