You Suck At Martial Arts

Bill Mattocks

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I sometimes speak with discouraged newer students. They believe they lack natural talent, or that they are not coming along fast enough, or that they are just not 'getting it'. They feel that they are not progressing in martial arts and that they are not going to progress. Some of them are thinking about quitting. I am sure some do quit, without telling anyone. This is most unfortunate.

This is what I tell them...

In my experience, if you look around the dojo at the high-ranked students who appear to perform their exercises and kata effortlessly and well, with speed, precision, and power, what you do not see is the work that went into those capabilities. What you do not see is that when they started, as white belts, they lacked that ability, and in fact, many of them were about as uncoordinated, inflexible, and out-of-shape as it was possible to be. When you see a statue, you do not see the block of granite it was carved out of.

It has also been my observation that many of the most naturally-talented martial artists I have seen have quit before very long. I never understood why, perhaps they didn't feel challenged, or perhaps they were just bored, but they didn't stick around. When someone walks through the door and within days they are executing beautiful kicks and nice solid punches, I sigh and wonder how long it will be before they are gone. I wish it was not the case, but this seems to be what happens quite often.

I have seen one and only one secret to martial arts success, and that is to keep training. Train until it becomes a habit, and then keep training. There is no goal, no end-date, no moment in time when you will not have to train anymore. But don't be discouraged; good training is like a powerful drug; you'll want to train, you'll miss being away from training, you'll long to get back into action. And this is a very good thing.

So you suck at martial arts? You have no natural talent? Your balance is pathetic, you have no breath control, you are stiff and uncoordinated? That's terrific!

Go ahead and suck. I suck too. Everybody sucks. The question is not whether or not we all suck, the question is what we suck at and how badly we suck.

So you see a lot of students wearing black belts and they don't seem to suck. Trust me, they suck too. You just don't see all their mistakes, because your eye is not accustomed to looking for the details where they reveal their suckitude to their instructors.

What matters here is that we accept that we suck. It's OK to suck. Be awful, be useless, embrace it!

But keep one goal. As we train, we try to suck a little bit less each day. Not huge strides, small gains. It will sneak up on you, you will not notice it. Or you may notice tiny little differences one day and go "Hmmm, I used to not be able to do that..."

So we all suck and it's OK to suck and we're going to keep sucking.

Just suck a bit less each day.

Keep training. There is no one in the dojo who thinks you are the worst they have ever seen, because THEY were you a few short years ago. They have the benefit of hindsight which you do not yet.

But if you keep training, one day some new student will look at you in admiration and ask you how you got to be so good, or they'll come to you and sadly confess that they don't think they are 'getting it' and want to quit, and you will have to tell them the same thing I tell you now. You will tell them that when you started, you were not very good at it, and they won't quite believe you.

Yes, you suck. Keep training, suck less.

And we've all got your back. We all support you. We all sucked just as bad if not worse than you. And we just kept training. All you see when you look at the dojo floor is people who sucked but kept training.

Do that, all will be well.
 

drop bear

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hoshin1600

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And all of the great masters both past and present , when you have the experienced eyes to see, you realize they sucks too.
 

gpseymour

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I sometimes speak with discouraged newer students. They believe they lack natural talent, or that they are not coming along fast enough, or that they are just not 'getting it'. They feel that they are not progressing in martial arts and that they are not going to progress. Some of them are thinking about quitting. I am sure some do quit, without telling anyone. This is most unfortunate.

This is what I tell them...

In my experience, if you look around the dojo at the high-ranked students who appear to perform their exercises and kata effortlessly and well, with speed, precision, and power, what you do not see is the work that went into those capabilities. What you do not see is that when they started, as white belts, they lacked that ability, and in fact, many of them were about as uncoordinated, inflexible, and out-of-shape as it was possible to be. When you see a statue, you do not see the block of granite it was carved out of.

It has also been my observation that many of the most naturally-talented martial artists I have seen have quit before very long. I never understood why, perhaps they didn't feel challenged, or perhaps they were just bored, but they didn't stick around. When someone walks through the door and within days they are executing beautiful kicks and nice solid punches, I sigh and wonder how long it will be before they are gone. I wish it was not the case, but this seems to be what happens quite often.

I have seen one and only one secret to martial arts success, and that is to keep training. Train until it becomes a habit, and then keep training. There is no goal, no end-date, no moment in time when you will not have to train anymore. But don't be discouraged; good training is like a powerful drug; you'll want to train, you'll miss being away from training, you'll long to get back into action. And this is a very good thing.

So you suck at martial arts? You have no natural talent? Your balance is pathetic, you have no breath control, you are stiff and uncoordinated? That's terrific!

Go ahead and suck. I suck too. Everybody sucks. The question is not whether or not we all suck, the question is what we suck at and how badly we suck.

So you see a lot of students wearing black belts and they don't seem to suck. Trust me, they suck too. You just don't see all their mistakes, because your eye is not accustomed to looking for the details where they reveal their suckitude to their instructors.

What matters here is that we accept that we suck. It's OK to suck. Be awful, be useless, embrace it!

But keep one goal. As we train, we try to suck a little bit less each day. Not huge strides, small gains. It will sneak up on you, you will not notice it. Or you may notice tiny little differences one day and go "Hmmm, I used to not be able to do that..."

So we all suck and it's OK to suck and we're going to keep sucking.

Just suck a bit less each day.

Keep training. There is no one in the dojo who thinks you are the worst they have ever seen, because THEY were you a few short years ago. They have the benefit of hindsight which you do not yet.

But if you keep training, one day some new student will look at you in admiration and ask you how you got to be so good, or they'll come to you and sadly confess that they don't think they are 'getting it' and want to quit, and you will have to tell them the same thing I tell you now. You will tell them that when you started, you were not very good at it, and they won't quite believe you.

Yes, you suck. Keep training, suck less.

And we've all got your back. We all support you. We all sucked just as bad if not worse than you. And we just kept training. All you see when you look at the dojo floor is people who sucked but kept training.

Do that, all will be well.
Bill, I'd like to borrow this content. Excellent words of wisdom for anyone at any point in their training. The longer you train, the more things you get to suck at.
 
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Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

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Bill, I'd like to borrow this content. Excellent words of wisdom for anyone at any point in their training. The longer you train, the more things you get to suck at.

Feel free, brother. I'm honored.
 

jks9199

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Very good piece, Bill...

Building on one small bit, about wondering when the talented will quit... Way too often, I see people who are highly talented in any endeavor, or have too much success early, give up and quit the first time that they hit a real challenge. They've never really had to work, they've never learned how, and they discover it's not fun...

There's a real superpower out there, and, if we choose to possess it, it's available to all of us. Perseverance. Sticking to it. Trying and trying again. If you keep at something, practicing with an eye on improving, however incrementally, you will eventually improve. Learn to love repetition. Learn to pay attention, find the little keys that make it work, and replicate them. Don't settle for good enough -- learn how you're supposed to do it, what it's supposed to look like, and don't stop until it's there.
 
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Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

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Very good piece, Bill...

Building on one small bit, about wondering when the talented will quit... Way too often, I see people who are highly talented in any endeavor, or have too much success early, give up and quit the first time that they hit a real challenge. They've never really had to work, they've never learned how, and they discover it's not fun...

There's a real superpower out there, and, if we choose to possess it, it's available to all of us. Perseverance. Sticking to it. Trying and trying again. If you keep at something, practicing with an eye on improving, however incrementally, you will eventually improve. Learn to love repetition. Learn to pay attention, find the little keys that make it work, and replicate them. Don't settle for good enough -- learn how you're supposed to do it, what it's supposed to look like, and don't stop until it's there.

And if I may ... I personally believe that the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Perfect is the enemy of good - Wikipedia

Everyone wants to be perfect, of course. But we as martial artists should accept that perfect is not achievable. Strive to improve and be satisfied with the small improvements that occur over time. Continue to strive, yes. But don't beat yourself up over not progressing fast enough, or not becoming good enough.

The vast majority of people do not train martial arts of any kind. Talented self-taught street fighters exist and they are dangerous, but they are rare. Most people simply cannot fight. Whether training for self-defense, tournaments, or other reasons, even a small amount of 'good' training is often more than sufficient. Keep training, keep progressing, but realize the road never ends.
 

Flatfish

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On the bright side, I don't suck at sucking.....whoa that's a lot of suckthitude.....
 

oftheherd1

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...

But keep one goal. As we train, we try to suck a little bit less each day. Not huge strides, small gains. It will sneak up on you, you will not notice it. Or you may notice tiny little differences one day and go "Hmmm, I used to not be able to do that..."
...
So you suck at martial arts? You have no natural talent? Your balance is pathetic, you have no breath control, you are stiff and uncoordinated? That's terrific!
...

And we've all got your back. We all support you. We all sucked just as bad if not worse than you. And we just kept training. All you see when you look at the dojo floor is people who sucked but kept training.

Do that, all will be well.

Very good post Bill (as usual). Thanks.

I might just add that when one has hit a plateau is when I think it is most important to keep training. In my case I would even think I must not be trying to improve, because I wasn't. Suddenly one night, I realized I had improved noticeable. I didn't notice it in a couple of weeks, nor a month. Just one class night, I knew I was better, and it felt so good.

That is of course what you are saying, but I think we often forget to tell students specifically to expect plateaus along the journey.

So you suck at martial arts? You have no natural talent? Your balance is pathetic, you have no breath control, you are stiff and uncoordinated? That's terrific!

Thanks for letting me feel terrific! You sure described me when I began studying. And it still fits. :) :)
 

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Very good piece, Bill...

Building on one small bit, about wondering when the talented will quit... Way too often, I see people who are highly talented in any endeavor, or have too much success early, give up and quit the first time that they hit a real challenge. They've never really had to work, they've never learned how, and they discover it's not fun...

There's a real superpower out there, and, if we choose to possess it, it's available to all of us. Perseverance. Sticking to it. Trying and trying again. If you keep at something, practicing with an eye on improving, however incrementally, you will eventually improve. Learn to love repetition. Learn to pay attention, find the little keys that make it work, and replicate them. Don't settle for good enough -- learn how you're supposed to do it, what it's supposed to look like, and don't stop until it's there.
Teaching resilience is very important, and it's something we've really dropped the ball on with many Millennials.
 

gpseymour

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Teaching resilience is very important, and it's something we've really dropped the ball on with many Millennials.
Agreed. The "participation award" push that happened in so many areas turns out to have been counter-productive.
 

pgsmith

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Excellent post Bill!
I was told pretty much the same thing by one of my senior Japanese instructors quite a number of years back. These were his words and I never forgot them ...
"The hardest thing about learning any martial art is going to the dojo regularly. This is also the very thing that causes the majority of people that attempt martial arts training to fail. If a person can succeed at this one thing, everything else will take care of itself."
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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I have to remind myself of this constantly. I am fully aware that I do not have the natural talent some others have - what j have accomplished happened through essentially obsessive training. However, I still suck. I see someone who is better than me and it is very obvious that they are better. But eventually I will be better than me too, just like the people who look at me and assume I don't suck will reach my level and realize just how much I sucked at that level (and how much they now suck). Very demotivating if you don't acknowledge it.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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Ad for why people with more natural talent end up quitting...I think it has a lot to do with them sucking. In most sporta, you can play for a bit and be around the level of the people your playing a pickup game with, and those people are probably the ones who excel in sports without too much effort. When they discover that putting a couple months into it, they're still far behind others, they figure they can leave and try a different sport where others will know just how great they are.

I don't think it's conscious, but that's my theory on why they quit.
 

gpseymour

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I have to remind myself of this constantly. I am fully aware that I do not have the natural talent some others have - what j have accomplished happened through essentially obsessive training. However, I still suck. I see someone who is better than me and it is very obvious that they are better. But eventually I will be better than me too, just like the people who look at me and assume I don't suck will reach my level and realize just how much I sucked at that level (and how much they now suck). Very demotivating if you don't acknowledge it.
I went through this last night. There's an NGA instructor in SC who has a YouTube channel. I know him fairly well (went to college with him, have trained a fair amount with him). Some of his moves are far beyond mine. His BJJ training has added some very nice transitions I wish I could steal from him (because that would be less work than developing them). But I can't, so I keep training. Damnit.
 
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