Coach’s Corner: 10 YEARS & 10 LESSONS
June of 2015 marked 10 years of practicing martial arts for me. I began training Judo in 2005, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2009, and even dabbled in Karate for a few terms in college. For me, martial Arts started as a hobby, and eventually morphed into one the most central aspects of my life. I recently spent some time reflecting on the last decade of my martial arts journey, and as I was going through mental notes and memories, I came up with a list of ten lessons that I’ve learned through my experience. Had someone shared those lessons with me as a white belt, I believe it would have greatly benefited me while building my foundation in martial arts. I hope these lessons may benefit you and your martial arts journey:
1> Don’t concern yourself with chasing rank, or worry about the rank of others– The idea seems simple, and easy enough to adhere too right? Honestly it’s something that I still catch myself doing on occasion, and it’s nothing but detrimental. When I was a blue belt, I was in such a hurry to get to purple, that I didn’t really enjoy my time at one of the most developmentally important ranks in BJJ. Fortunately, after I got my purple belt, this way of thinking matured, and I began to embrace the process more, which led me to not only more success as a competitor, but also a more enjoyable time in training. I highly recommend reading the previous Coach’s Corner, by Professor Ben Baxter, regarding this subject. It’s a great read: http://pgbjj.com/tag/coachs-corner/
2> You are in charge of your own success, and your own failures- Whether you’re concerned with your mastery of a technique, or your success as a competitor, remember, your results depend solely on you. Your instructor, now matter how skilled, or how well intentioned, cannot put in the work FOR you. Success is derived from hard work, and mastery is nearly impossible, and certainly impossible without complete dedication. Inevitably you will come to a scenario where things didn’t turn out the way you wanted them too. Instead of looking outward for excuses, you should first look at your own preparation and attitude.
3> Keep an open mind and appreciate different perspectives- For me, one of the coolest things about Judo and Jiu-Jitsu is how different every person’s style or way of movement is. You will almost never find two practitioners that have the same game. Who dominates with the simplicity of Roger Gracie, or Teddy Riner? Who moves like Georgii Zanataraia, or Rafael Mendes? Everyone’s game is a reflection of their body type, the way they naturally move, and even their personality. I think that it is wise to be willing to learn from everyone what you can, and never disregard something just because you think its not suited for you. You’ll be surprised at what you find works for you.
4> Surround yourself with positive people in a positive environment- I think this is one of the easiest things to overlook. Do everything you can to be around positive, like-minded, people in your martial arts journey. Negativity can permeate through a Dojo rapidly if not dealt with quickly. If no one is smiling while they’re training- RUN! Being around people who lift you up, as opposed to putting you down, will make all the difference in the world during the many frustrating times that living the life of a martial artist will offer you.
5> Have fun while you train- Martial arts are difficult, no matter how athletic or hardworking you are. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu not even 5% of people that start training will achieve the rank of black belt. If every training session Is brutal on the body, and unforgiving on the mind, it’s very easy to feel burned-out. When you start to feel tired, frustrated, or like you’re going through the Rocky IV training montage- out in the snow, bench-pressing logs- take a step back and look at things through a different lens. Think about how awesome it is that you get to be sharing the mats with your friends, doing something that you feel passionate enough about that you go full “Stallone” on occasion. Smile, and appreciate the fact that you’ve been blessed with the time, and opportunity, to do something so fulfilling.
6> You’re never above the fundamentals- This is something that may seem obvious, but in reality is very easy to fall victim too. This happened to me when I reached a fairly intermediate level of training. I was pretty sure that I never needed to practice several techniques because, “I knew them already”, or “Nobody will ever fall for that at a higher level”, and the truth, of course, is that I couldn’t have had a worse mindset. Look at the aforementioned practitioners: Roger Gracie and Teddy Riner. Both of them are so good at the fundamentals that they are the best in the world, utilizing what one could think of as white belt level moves. At their core, the success of all advanced techniques are rooted in the success of very fundamental techniques. For this reason, if you’re a higher ranked Judoka or JiuJitiero, I think it is very beneficial for you to occasionally participate in a beginner or fundamental class. I’ve personally picked up on tons of things that have helped my growth as a martial artist by watching the way newer practitioners deal with unraveling the challenges that they face in their martial infancy.
7> Put as much energy into helping your training partners improve as you can- One of the most important principles that Dr. Kano put forth while developing Judo was “Mutual Benefit”. The more time you spend on the mat, the more you will appreciate this mindset. Napoleon Hill said, “It is literally true you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” I’ve found that to be true when applied to martial arts, as well as the business world. Be sure that your training partners are getting your best effort. In turn you are more likely to get their’s. Not only will this help you get better in a technical sense, but it will also begin to develop a stronger sense of camaraderie and positivity in your school.
8> Set Goals!- I’ve set goals since I first began as a martial artist, but only in the past few years have I done it with any consistency. There have been a few things that have helped me be more consistent with goal-setting and follow through:
1.) Start Small: Setting big goals like, becoming a black belt, or being a world champion, are great, but how are you going to get there? Start with a few smaller goals, and prioritize them. This will enable you to take steps that are more quickly achievable, and will allow you to build positive momentum towards your over-arching larger goals.
2.) Set Deadlines. Your highest priority short-term goals should come with a deadline. Do your best to make these deadlines realistic. If you miss one, asses the reason why, and if its still a high priority, assign it a new deadline and attack it with veracity!
3.) Lastly, and probably the most helpful for me, was to find a group of like-minded people to goal set with. Meet consistently and discuss your successes as well your set-backs. You’ll be surprised at how well this works for holding each another accountable, and it will absolutely help all of you succeed!
9> Read Books- I’m not talking about keeping up with what Edward and Bella are doing here. Go non-fiction or go home. A few years ago Professor Baxter recommended a couple of books for me to read that changed the way that I approached many aspects of my martial arts practice, and my life. The books were Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill and Watering the Bamboo, by Greg Bell. Both books are fairly easy reads, and do a great job of highlighting the habits of successful people, regardless of their field of pursuit. To this point, most of my reading has been either fiction, or school-assigned, so it has been refreshing to read books that are so useful.
10> In 10 years you’ll still know nothing- When I first started out, I couldn’t imagine that a decade later I would have more questions than I did my first day on the mat. How cool is that? I have learned that I will never achieve perfection because it would take more than a lifetime to truly master every aspect of any one martial art. If you’re truly a student of the martial arts, you’ll always feel as though you are perpetually in John Snow mode, and know nothing.
About the Author: Coach Ryan Cunningham is a 1st degree black belt in Judo, and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Ryan has been an active member of the martial arts and wrestling community in Roseburg since 1998, and is currently the head instructor at Performance Martial Arts Academy in Roseburg, as well as an instructor at Performance Martial Arts Academy in Springfield. For more information on Coach Ryan Cunningham, visit his Instructor-Bio: https://pmaabjj.com/ryan-cunningham-head-instructor/
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