Rules for the Martial Arts Classroom

To become successful as a martial artist, you have to commit yourself to learning. But sometimes, bad habits can prevent you from getting the most you can from your instructors, your fellow students, and your school. By following these guidelines, you can learn martial arts to the best of your ability.

Listen more than you talk

Too often, the sound of your own voice can drown out what the teacher (or a fellow student) is saying. Listen to what the teacher says. Think about it. Only if you still don't understand should you ask. Just remember to ask at the right time and place. In many traditional martial arts classes, interrupting class in order to ask questions isn't considered appropriate. Instead, save your questions for before or after class.

Watch and learn

In addition to listening to what the teacher is saying, watch what the teacher is doing. Try to mimic the way that the teacher performs techniques. Many questions could be answered and problems solved if students would simply do what the teacher (and the senior students) are doing.

Watch the other students as well. Often, especially in the case of behavior and etiquette, they can teach you without even knowing they're teaching you. Imitate what the senior students do (unless the instructor makes the senior student do 50 pushups for it). If everyone rises and bows when the head instructor walks in the room, you should probably do the same even if no one has told you to.

Finally, watch yourself. Look at what you're doing as you do it. (For this, a mirror or camcorder is essential.) As you perform techniques, make certain that you're completing them correctly so that your feet are in the right place and your body is balanced correctly.

Visualize

Creative visualization can lead to martial arts success. Imagine performing your form perfectly. Imagine scoring clean points against your sparring partner. Before class, take a moment to clear your mind and then think about having a perfect practice. After class, relax and take a moment to go over what you did and think about how you can improve your performance next time.

Accept criticism

If you're performing your techniques incorrectly, you need to know it. Your instructor isn't doing you any favors by overlooking poor technique just because you're a nice person. Not correcting your performance can be dangerous, giving you the confidence that you're doing techniques in an effective way, when really you aren't. Performing techniques incorrectly can also cause damage to your body by overstressing your joints or causing strains and sprains. So when you think your instructor wouldn't know praise if it came and hit her upside the head, just remember that when you're facing a couple of street punks, you'll be glad she was hard on you.

Practice, practice, practice

You can't master martial arts techniques without practicing. Sometimes, though, you don't realize just how much practice the techniques require. Most instructors agree that, although you can get the feel for a technique pretty quickly and may even perform it pretty well after a few dozen repetitions, you don't actually master a technique until you've done it correctly at least two or three thousand times, probably more. That's many, many kicks. So, don't get frustrated if you're still having trouble doing a side kick if you've only been attempting it for three months. You have several more months to go.

Respect yourself (and others)

The martial arts don't care what you do outside the training hall. Therefore, it doesn't matter if you're a well-respected neurosurgeon recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The little high school squirt who is your senior belt still knows more than you do; respect her for it. Also, respect yourself and your abilities, no matter what they are. You can best show this respect by always being courteous to your instructor and your fellow students and by trying your hardest at every training session.

Remember that persistence beats talent

No matter how inept you are, if you keep trying, you can do better than the most talented students who never try. Persistence is at the heart of learning the martial arts. No matter how many times you fail, you must pick yourself up and keep trying. Your fellow students will respect you for it, and you will respect yourself, too. Even better, you'll discover how to master the techniques and achieve your goals simply by persisting.

Persisting is made easier if you also do some goal-setting. You have to know what you want in order to keep trying to get it. Set some long-term martial arts goals, such as earning a black belt or competing for a national title and some short-term goals, such as improving your kicking speed.

Eat humble pie

Who among us hasn't enjoyed the spectacle of watching an arrogant jerk get his comeuppance? It's really fun to see the mighty fall. Just remember, though, that it may be you the next time. Even the best martial artists fall down, forget their forms, and lose sparring matches to lower belts. By remaining humble, these minor setbacks don't turn into major humiliations. Humility is also necessary to learning. If you think that you know it all, you may never discover anything new. A good martial artist knows that there's always plenty to discover.

Cultivate patience

To become a truly accomplished martial artist, along with practicing your techniques thousands of times and persisting in the face of failure, you have to cultivate patience. Every martial artist can describe plateaus in his training. You may have plateaus, too. No matter how hard you try, you just can't master that kick, you just can't throw that one partner, and you just can't lose that five pounds. You need to be patient. You can't achieve a black belt overnight (and what would it really mean if you did?). Through patience, you can achieve your martial arts goals. Remind yourself of that every now and then.

Have fun

Martial artists tend to talk about martial arts in solemn, serious tones. And learning the skills that can maim other people is indeed serious. Discovering how to defend yourself is a big responsibility. Nevertheless, don't forget that martial arts are also a great lot of fun!

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