Excellence in Martial Arts
by Donn Schucker

What does it take to excel in the martial arts?

First and foremost, it takes a great teacher. One who is not interested in pandering to students to keep them attending - it takes a teacher who can be kind, compassionate, and caring when necessary but who will also tell it like it is and push you HARD to meet and then exceed your own potential.

Most teachers, and martial arts organizations for that matter, won't do this. Why? Because it is a very difficult path, with few...make that VERY few...students willing to put forth the required effort. When the student fails, they quit! This ends the revenue stream for the teacher.

Teaching should not be related to the generation of revenue in any way! The instant that money enters the equation, compromises are made to keep the students happy rather than to tell it like it is and give them what they need, not what they want.

The same applies to awarding rank or other certifications...once money becomes involved, the system has been corrupted.

Alright, so other than the obvious - a good teacher - what else in needed to excel in the martial arts? How about another obvious answer - being a good student. A good student is a combination of so many things. If one of the elements is missing, their performance suffers! These elements are:

1) The potential to excel
2) The desire to excel
3) The ability to excel

Most people say, "Well sure, I wanna be good...and look, I can do this, and that, and I'm pretty good at this..."

But this isn't enough! The potential to excel is that God given natural ability to understand and/or to duplicate physical movements. We believe this is fairly common...possibly 50% of all students who wish to learn self defense show this potential to excel.

The desire to excel is what we call the "warrior mindset" that absolutely prohibits you from accepting anything less than success from yourself. It is the frame of mind that ceaselessly drives you forward in a never ending quest for perfection. People with this level of desire do not let anything stand between them and their goals, and are willing to do whatever is necessary (short of breaking the law or common ethics) to accomplish a given task.

Some would say this is not a healthy way to be...within the SMAA, we say that it is the only healthy way to be, within the parameters we will describe in a moment.

A well known instructor once told a story of his training with his own instructor many, many years ago. He took a deep breath and almost as if he were sighing, began to speak, “I remember asking my instructor if he would have tea with me after class – and of course he said yes.”

He continued, “He had his own private dressing room, and being an elderly gentleman he took a bit of time to shower and dress. By the time he finally emerged from the dressing room, I was standing in the hallway waiting for him and rashly blurted out, 'Why did Bhodidharma come from the West?'

'FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF!' was the thundering response that rang in my ears, now startled by the abruptness of his answer. And then his voice softened as he added, ‘What I mean is, he came from the West to encourage you to find out for yourself.’

The instructor’s instructor was saying that all true knowledge comes from within, and that we must all have that eternally burning desire that forces us to find out for ourselves! Although he passed away many years ago and we never had the great fortune of meeting him, we know something of him through his student – he must have truly been a giant among men.

In the SMAA's estimation, probably no more than 10% of all students have this desire.

The ability to follow instructions and to readily accept direction, criticism, and advice without emotion or ego involved is exceedingly rare. Without this element, all the potential in the world will go largely undeveloped...all the desire in the world will lead nowhere. The path must be riddled with reality checks, critiques, and evaluations...followed by corrections, directions and advise. The students that actually have this ability to excel are no more than 1% of all those who begin self defense training.

The three elements MUST be present to reach the highest levels of any endeavor.

This doesn't mean we should always be totally intense and turn everything in life into a competition...far from it! We must find balance in life, and be able to "flip a switch" that allows us to turn on and off this intensity as the situation demands. We know people who have all three elements, but they can't turn them on and off...they are no fun to be around or to train with, because everything is life or death to them...this is not healthy.

The tools to excel are important, but the ability to use this when necessary and not use it when the situation doesn't warrant it is just as important. Past or present, modern soldier or Shaolin monk…balance...both physical and everything. This is what it takes to excel in the martial arts.

Do you have what it takes???

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