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Teaching Traditional Martial Arts in A Modern Society: Is It Still the Way?

Today’s technology and other advances has our society moving at a fast pace. I’ve watched youth use their thumbs, and maybe one or two fingers, at record speed as they click through the keyboard to communicate through social media, text messages, and other media formats. The rapidity and dexterity of the digits is astounding to watch. This is now the norm.


Our society is bombarded with videos on every topic imagined. Video games have become extraordinarily realistic as the action captivates its players and draws them into another world where rewards are granted with each accomplishment.


Movies, with their CGI enhancements, are continuously advancing in the creation of worlds that are so lifelike, it draws its viewers in with wide-eyed anticipation. So much so that if an action movie doesn’t outperform its predecessor, it isn’t appealing—it doesn’t hold the viewers’ attention. With that in mind, is it still viable to teach martial arts using traditional methods when students, potentially, become bored due to the repetition of basics?


Today’s activities rarely require as much focused repetition as martial arts training requires and so, students may move on to different activity. Perhaps it is because they are not receiving the quick gratification one receives when playing a video game or maybe it’s the lack of ability to grasp the techniques taught in martial arts as quickly as learning the use of controls of a gamer’s console. However, there is gratification to be found, and techniques can be learned just like any other undertaking to include communicating through a smartphone and learning to play a video game.


In martial arts training, notably traditional training, students will go through basics countless times and maybe that seems tedious and boring, but it’s all in how you look at it. If, when a student first begins, they are clumsy, as most are, and use the wrong arm or leg—right versus left, but four classes later, balance has improved, and the student is following the instructor more closely, that’s progress. Instead of focusing on the overall mastering of numerous basic techniques, why not focus on the smaller achievements that tell the student progress has been made—it is instant feedback that training is working.


The gradual, yet enduring growth a student achieves in class, is all on the student. No one else can take credit for a student’s commitment and perseverance. Making and achieving smaller goals within the context of larger goals, such as the next rank, can be far more productive and satisfying than thinking only of the next rank. This mindset and a mental journal of personal goals and achievements provides the instant gratification which is on par with what is happening within today’s culture—if one chooses to see it.


Over time, as techniques become easier and more natural, the student will progress in rank and is afforded certain freedoms to expand their techniques from simple basics to more complex skills reserved for higher ranking students. This time will come, but… like the next level in a video game, it must be earned and I will add that expressing one’s self in a grander manner is every bit as exciting as reaching the next level of a video game. It is invigorating.


Martial arts training is comparative to the levels of achievement in a video game; however, the excitement is brought about by student mindset and enthusiasm, as well as a good instructor. If a student’s focus during class is on achieving the next belt level or the student begins to judge themselves worthy of the next rank based on the number of classes they have attended, that student is missing out on how far they have actually come by way of the number of smaller accumulated achievements as well, the obstacles they have overcome during each class, the student that reflects on the many slight accomplishments and successes will be far more satisfied than the student who is critical of themselves and can’t see just how far he or she has actually come with consistent attendance and fortitude.


Worse yet is when a student goes through repetitious basics with an uninterested mindset. The student is thinking only moving through the technique without focusing on how they can challenge themselves to improve upon each repetition. A student is easily bored if the only thought in their mind is, what time is it, or, how much longer? Receiving instructor critique and praise as a personal challenge to better one’s self or concentrate on doing what is being done correctly and ensuring it becomes a habit, is an effective way to work through any technique that requires repetition to solidify it in the brain.


In any good school, there will be an emphasis on basics because that is the foundation from which all other techniques expound from. When first handed a smartphone, the new user must learn to manipulate the small keyboard with fingertips that are generally much larger than the space the keyboard provides, but with determination and practice, the majority of people become apt at moving around the keyboard with remarkable speed and accuracy. That nimbleness did not happen overnight. Practicing using the keyboard likely did not seem repetitious because of sending various communications or typing in search words, but, in fact, as related to the use of the keyboard, it was repetitious, and the user was determined to learn—that is exactly what it takes to excel in martial arts.


Let’s put it this way… generally, in our first year of life, we take our first steps. We go from scooting our little body around on the floor to get where we want to go, and then move to crawling, which is faster than propelling the body forward while lying on the floor. After a while, we start pulling ourselves up using furniture, to a standing position, and then, we take that first step. There may be other factors involved, but, as time passes, we unconsciously realize that walking is going to get us where we want to go a whole lot faster than crawling or scooting. We were motivated to get somewhere and so we kept trying. That’s called perseverance while the gratification came in the forward movement, but it required repetition in order to get our feet working together properly and to maintain balance. Learning a martial art requires that same repetition because our brain is learning ways of moving our body that is more complex than most any other endeavor undertaken. If a person has somewhere he or she wants to be, that person will keep working to get there.


Repetition, repetition, repetition. It is how the brain creates new pathways in a process known as neuroplasticity and while it may seem boring at times, it is critical to learning; however, attitude and appreciation for small advances can make the process as gratifying as anything else in the fast-paced culture we find ourselves in today. Instead of thinking in terms of rank levels, students should try thinking in terms of advancements within each class. If a student sets one personal goal for each class and understands that it will take repetition to meet that goal, a student will succeed, maybe not to the degree desired at that single point, but advancement nonetheless so, the answer is, yes, teaching martial arts in a traditional manner is still the Way, as well as a perfectly human way of teaching new skills. To succeed at learning something new, the brain requires it, and—Hanshi Scott requires it.

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