a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view

Perspective is something skewed quickly and greatly; especially today with social media and real time access to information.  A lot has been written and preached about perspective.  Getting it.  Keeping it.  As a coach, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of maintaining proper perspective for students, new and old, as they navigate their martial arts journey.  My brethren in the corporate world simply replace ‘student’ with ‘employee’ and you’ll get the idea.

Starting Out – No Perspective

One of the many tribulations new students experience is frustration.  Techniques are confusing, ability isn’t necessarily coinciding with desire; progress doesn’t come quick enough.  Part impatience.  Part immaturity.  Part is also understanding that comparing oneself to senior students is a tough and unfair comparison.  Training with more experienced students is a solid recipe for getting better as iron tends to sharpen iron; plus being among wiser and more talented people tends to make oneself better as well…so goes the theory of osmosis.  Important though is to temper expectations.  Meaning, as a new student we cannot forget the number of years, hours and countless repetitions those senior students put in to get to their level.  It was not an overnight success by any stretch of the imagination.  There is an amount of invaluable wisdom the comes with experience and knowledge as well. 

To compare your skill level or even your rate of progress to another person is simply unfair to yourself.  Everyone’s rate of development is wholly unique to that individual. When we compare ourselves to someone, we must fully understand what we are comparing.  It’s not just their current skill level, prowess or success.  It’s everything that went into creating and getting to that level. One must conduct an honest evaluation of the amount of effort, dedication and conviction to training that is being put in; generally it’s not always an apples to apples comparison afterall. It’s more productive to look back at your day-one self to gauge progress.  Are you better than you were just a month ago?  Your trajectory is your own.

Graduating – Losing Perspective

There comes a point where a student is no longer what would be considered a beginner.  There are a few years experience under the belt now and skill is markedly higher; still nowhere near a senior student or “veteran” but definitely not a newbie anymore.   This transition from the beginner stage is a big step. The student oft no longer view himself as a novice; rank promotion marks full awareness of the status change. A little swagger may even develop. A push begins to separate from the beginners for inclusion with the senior students.  A self segregation almost takes place because an unchecked ego prevents association with one group and reality isn’t allowing the other. The challenge here is understanding status doesn’t matter and concerning ourselves with it will only take away from progress.  

The second we think we’re “too good” to train with another student (or an instructor…even crazier thought) we’ve completely lost sight of where we came from.  Students sometimes forget it wasn’t that long ago they were the new person in the room, fumbling around trying to figure out right from left, looking completely lost and dare I say holding other students back.  It’s not merely the duty of every martial artist but the very spirit of the martial arts is understanding we are first and foremost always a humble student who is open to learning from anyone and everyone.

Regardless of rank, we are never above training with anyone when in the dojo and on the mat.  Group classes are not simply an easier way to reach and teach larger numbers of people. It’s an opportunity to build community, for students to learn from one another, and develop a training environment of trust and respect.  To ever dismiss someone as having nothing to offer or our needs are more important is selfish and conceited.

There is also another little piece that tends to coincide with this period. Such students often aren’t as good as they think they are and the senior students are salivating, waiting to happily show them. Humble pie. One please!

Old Dogs – Gaining Perspective

As students continue their journey, they may one day find themselves as the elder statesmen; if not by age but pure experience and talent cultivated over years of training and dedication. Important here is the idea of selfless dedication to the art.  Continuing to maintain a white belt’s mentality and always finding ways to learn and improve along with the time-honored tradition, and expectation, to pass on and share what you’ve learned to the next person walking through the door. 

I will never forget the words my first instructor, Sensei Tim Hoover, said in class once and it was to the effect that his job as a teacher is to make his students better than him and if he did that he accomplished what he was supposed to do.  Becoming an open book, selflessly sharing your knowledge and wisdom to help make people around you better humans and practitioners of the art is something every martial artist should look forward to doing.  Acknowledging and accepting you are a senior student and willing to be part of a path on someone else’s journey is the ultimate perspective to gain in the martial arts.

Everyday Is Training Day – Reap What You Sow