After more than 2 decades in martial arts, from Karate to Kendo to now Systema and Iaido, I have noted common mistakes that if adjusted, would make life better in the martial arts world for all. This is by no means a complete list; rather, they are the ones that I have experienced, done or witnessed the most.
1. One day or weekend training does not make one an expert. It was a remarkable weekend. You trained hard for two days straight. Learned more in the 10 hours that you had in the weeks prior. Your skill improved. You are off to a great start.
Going in the right direction and being an expert in the area are worlds apart. It is NEVER the one day or one weekend of training that makes (or breaks) the individual. It is the long, lonely hours and hours of training that lead into months that lead into years that forge the martial artist. Consistency is the key.
2. Lack of respect for the Art. Most people I have come across respect the individual(s) involved in the art. They are their brothers and sisters of sorts, and typically treat others with the earned appreciation. Where respect sometimes gets lost is with the art itself.
This ties in with Point #1. “I took the weekend training and now I know the art.” This is unfortunately, not uncommon. Sometimes, the ” American Way” — fast, compressed, cookbook-like — is not compatible with the Martial Way. Treat the art with respect and it will slowly release its secrets and powerful lessons.
3. Reading is not martial learning. I love history as much as anyone. Seeing the History Channel special or the book series is a great addition to the library. It is should not be confused with the art however.
Reading a book will not help with redirecting a kick or using a knife. It adds information, not martial skill. Take a sword, go to class and training. Then rinse and repeat. That is the sequence that matters the most. Reading is entertaining at best. Distracting at worst.
4. Master of One Art Does Not Mean Master of Another. I started training in Iaido a short 3 months ago and love it. Aside from it being an incredible art, I am learning an enormous amount from my teacher, Bob Elder Sensei.
Elder Sensei is a true master of the art, having spent more than 30 years training. He is high ranking and a judge for testing in Japan, an honor virtually unheard of for an American in a Japanese art.
He and I do an exchange of teaching. For the first hour, I learn Iaido. For the second, I teach him Systema. I have learned as much from teaching as from being a student. As mentioned, Elder Sensei is a master of the art of Iaido (Toyama Ryu), yet when he trains in Systema (an art he is completely unfamiliar with), he is 100% a student. There is a very clear distinction between Elder Sensei — sword master and Bob — beginning Systema student.
Some experts in one art are afraid to be a beginner, to be completely vulnerable, fearing their students will react with disapproval or their ego will shatter. The irony is the opposite is true — Student gain a deeper appreciation and the True Self gains confidence.
At the end of the day, great teachers are also great students and great students are great teachers.
5. There is no best. There is only “best for you.” There is no best art. Nor best teacher. Nor best method. There is only the art, the teacher and the methods that speak to you. Everyone has different goals and dreams as it relates to martial arts. As such, that is one reason why there are 101 different flavors. Test and find the one that speaks to you, the person that you are and the one that you want to evolve into. THAT is the one that is “best.”
Those are my top 5.
My belief is that the martial arts today, are less about self-defense and more about self-development. The creation of guns have push martial arts to the back seat in the defense world but in the process, pushed it forward for opportunities to find the better version of ourselves. Adjusting the aforementioned mistakes (and others not listed) will go along way for each of us to go further along the path of development as warriors and as people.