Letters to a White Belt: You Suck At Martial Arts… And That’s Okay

Dear White Belt,

You suck.

Sorry.

I’m not trying to be mean, but it’s true. You don’t know what you’re doing, you are all thumbs and left feet. You go left when Sensei says go right. You immediately forget what Sensei said, and have to ask for the instructions AGAIN.

Or, you get this expression when asked a question you know the answer to, but can’t recall on the spot ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️ ➡️

Whatever happens, however you screw up, you just..

…SUCK.

Here’s the thing, it’s totally okay to suck, be imperfect, screw up, or go left when you’re supposed to go right.

Seriously, IT’S OKAY.

Because I’m interested in your continued practice, despite the sucky-ness, I’m going to take a few minutes to explain why.

To begin with, “to suck” is to be alive. We don’t come out of the womb with all the martial knowledge and wisdom ever created by man. I mean, that would be…weird. Imagine you, as a baby, karate chopping your loving mother in the face as she feeds you your five thousandth bottle. Sucking at something means that you’re trying. Whether it’s a martial skill or drinking that milk your mother is trying to feed you, if you’re doing something that requires patience, practice and skills, that means you’re a living, breathing human being.

Congratulations on being alive.

If we want to garner any skills at all, we have to work at it. We must spend as many hours as it takes repeating the same motions again and again.

An even greater need than putting hours of work into a single motion is having someone to guide you, a teacher. I can’t count how many times it took for one of MY Sensei to tap my dead toes back to life before I sucked less.

See, sucking less is the goal. Some of the great masters, those who’ve been at their art for decades, who’ve endured brutal training, who’ve practiced and practiced, will tell you they still have so much to learn. They understand the principle of being perfectly imperfect in their skills.

We aren’t naturally coordinated with sword or Judo throwing skills. Heck, we can’t even walk till our body evens out its proportions enough for our head to NOT be the center of gravity.

No one gets anything 100% of the time. Perfection is an unobtainable pipe dream; it doesn’t exist. But we can come close to it. We can hone, sharpen, and drill. We have the gift of time and instruction. But we can never get to perfection.

So, stop trying.

Let yourself suck. Be okay with mediocrity. Celebrate those two left feet and that plethora of thumbs.

But don’t give up, because it is possible to get better at what you’re doing. Time, patience, and perseverance do get results. Before you know it you’ll go left when you’re supposed to, and you’ll only have TWO thumbs instead of fifteen.

I know this because I’ve been where you are now. In fact, I keep experiencing the suck again and again. Every time I think I’ve arrived or got something down, my teachers throw a new thing into the mix. Sometimes its a variation on a theme; other times it is a higher level understanding of basic skills. Whatever is coming my way, I have to start over and learn something new.

I have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I have to let myself be moved in a new way. I need to submit to the idea of being a “new” student, a beginner at what I’m doing.

Something I love about Budo and the martial arts is how well the concepts and principles apply to general life. Take this whole idea I’ve been writing to you about. How can we apply this knowledge to work, family, hobbies, and all the other aspects of life?

For starters, stop being so hard on yourself. Again, did you walk out of the womb able to perform with god-like precision? That hobby of yours, those close relationships, are people really expecting exactitude in all of your ways? Can good enough just be, well, good enough?

Just Keep Flinging, Just Keep Flinging, Fling, Fling Fling

If you apply the principle of just letting yourself suck at things, not in a lazy way, but in a “just keep swimming” mindset that keeps you going, and keeps you moving towards your goals, then you’ll get closer and closer to doing what you want in life.

Eventually it gets better, and you find that you suck…

…less.

And that’s the goal kids, sucking less, being better at anything you set yourself to do.

So, get out there and fall on the floor, go the wrong direction, wrangle your herd of left feet, and ask your questions. Do it, just try, and all the other mamby-pamby other patronizing things we say to each other to get motivated.

White Belt, get out there and do your thing.

Your Sucky Friend,

Monday’s Martial Madness: Miss Me?? Or, How Slowly Do Mole Asses Move Anyway?

Well, I’m back….

I’m Dai Senpai (大先輩 for the uninitiated dai senpai simply means Big Senior) now. I passed all tests required before shodan and now I’m in the hold-onto-your-gi-pants-cuz-its-getting-crazy-up-in-here pattern until February. What does being dai senpai get me? More responsibilities, like the kind where herding cats seems like a dream job. Seriously though, I’m doing my best to lead people into their best selves but sometimes the process moves like molasses, or is it mole asses? My friend texted me this morning and said they (her and her family) were moving like mole asses (Autocorrect? Or did she TYPE ass…hmmm…) trying to get out the door to the gym. And I’m like, how slow do mole asses move? She never answered. BUT, it’s an idea worth exploring, because LOOK AT THAT MOLE BUTT.

It’s a hiney and I wants to pinch it Precious….

I’m getting my first tastes of teaching because I’m headed toward sensei territory and guess what, more responsibility awaits. I’m pretty sure my sensei is throwing me into the deep end of the instructor pool, but it’s kinda hard to tell what with these messy swim goggles and all that splashing I’m doing in my tiny, half-dead water wings. I mean, he’s the kind of guy who gives bruises for free then says “You’re welcome” when you complain about it, but I digress (Uh-oh, a song parody of Money for Nothing is lurching around in my brain. Maybe next blog post, heh heh). Figuring out my role, duties, and authority is going a lot like I imagine mole asses go when the front end is busy digging tunnels– a jarring, muddy ride full of long-dead bug carcasses pushing up daisies.

The little bastard doesn’t know when to quit–dragging his ass around in the mud and all.

But it’s good for me, right? After all, the shortest path to trial-by-fire learning is paved on the road of the do-or-die method of teaching. Remarkably, here I stand in the center of the volcano, pretty sure my underpants are on fire and the pool noodle of justice is headed my way (No, we’re not THAT sadistic. We gently whack each other in the name of NOT making knuckle-headed moves), but feeling determined to give it my best, despite the rambunctious moles and their yucky ass-dragging-ness.

Bring it volcano!

Truly, I appreciate flailing around in the dark like a blind guy at the disco, because getting my mole-asses butt headed in the right direction is bit like corralling bulls bent on shopping for china ware. Because I’m THICK-headed. Thick like the fur on a mole ass. I can be pretty slow on picking up details, clues, and the occasional direct command. Butt, I try, oh, how I try. I guess that’s what got me here in the first place. Being bullheaded has its place in the martial arts. Dogged determination to see the training through to the next level is what makes a decent person decent-er. Even if getting there flows like mole asses.

The after pic of the tests that got into this dai senpai mess…ignore the hair.

Don’t forget to like and share!

Go to Failure.

“I want you to go to failure,” says my personal fitness trainer as my heart rate swoops upward, and I grunt my way through the fifth rep of single leg walkouts. For the uninitiated: a single leg walkout consists of squatting, leaning over to walkout to a plank with my hands, do a pushup or hold the plank, then walk myself back to squatting and then standing up while pushing through my heel, ALL ON ONE LEG (see video below). I can modify this exercise so that 60% of my weight is on the side I’m working on, and 40% is on the other leg. I am absolutely not able to do this without my other leg sharing the load, at least not yet (I watched someone he was training do this all on one leg, so I know it’s possible). As he introduces each knew exercise into the day’s routine, he says he wants me to grunt, to fail, to push when my muscles are burning, until I cannot move that way anymore in that moment. This way of exercise is exhausting, and maybe a little intimidating.

Continue reading “Go to Failure.”

The Inner Life of The Martial Artist

Every person has an internal life. Thoughts, feelings, beliefs, imagination, and etc take place in the mind. Our experiences and personality shape our inner life which in turn frames both our perception and response. Depending on stage of life, levels of stress, beliefs and resiliency one’s internal life can be rich and full or fairly shallow.

This is good news for everyone.

Continue reading “The Inner Life of The Martial Artist”

For the Love of My Ego: A True Tale of Martial Naughtiness

I have no idea if he said this, but it’s good stuff anyway.

I’ve been struggling for a couple weeks to write something meaningful for my 2nd post of the week. Then Jackie Bradbury of The Stick Chick Blog writes about ego in her That Guy post on a kind of martial artist she calls Ranky McGee. In essence, Ranky McGee is the kind of person who attaches too much meaning to his rank in the dojo which either grows an already outsized ego, or develops a new one based on previous neuroses founded largely on the need for approval. She then asked us if WE (the dear readers) have ever been THAT GUY. As I considered the likeliness of me having somewhat of an ego problem I felt the rattan stick of truth hit me in the eyeball.

Yeah, I’ve been that guy.

Continue reading “For the Love of My Ego: A True Tale of Martial Naughtiness”