Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cultivating Student Spirit

I love practicing martial arts.  I've been at it for a couple decades, a constant in a life in which almost every other detail of location, vocation, diet and philosophy has changed.  There's always something new to explore, something new to learn.

And yet, every once in a while, I feel like I'm getting just a little bit burnt out.  I'm in a rut, not progressing, and not enjoying the process.  It usually creeps up on me quietly, so that I don't notice until I suddenly realize that I'm looking for excuses not to go to class, or practice, or whatever.

Whenever this happens, I usually discover that I've lost my student spirit.  Student spirit is a magical and fascinating thing.  It's the bright eagerness to learn and to make progress in an activity.  It's what you felt before school started when you had all your new supplies laid out and they just made you want to do something with them.  It's what you feel when you get a new gym membership and you're just itching to swipe that punch card and hit the stair-master, knowing that it will make your body hurt and you're looking forward to it.

Student spirit comes naturally.  It usually doesn't last- witness the difference in how many people are exercising at the gym in January, versus how many are still at it in May.  But the great thing about student spirit is that it can be cultivated, and regenerated.  I've found a couple of techniques that work for me.  They may work for you, or spark additional ideas for how to recharge your enthusiasm for being an eager student again.

Keep a Journal
If you're going to be a student, then really be a student.  Buy a journal, and don't use it for anything but your martial arts practice.  (Depending on your life, you might have multiple journals to track different activities and projects.)  At the end of class, write down what you've learned.  It doesn't have to be a fantastic insight, it might be finding a new combination that is effective against a single person in sparring, or a slight variation on a technique that is worth exploring later on.  Make a note of things you don't understand or want to get better at, and make a plan for how you will address these items.  Rate your skill in various areas, and track it over time.  You may prefer to keep things chronological, or you may prefer to organize it by topic.  Make it your own.

Empty Your Cup
Stop focusing on what you already know, and try to find something to learn from every situation.  Maybe somebody is demonstrating a technique you already know.  Is it EXACTLY the one you know, or is it a slight variation?  What are the pros and cons of that variation?  Watch the people around you - what are their strengths and weaknesses?  Even if you can out-fight somebody every time, is there some small aspect of their sparring that you could learn from?  Take the attitude that every moment has an opportunity to learn something, if only you have the eyes to see it.

Stop Judging Yourself
Stop getting down on yourself because you're not as good as you want to be.  Stop congratulating yourself because you've achieved so many of your goals, or are better than some of the other students at your school.  Lose yourself in the moment, keeping your focus only on what you are doing and what you are learning.

Aim Your Compass
Stop every once in a while and take a realistic assessment of where you are and where you want to go.  Are you learning the right things?  Are you progressing the way you want to?  Is this still the right school for you?  I'm not suggesting you constantly jump from one style to another, but you should definitely make sure you know what your goals are, and that you are headed towards them.  Set your goals, and then make a plan to get there.  And then execute.

Ask For Help
If you have questions or concerns about how you are progressing, or need guidance on your path, ask your instructor or one of the senior students at your school.  Chances are, they'll be eager to help out, give you an outside perspective, and share what they have learned.

I wish you the best of luck, and hope to see you on the mat soon!

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