15 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Martial Art

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1.  Being a Know It All

Please, please don’t walk into any martial art school thinking you already know it all.  If you’ve had other training, that is fantastic! Anyone who already has the basic concepts is well ahead of the game.  But, guess what? Every school and program is different.  What took you two months to earn a yellow belt there, might take you a year here, or vice versa.  That kick? It might have a slight variation in this school.  The way you bow, the commands, and the overall philosophy may be completely different.  No teacher wants to hear “I already know that.”  “I learned it this way.”  “My Sensei said….”

And, if you are a new martial artist, just be humble.  Just be honest.  You don’t know anything yet and you’ve got nothing to prove.


2.  Making Assumptions

You know what they say about assuming things.  Let’s just say, it’s not a good idea.

If you really want to know what a program or school offers, ask them right up front.  If it’s a black belt in two years that you want, don’t get angry while going through the program if  you are more than two years in and still have a long way to go and you never asked.

Don’t assume you are guaranteed a black belt.  Just putting in hours doesn’t cut it.  There is skill, technique, dedication and performance involved.

Don’t assume your school is the best, your style is the most comprehensive, or that other martial artists are any different from you.  Discussed in some of my other blogs, this borders on disrespect.


3.  Not Practicing

You call yourself a martial artist.  You go to class.  Do you practice?

I’ve heard excuses ranging from “there is not enough room in my house” to “I’m too tired” to “I can just practice in class.”  I understand, really I do.  I’m right there with you and agree with all of these excuses.  I still take action, though.  On any given day, I might be practicing a kata in my living room or in the driveway or before or after class or during break.  I know that I have a long way to go to be where I want to be in my art.

Not practicing is going to set you behind.  You will come to class still struggling with the skills that have already been taught.  Your proficiency level will lag.  If you don’t get to test when you want, this might be the reason why.  I can tell if you practice when you come to class.  No practice, no improvement.


4.  Hitting Full Force in Practice

Some styles wear a lot of fighting protection and go full force.  In my program we use head-gear and punches and maybe foot gear and while contact can be made it must be controlled.  That is why we wait until green belt level.  It gives students the opportunity to learn the control and precision they need to spar in this manner.

For me, “practice” is about honing those strong sparring skills by repetition and you can only gain repetition by having opportunities to spar and practice all your skills.  Hitting full force in practice is not allowed and if done, the student is pulled.  We are not a competition school so we focus on the skills to fight and point sparring.

I understand that each school has a different philosophy.  When I see our seasoned students fighting in class, I know that they have what they need to defend or fight back and that is what is important to me.  Other styles have other methods and they are all acceptable, if monitored and coached well.


5.  Not drinking enough water

Taking a strenuous martial art class without drinking enough water is a no-no.  You are probably going to sweat, work your muscles, stretch and strengthen, use different body parts, and exert energy.  Drink water to nourish what you lose in the work-out.  Even a few sips of water on a break can make a huge difference in how you feel during your training.  If you are in a high aerobic type martial art training, you must drink water to stay focused and strong.

Feeling sluggish?  This may be why.


6.  Working with the same partner all the time

karate 8We do a lot of partner drills.  Students want to partner with the same people over and over.  It becomes comfortable for them.  They know what to expect with this partner.  This partner is the same size, has the same skill set, has been training just as long.

This is a martial art mistake because life is not comfortable.  If someone attacks you or gets in your face, chances are he is not going to be the same size or have anything in common with you.  Working with people who are more or less trained than you, bigger or smaller, or the opposite sex will not only push you to train harder because these new partners are going to test you as they learn themselves.

In some cases, that common partner is a great idea, but not every time.  See what the unexpected feels like.


7.  Not stretching or warming up

I start each class with a warm up and a stretch.  After stretching we do some  sit ups or push ups, then general skills drills.  All this warming up gets the body ready for the more demanding technique work.

Whatever martial art you practice or teach, a stretch or warm up gets the juices flowing.  It is the transition between just walking in the door of the school a little tired to giving 100%.  It brings you from stillness to activity in a matter of minutes and gives your muscles a chance to prepare.  Hopefully, it will eliminate potential injuries, too.


8.  Not getting enough sleep

Try, try, try to get enough sleep.  Learning a martial art can zap your energy at times.  Struggling with fatigue is a sure way to forget what you’ve learned, have difficulty paying attention in class, and diminish the power you need for your skills.  Not just for your martial art, but for your everyday activities and commitments, try to get the amount of sleep that is right for you.


9.  Trying to learn advanced before beginner

There are times you will be shown advanced moves even as a beginner.  This happens in class when there are a lot of advanced students and only a couple of beginners.  The advanced grab/escape technique may be something that these new students should learn down the road, but for convenience sake, it’s added in now so the whole group can work together.  This is okay, since it is the Sensei’s call.

If you are a beginner, just go with the flow.  Learn what you can if taught something advanced.

On the other hand, don’t focus on learning all the advanced stuff all the time.  There is only one way to work up to the advanced cool stuff and that is to start at the beginning.  When learning, don’t ask “When will I learn THAT???” and point to other upper belt students who are practicing.  Learn what you should and then, when the time is right, you will move on.


10. Not paying attention

This is probably more for kids than adults because kids are the ones who lose focus quickly.  Too busy talking to his friend in class, or twirling her hair, or looking out the door, if not paying attention you will miss what is being taught.

Many times I walk around class just to remind students to watch the skill or technique being taught.  “Eyes up front!” I screech, meaning watch what is being taught so you can try it.  Still, when I walk around, half of them have no idea what they should be doing.

That should be expected.  I just take the time to show them again.  Kids will lack focus for many reasons and my job is to be patient and show them what they need to know.  Some learn better in a small personal environment where I can talk to them up close and show the technique again.  Over time, they will start to pay more attention at the right times.


11. Not resting if injured

I am very stubborn.  I hate to rest if I am injured.  I feel like I will fall behind in whatever training on which I am working.  Once I finally built up to running 3-4 miles on the treadmill on my lunch hour, then twisted my ankle.  By the time I got back to running, I had to build up all over again.  It was frustrating.

The same goes for your martial art training, except that some things can be rehearsed in your mind or in slow motion.  The beauty of martial arts is that they are physical and mindful.  If you can’t apply them fully physically, due to an injury, you can still practice what you know in your mind and also practice a stronger martial art mindset to apply to your life.

Rest, if injured, so you can return just as strong as before.


12. Not wearing your belt to class

synergyOn occasion, a student forgets his belt.  While I know my students pretty well, for some reason without that colored belt securely wrapped around his waist, I cannot recall off the top of my head what color he wears.

Maybe it’s a mental block on my part, or forgetfulness; no matter what it is, my life as a Sensei is much easier if I can clearly see the sea of belts floating out on the open floor. If all the yellow belts need to gather in one spot, it’s easy for me to count how many by just glancing over the colored belts.  Or, if I want to determine where the black-belt candidates are, I can pinpoint them based on their belts.

Wearing your belt shows me who you are and where you are in your training; and, it’s something you’ve earned so keep it with your gi and wrap it on, and let’s get training.


13. Wearing jewelry to class

Take it off.  Earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings, fancy hair things.  I’m not just talking about girls or women.  Men and women alike show their personality through the things they wear.  In class, these personal expressions can not only get in the way, they can hurt you or someone else.


14. Arriving late

Sometimes it cannot be helped, but arriving late disrupts the flow of the class.  I’m never going to turn a student away or embarrass him for being late.  I’m glad he’s there.  I’m glad he’s jumped through some hoops to step foot in the place where I teach.

If, however, lateness happens because you became engrossed in something else and left the house late, or  stopped for a smoothie on the way in, perhaps that can be avoided next time around.


15. Quitting

Here is the biggest mistake you can ever make in your martial art.  Giving up is not a response to anything.  Everything good in life presents a challenge.  Everything worth working toward requires time and effort.  So many students quit somewhere in the middle, around a green or blue belt karate level, because suddenly they are accountable for their skills.  They need to really know what they are doing in order to advance.  Learning might be more difficult now because the concepts are more complicated.  Have no fear.  You can do it.

Take baby steps.  Learn one thing at a time. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t understand a technique.  Don’t allow mental fatigue to drag you down.  There are enough black belts in the world to show that you can be one, too.  All of them started in the same place as you, as beginners, and fought their way through the obstacles to attain their dream.

The biggest martial art mistake you can ever make is quitting.

There are the 15 mistakes you can make in your martial art journey.  Oh, there are more, for sure.  You can probably come up with several of your own.  The point is, that with every good thing comes learning, acceptance, transition, and understanding.  Martial art journey or life journey, your health, your mindset, and your ability to push through in difficult times is what creates the positive and exciting accomplishments in your life.

15 mistakes aren’t too many to avoid.  Not if you are ready to become the martial artist you’ve always wanted to be.



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