As nowadays there is no real, single, point to martial arts training, this musing is going to be somewhat odd ... but it's still a question that bugs me, so there you go.
Why is it that many higher level martial artists plateau and don't seem to want to explore more?
This came up because of a conversation regarding why I am so open about sharing the material I know.
My answer was this -
Because I'm quite good at what I do, in the small unfashionable corner of the martial world I inhabit, with few folks at my level or higher, and this means I'm stuck. I need to get challenged to get better, which in turn means I have to get people that are willing to play with me and push me ... which means I need to share.
This is also why I've looked outside my style to challenge myself in other fields, as there are plenty great practitioners out there who play with different weapons and different rules that can certainly help me learn.
All I need are folks that can flow and duel, and that are willing to play with me. Of course it's also nice if they are skilled enough to not injure me and have an open mind and a good sense of humor ... but those are secondary.
Doesn't sound too hard, right?
But .... I've found it over and over again, very few are interested at all.
From a womens' black belt group that invited me to join them for monthly workouts ... I thought they wanted to investigate, improve, troubleshoot, to get better ... but as it was they just wanted to get their heart rates up and socialize ..... To conversations I've had with like minded folks, all scratching our heads at why it seems our peers have no interest in mixing it up, cross training, or giving themselves challenges any more .... I mean they say they do ... but nothing ever comes of it .....
I understand that life or injury can take you away from practice, but that is not what I'm talking about, this is about folks still active in the martial arts, quite happy to sit on their 'box' of skills with no thought about actively engaging in what that box means, what it's for, if it's complete, if it needs changing etc etc.
It's easy to improve at your chosen art for quite a while, there's often systematic grading or at least some kind of indication that you are getting better at what you practice, but what then, when you start reaching the limits of where the art can take you?
Say you have completed the 'box' of material that is your system, refined it, and perhaps started teaching it even ... what then?
Can you get better?
What is it that you are getting better at?
Do you want to?
And if not, why not?
Hi Maija. This is related to your blog post but not a direct response, as I am not at the level of hitting walls with any of the martial arts I study that are about lack of learning opportunity or plateau... just the walls that have to do with amount of hours in the day and physical energy. :)
I'm so grateful to you for giving me permission to teach a bagua class. It is a great opportunity to think more critically and actively about the art, and re-appreciate the amount that I don't know. It is incredibly fun and a blessing in terms of my development to be able to have conversations with myself and anyone who will listen about what I want my studentitas to be able to do before they meet Luo Dexiu or you. (Right now, high on that list: shuffling, falling on a wood floor, basic palm changes and some type of partner exercise in every class. Though the list is very subject to change, and I am going to have to axe much of it for the sake of time.) I'm having lots of fun debating curriculum with Mike (and of course, appreciate that he has the good sense to know that he shouldn't push his opinions because I am the one who has to live with the decisions).
That brings me to a partial answer to your question: how important community is, for keeping ourselves honest, support, commiseration and good-spirited competition. I really appreciate how much work you put into cultivating that community with the various arts that you practice.
I think the plateau happens when a person has done all the 'rational' training and has no idea, or no way to cross over to the next level - emotional. Yes, feeling good about a hard workout is emotional, so is feeling frustrated over a bad training day, but the real crossover comes through uncertainty, even fear. This is where tournament fighting, even the point karate kind, can be very useful, far more than full contact stuff within your own club. By moving outside your tribe and challenging others to show their skills and test yours - a kind of stranger danger, if you will, one learns to handle the adrenaline rush of the unknown. It was all very sports-person like, of course - grappling, FC, point, karate or push hands, even sinawalis - anything where we had to make physical contact with others, feel the energies, compare skills, ideas - and feelings. The next, and final level is survival. This is where training stops and experience begins. And passing this level is part training, part mental preparation (scenario-izing) but very much more a matter of luck.
I love working with experts in other fields because everyone sees things differently. Looking harder at the same thing in the same way has diminishing returns, but many find it comfortable.
Looking at the same thing in a new way usually requires some outside assistance, but it is the kind of thing that allows you to make huge gains, paradigm shifts even if you are a senior practitioner.
I don't know why some people are resistant to it.
I love training with other people, other groups, etc. I'm mostly a teacher, and while I've hardly plateaued in either of my respective systems, I'd probably hit a wall a lot faster if I wasn't willing to open up and look at other stuff.
For me, training with others or in other systems gives me an opportunity to do a few things.
As an athlete
1. I get to learn new stuff, which is fun.
2. I get to not be a teacher sometimes. I've gotten back into the occasional BJJ or Boxing class when my schedule allows because it's nice to sometimes just be a student again.
3. I get new perspectives on the same stuff. This carries over into my teaching as well as my own personal practice.
As a coach
1. I sometimes learn new ways of coaching or explaining things.
2. I get ideas about how to coach. Or how not too.
3. It really helps with articulation, particularly with those "how come our system does X, but that system does Y" questions. (As a tangent, training with someone is the only way I truly feel comfortable evaluating them.)
4. Sometimes it just challenges my whole paradigm. This is rare, but I do try to occasionally get together with someone who just does things way differently. Just to see. I should do it more often.
Oh, as for why some people DON'T?
Ego. Insecurity. An unwillingness to admit they don't know everything. An unwillingness that they might be shown up.
Probably some fear they'll end up on the wrong side of this video:
Ho diddly! was that funny, Jake. I guess I better put my 'finger of doom' away and start practicing my punches, or my favorite self-defense technique: RUN LIKE HELL!
Surprised you hadn't seen that one yet. It is funny, in a tragic sort of way.
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