I recently rearranged the quotes page in the articles section and will likely continue doing so. The reason is because certain quotes apply to certain stages of a martial artists development. While doing that I realized one of the more important quotes at the beginning is "There are no superior martial arts, only superior martial artists." Wanting to become that can somewhat back you into the pieces you should highly consider, so you have the best chance of making it happen.
The first thing you have to do is pick a martial arts style. There's several obvious considerations.
1. What style is popular (is that actually the best choice for you)?
2. What style interests me? (striking, grappling, something traditional, something that mixes all that, etc)
3. What's a good fit for my body type, age, etc.?
4. What do I actually like doing? You likely won't know this until you've tried a few styles/schools. Do you like striking or grappling more, or a mix of the two? With striking how and where - more hands, more feet, all high kicks or low kicks, 50/50 hands-and-feet?
5. What style do I picture sticking with long-term, maybe even into old age?
Here's something to understand about the choice you have in mind. You can make a choice based on your body type, which might make things a little easier for you, or forgo that and choose based on what interests you. Like many things in life, what we think we might like, we might not once we start doing it and find out what it entails. That's another huge reason you should never sign a contract.
I'm going to give you a couple of personal examples from my time in the martial arts, specifically Taekwondo and Judo, so you'll see what I mean and what I went through.
Taekwondo - is my first love and always will be. There was just something incredibly fascinating and appealing to me, about kicking a bad guy in the head so fast, that he couldn't see it coming or do anything about it. The flip side of that for me is that I have extremely poor side-to-side flexibility, due to the ball at the top of my femur being more square than round. Two of taekwondo's most effective head high kicks (round & hook) require that side-to-side type of flexibility. I literally only have a 70 degree ballet turnout, a sideways flexibility test, that 70 degrees is considered horrible, and those 2 kicks need way beyond that, more like 120-140 degrees, for them to be done head high. A 90 degree ballet turnout is basically a waist level kick. My original taekwondo instructor didn't have an issue with me not being able to do those 2 kicks above the waist, but every taekwondo instructor I tried after him did.
Where am I going with this? I was fascinated with a style, and picked one, in which 2 of those styles most important kicks, I can't even do head high. I can barely do those 2 kicks at waist level, and it was extremely difficult finding an instructor who accepted that. My original instructor is the only one who did accept it, because he knew me and my work ethic during my first 4 years in the martial arts.
Judo - I did grappling non-stop for 15 years, jujitsu and judo. I like grappling, but I don't really care for all the back-and-forth on the ground mat work, maintaining body contact with sweaty smelly men for 5-20 minutes. I find all that sweaty-smelly extended body-on-body contact disgusting. I understand why it has to be practiced that way, and forced myself to do so countless times, so I would ultimately learn how not to be in that situation for more than a few seconds. I don't like it and I'll take you down the path as to why, so you can see if it's something you'll like.
We see lots of that sweaty, smelly, bloody man-to-man body contact during UFC fights, men rubbing all that sweat, smell and blood all over each other for 5-20 minutes, or even worse, men's faces being locked-up close to body areas of another man for several minutes, that maybe they don't want to be that close too. For those that love grappling, and like to spend the rest of their life dealing with that every day, my hats off to you, you've got a higher tolerance for something that I don't. Don't get me wrong, I love the chokes, the throws, and the locks...but as for feeling another person's sweat on me, their body touching mine for too long, having to tolerate their odor too long, or them locking my face close to certain areas of their body too long, I don't like it.
What I do like is getting out of those uncomfortable body contact positions as quickly as possible, any way I have too, and there's really only one way to consistently do that, grappling fouls, which I love 100x more than grappling rules. The sport/rules-based aspect of grappling is something I don't care for, and I don't really get it, and it doesn't seem practical to me that the UFC and BJJ world tries to sell us on the idea of what's done in the ring, is how to do everything in the street. What they should show are the 16 ways the UFC fouls can end their grappling games within seconds, now that I'd like to watch. Maybe that doesn't make sense to some of you, and you like seeing all that extended man-on-man sweaty contact on the ground, if so, you're welcome to it.
Street or Sport? - My interest in grappling, along with punching-and-kicking, and everything I do and teach, is for the street. I'm entirely about ending uncomfortable or bad situations quickly, however you have too, breaking every rule to do it, and not rolling around on the concrete with someone for too long, and risking exposure to their body fluids dripping into my eyes. I really don't care for the rules-based sport side of grappling, and them using that to convince us all their rules based stuff is the only way to end a street fight. I think much smaller exposure to key parts of grappling, along with every grappling foul you can find, is a more interesting way to learn how to deal with a grappler. If someone wants to take 10 years and earn that Gracie black belt, to each his own.
My sole interest in the martial arts is the street, and doing whatever it takes, however nasty it has to be, to get someone off of me in seconds. Now you know why striking...specifically punching, kicking and other types of painful impact, are my first love in the martial arts, and if it goes to the ground in the street, my first thoughts will be "what foul can I use to get this person off of me right now?"
Look at it this way, the street is for winning at all costs, it's not about trophies or rules based fighting. And think about this, if someone attacks you in the street they've already broken the rules (laws), why would you want to fight with rules there and risk serious injury or worse? Remember, there's no referee in the street to stop things, and if it starts getting really ugly, you may have to get uglier.
One of the reasons I prefer striking arts is making contact with someone else's body only lasts for 10th's of a second, versus practicing the myth of 5-20 minutes of rolling around and hugging each other on the concrete (in a street fight).
Now I've shared my personal opinion on striking and grappling. In fairness to all styles/arts, you won't know what you love until you've been doing it awhile, always remember that, so now you know why you have to keep an open mind about different styles. Moving on.
There's two things that I believe must come together for you to experience a high level of success at something. First, it has to be something you're extremely passionate about. That more than anything else will keep you doing it, which is what increases your ability and skills over time. Second, you can't be the type of person that loses interest easily if the progress is slow, otherwise you'll never become good at it.
Time Frame to Black Belt - Martial arts is a grind, in the sense that the weekly percentage of improvement you'll see, working towards black belt speed/ability, is extremely low and slow. Based on the strict 4-5 year path most striking art schools have, it literally averages out on the low end to only .5% improvement per week that you'll see over 208 weeks. That's 2% improvement per month. Calculate it, 0% ability your first day, versus 100% 1st degree black belt ability 48 months later, fill-in the weeks and months in between, and be ready for the shock. Brazilian jiu-jitsu can take 8-15 years to become a black belt, many websites saying the average length to a Gracie black belt is more like 10 years. That's less than 1% improvement per month, and less than 10% improvement per year, moving towards official black belt ability 10 years later.
I have an article about a students average rate of improvement coming and it's about 90% done. The point I'm making is this, for the effort you put in each week, and each month, in most schools your average improvement towards black belt speed/ability is painfully slow, so be ready for that. Most students aren't ready for that slow rate of improvement, and I've never heard of an instructor breaking it down and explaining it in average percentages of improvement per week, per month, or per year, and I'm guessing because if they did, who in their right mind would sign a training contract.
Now that I've put all this out on the table, you need to find a martial arts style you're deeply passionate about, one that makes you want to keep doing it week-after-week, month-after-month, year-after-year. Whatever art/style you stick with the longest is the one you will become the best at.
Grappling versus Striking Arts - Here's a couple of other considerations to never forget. Practicing grappling skills always requires a partner, and always will for the rest of your life, along with a huge matted area. Practicing punches and kicks can be done anywhere by yourself, without a mat or big area. I do punches-and-kicks almost every morning in my kitchen while my oatmeal is cooking. At work, I do punches-and-kicks in the stairwell during lunch. At night, I do punches-and-kicks during TV show commercials. Every time I go in the bathroom for anything, I look in the mirror and do 10 reps of a punch on each limb. I do a lot of punches-and-kicks each day, however it's spread throughout the day in small bite size pieces, which I really like, and I've found at my age it's easier on my body.
Let's jump back to striking versus grappling and rehash all that one more time, so you're not missing anything. Which styles workout can you do without a partner, which doesn't require you driving to-and-from somewhere, which workout can you do anywhere, which workout can you do throughout the day easily, which doesn't require a mat, which doesn't require excessive body contact with someone else, which art leads to getting a black belt sooner (4-5 years in a striking art or 10 years to get a Gracie black belt). Now which path is best for you?
I think all that sets the stage pretty well for picking a style. Now let's go through a rather crude path to becoming a "superior martial artist"...
1. Research different styles and find one that interests you.
2. Pick one and give it a try. Very important, don't sign any contracts.
3. After a little time has passed, and you see how the classes typically are, what you have to do, and what other ranks are doing, ask yourself if it's something you can picture doing until you reach black belt ability. That's about 4-5 years in most striking arts or about 10 years until you're a Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt.
4. If you can't picture sticking with it to black belt and beyond, beyond being a "superior martial artist", identify why, is it the instructor, the style, or both?
5. Keep trying other styles and instructors until both (style & instructor) line-up, until you find a combination of the 2 that makes you very passionate (or ignites your O.M.A., "Obsessive Mental Attitude" about the martial arts, thanks to GM Gambordella's book) about it. That whole combination is key and it may take many tries before getting them in-line. Because...
6. Becoming a "superior martial artist" only comes from sticking with it, and I mean sticking with it until you're one of the best black belts, which is usually way above a 1st degree.
Finding the perfect style and perfect instructor, the two you want to stick with, is kind of like finding the perfect spouse. It's unlikely both will happen on the first try, so be prepared for that, and again, don't sign a contract because of that.
The Superior Mind - Superior martial artists have superior minds. Once they find the style and instructor that feels right, they don't allow negative thoughts about not working out today or quitting to ever enter their mind. Sort of like GM Gambordella's book O.M.A., they turn on a switch inside that makes them obsessed about the martial arts, it becomes a very high priority in their life, and they won't let anything change that. They understand and accept how long it's going to take to become a black belt. They understand the slow monthly classroom progress that leads to average black belt ability. Going to class multiple times a week isn't a burden for them, they turn it into the most exciting part of their day, and it always remains that. Whatever they have to do in class, even if they don't like it, they keep showing-up and doing it, forcing themselves to like it. Whatever frustrations, setbacks, aches, pains, injuries or disappointments happen throughout their training, they won't allow them to be a reason for not showing-up to class, or quitting. Quitting the martial arts before reaching black belt never enters their mind, never, and they won't let it. First degree isn't a stopping point for them, and they're actually thinking beyond 1st degree, because those higher ranks, and sticking with martial arts even longer, is what leads to better ability than 1st degree, and where the superior martial artists often are. Being just a good-enough or okay 1st degree is unacceptable to them, and being just good-enough or okay for each belt up to 1st degree is unacceptable to them.
Procrastinating and not working out today for any sort of reason/excuse isn't an option. They show-up and never allow procrastination that one time chance of slowly turning into a comfortable habit. They know procrastination is the sneaky destroyer of dreams and goals, and that allowing it even once, makes the next time easier, and the next, until you're no longer showing-up. They realize that pattern and never want to risk it becoming a comfortable habit. They won't let procrastination ruin their destination. If something happened that day that needs to be tended too, they make sure it's done before or after class, never during it, no matter what. They realize they have 23 other hours outside of class each day to address any matter that doesn't involve working out, whatever it is. Everything in their life is scheduled around class times, no matter what it is. Others in their life may not understand how seriously they take making it to class, and they don't let it bother them.
Work Ethic - The other thing that "superior mind" is doing is thinking. It's thinking about ways they can get faster results, which if they figure that out and keep doing it long enough, leads to them having superior skill. The answer is easy, do a whole lot more than everyone else is daily, and you'll get better much sooner. In a striking art, they're likely doing it a home, where no one sees or knows about it, and they don't want them to know, or they might start doing it. Simply, they're doing more punches-and-kicks at home each week than most students do in class each month. Soon they realize something other students don't, it's having done hundreds and thousands of punches-and-kicks that increases your speed a notch, and they want to hit those kind of numbers weekly. Then they discover consistently doing so continues to make them faster/superior to more-and-more students around them. As they see that happening, it feels so good that they become addicted to that, and they want even more speed. They realize the 10 or so reps of each punch-and-kick they're told to do in class each day is the 4 year slow path to speed. Once that light bulb goes off, eventually their addiction for speed changes it's focus, and they set their sights on becoming faster than those above their rank. They want to do whatever it takes to get there, and to get there soon. They've decided to no longer be anyone's human punching bag during sparring. They want to become the person on the other side of that, they're starting to experience that, and every week or two they just got faster than a few more in their class.
They put speed acquisition on a different timetable than the classroom's, and they've decided they're going to take charge of speed and force it to happen sooner. They put themselves on a different path, one that will lead them to having done hundreds and thousands of punches sooner than everyone else in the class, by doing them at home. They start doing as many as they can each day and each week, with 50-100 of each per day being a minimum, after a few weeks it becomes 150, and after a few more 200, often they got into a zone and stopped counting after they reached their minimum that day. The numbers or reps each day keeps increasing as does their speed, which continues to feed their addiction to keep increasing the reps. They look for every possible way throughout each day to fit-in some punches-and-kicks, doing so whenever there's an extra 5-10 minutes, it's become full-on obsession.
4 Year Speed Sooner - Their work ethic continues the cycle of getting and wanting more-and-more speed, and everyone else in their class is starting to wonder whats happening. Their commitment to do thousands of punches-and-kicks sooner than 4 years changes to getting them done in under 12 months. They figure out the exact number of punches-and-kicks they're doing during basic drills in each class, times 4 years, then they look at breaking that down by months, weeks, and days, and map out a home workout to hit huge numbers as quick as they can. Then they start doing them, and within a week or two they notice enormous improvement, and improving sooner feels so good that their addiction and obsession with speed intensifies.
Then they start thinking about ways to improve the numbers of punches-and-kicks they're doing each week, to reduce that original goal they set. They look at their mornings, lunch times, and nights, where can they squeeze in more sets of punches-and-kicks. The light bulb goes off and they realize that any waiting time is a bonus, and can be turned into kick and/or punch time, and they take advantage of those throughout each day. Whenever they see a mirror it's time for punches. Saturday's and Sunday's at home, they do lots of punches-and-kicks every couple of hours, setting alarms as reminders, and by the end of each one of those days, they may have actually done more punches-and-kicks than the previous 5 days combined. Their pace of improvement improves, and they keep noticing that the more punches-and-kicks they do, the faster they get. Their rapid pace of improvement continues to feed their speed obsession, it becomes a cycle of addiction, and eventually they no longer have to set alarms each day reminding them when to start doing sets of punches and kicks. Every hour or two something goes off in their mind and says "get up right now and start doing some punches-and-kicks."
And just so they don't stop receiving those enhanced speed benefits every week, they continue to remind themselves that the daily classroom path, of just doing 10 reps of each punch-and-kick on each limb, is the slow path to speed, the 4 year path, of being an average student all 4 years, and they want no part of that, they've seen the other side and there's no going back to being average. They've seen the results, they've felt the elation of continually becoming faster and faster than more-and-more of those around them, seen the results during sparring, and discovered how to become faster sooner than everyone else. They see the huge improvements every couple of weeks, and they don't want others knowing how they did it, or catching up to them, they want it all to themselves, they want to be dishing it out during sparring instead of receiving it. They've discovered the secret of becoming a superior martial arts, their mind is what makes their body become that.
During their speed quest, they continue to periodically reflect on the much slower 4 year classroom path to black belt speed others take, only doing classroom workouts. Seeing on their faces their frustration of 4 year slow path to speed, of constantly being average or below average those 4 years, and they see the body count of quitters continue to rise, because the quitters never figured, nor were the told, how to get there sooner. Those who do the home workouts initially pay a higher price, but because they see the reward of huge results in just a couple of weeks, it no longer seems like a high price. They fall into a pattern of addiction to speed, and they stay with that pattern and the martial arts longer. One path historically leads to 90% of students becoming highly frustrated and quitting by the 12 month, the other path leads to all of them becoming a black belt, and them being a lot less frustrated along the way. Which works better?
10,000 Kicks - And just to put those thousands of punches-and-kicks in perspective, and how that's what builds speed and power, consider part of this quote...
...I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times - Bruce Lee
Doing 10,000 kicks (of each kick) and 10,000 punches (of each punch), and achieving that as soon as you can, is an excellent plan for speed. Let's look at the numbers, 10 reps of each basic punch-and-kick on each limb during class, times 5 classes a week, times 208 weeks = 10,400 reps. If you're not close to black belt speed by then, then you probably didn't do the reps the right way, per another article I wrote. It's not just doing the reps, it's doing every single one with relaxed explosive speed, focus on making each one faster than the previous one. You can't be tense when you do it, you can't be out of breath, and the muscle needs to be fully oxygenated and ready for full speed again, not just ready for 80-50-25% speed. Then when you reach 10,000 that way, keep going until you're so fast that's it's embarrassing if your instructor doesn't give you a black belt sooner than 4 years. You want to have so much speed that during sparring, you're outscoring all the colored belt ranks and at least half the black belts during sparring. If you're wearing a colored belt and you're able to do that, most instructors have to move you up in rank, because if they don't, it makes all the other ranks above yours look bad. And if you have that black belt type speed/ability and your instructor won't move you up in rank, call me.
Now let's break down those 10,000 reps of punches-and-kicks. I personally don't think those 10,000 need to include every bizarre 180 & 360 kick that's 4 feet off the ground. With kicks, I'd suggest just doing it with each of the main 3 kicks effectively used during sparring (side, round, hook). Who really cares about the other kicks if no one is using them during sparring. You could add some of the other ones if you want to, but what's the point? Also create your plan for reaching 10,000 punches with each of the main ones used during sparring, I'd suggest (backfist, jab, cross, hook, uppercut). Be aggressive in setting goals for how many reps of each you want to do each day, but don't be unrealistic. Break them into sets of 20, later sets of 30, and do multiple sets per day, morning, mid-day, and night. You can increase the numbers of reps and/or sets, whenever the number you're doing becomes easier.
Wrapping Up - Think about all I've presented in this article. Don't try just one school and give-up on the martial arts forever, keep trying other styles and schools until you find the right fit. I don't care if it's grappling, a hands-only art, a kicking-only art, or some combination of hands-and-feet you're comfortable with. Make it a process of trying different styles, figuring out what you like, compare it to dating, eventually though you need to find one and stick with it. The martial arts style that becomes your long-term passion, ignites your O.M.A., and you keep doing the longest, is what ultimately becomes your "superior martial art", and that has the best potential of making you a "superior martial artist". And don't forget that after you've picked that style, becoming a superior martial artist starts with a superior mind, and the work ethic, and that work ethic is your responsibility, no one else's.
Good luck and never give-up on finding what works for you.