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Your Skills Expiration Date

So you're interested in training, good.  Here's a question few consider when taking martial arts.  How long do you want your skills to last?  Is the style you're considering 80% or more about kicking?  Is it 100% about what 20-35 year olds can do in the octagon, while they're young?  Is the style made to last through all stages of life - age, injuries, etc?  


Anyone can do martial arts, have fun doing it, and experience a lifetime of success at it. I believe the key to experiencing all that is finding the right style and instructor. However, an instructors mindset is one of the hardest things to measure before joining somewhere.


Now set that thought aside for a second and combine it with what I feel are some other problems. 


I think one of the saddest things in martial arts is those who quit after spending years reaching some level of proficiency, because they can no longer do certain things a limited or damaging art taught them. I've often heard them say they felt that if they couldn't do certain things, it was better to just quit.  I guess they forgot being a black belt means you never quit.  It's certainly okay to take it down a notch every 5-10 years once you get up there in age, but entirely quitting should be completely out of the question.  


Something that's rarely asked is "what causes this and how does one either avoid it or fix it?" 


The answer I think can be backed-into and is fairly simple. Students often end up with the wrong instructor whose either teaching them the wrong stuff or the wrong way. Instructors often overlook the concept that what they became great at isn't necessarily what their students can become great at, yet that's not only what they often teach, but often all they know how to teach! Bottomline, we are all different ages, all have different body types, limitations, and due to that I believe instructors need to approach martial arts from that standpoint, if they want to have a higher student success rate (or retention)!


I feel there are 3 basic classifications of respectable martial artists, that likely are sometimes related to individual body type, athleticism, and physical limitations. There are those who are great, those who are good, and those who try much harder than those who are great or good, yet only end up being okay (i.e. anyone seen the movie "Rudy"?). We've probably all seen those 3 categories in most athletic endeavors. 


This brings me to my next point, in that its unrealistic to expect that every student will become a world class martial artist like Bill Wallace. Not everyone is going to be great, some will simply be good, or okay, no matter how hard they try! Yet I've seen many instances in which instructors either put unrealistic demands or pressure on their students, expecting them all to be great, and unconsciously running-off the good or okay in the process. I feel many instructors don't clearly communicate realistic expectations with their adult students, based on each ones age, body type, and limitations!


I'm convinced instructors often forget that many students will only give martial arts one chance to work, with one instructor and one style. I say that puts one heck of a responsibility (and blame) on the shoulders of instructors, yet is something that unfortunately many instructors don't see that way. I've seen and heard many an instructor blame the students if they don't stick around and attain proficiency, or black belt.


Many instructors often have the attitude "you either make it in my school (no matter if my demands or unrealistic) or you're weak and don't deserve to be here", using an almost evil, with little martial arts core values, Cobra Kai dojo mentality, similar to what we all saw in the "Karate Kid" movies. I say "weak" is why some people want to take martial arts in the first place! Making the "weak" strong isn't an overnight process, it takes time, time with realistic expectations and patience!


I firmly believe the odds are against students finding their perfect martial arts fit the first time they try too, meaning an instructor with the right mindset about all this. Compare it to dating and hoping the first person you go out with will be the one you marry. Sure it happens, but come on, what are the odds? Yet why do people give-up on martial arts after one try but not dating?


I say the real challenge for students isn't in making it to black belt. I believe all students can achieve that if they put forth their best effort and stick with it. I say the bigger challenge student's face is in balancing their expectations versus the odds of what they'll run into! Students need to know it's unlikely on their first attempt that they'll find the right instructor and art, and they need to know if that should happen, to keep looking until they do. Historically, most students will only give martial arts one try, and they'll give-up and write it off forever, if it doesn't work out at the first place they try!  What a shame.


Furthermore, I feel the right instructor, art, and school are all synonymous, and it all mostly comes down to an instructor with a flexible mindset, combined with exposure to numerous fighting styles. Many instructors only know one fighting style (or art) and thus only know one way to teach a student how to fight. And guess what? It's more often the way that instructor was successful at it, which if your body type is different, there's a good chance might not work for you!


I believe an open-minded instructor is one that molds each students fighting style individually. We can't all be Olympic athletes, the strongest, fastest, most flexible, most agile, nor each of us do jump turning in the air kicks 4-5 feet off the ground, nor does every student likely want to train 2-3 hrs a day with the same gusto as an Olympian, full contact fighter or kickboxer! Why force students to train like that?


Don't get me wrong, in our school we push our students and train them hard, but not hard enough that I feel we are frustrating them with unreasonable expectations, nor greatly risking damage to their bodies. I've seen a lot of places train adults wrong, having them do hundreds of kicks into thin air (risking injury to their joints), jumping off the ground 4-5 feet risking blown out knees and ankles. And furthermore, I've never heard throughout all my years of anyone successfully using jump kicks in a street fight, so why practice them? 


I guess there are likely some adults that feel they must be getting quality training if they stick around for brutal, neanderthal training that risks tearing up their body. Especially when there are tons of masters and grandmasters I know who put themselves through all that, and have had one or more knee replacements, hip surgeries, and now can hardly even walk!


Also, I don't understand why some instructors mainly teach crazy acrobatic stuff that they themselves can't do anymore! Come on students, take the hint and think about that. If your instructor can't do most of it, then ask yourself why, why you're wasting time trying too, and if he hasn't lasted long doing it, how long will you! Ever heard the saying "forcing a square peg into a round hole"? Now start thinking about the crazy techniques your own instructor won't even do, yet demands you do. You know what happens when you force a square peg into a round hole? It wears down the edges, same with your joints if you're training wrong, or with the wrong techniques for your age or body type! 


If you are training somewhere, or thinking about it, and that place has mostly teenagers and 20 yr olds who can do extremely athletic things, stop and think. If you look around and don't see many students 30-50 yrs old training there and doing those things, then where are they compared to the age of the school, and where will you be when you hit that age? I say in most hardcore training environments, once someone hits their 40's, students eventually figure out they can't keep pace doing that 20 yr old type training. I believe that as a person ages they need to occasionally adjust their training regiment so that it's realistic for their age! Sad thing is most students quit forever before realizing that's an option that might be offered somewhere else!


Martial arts doesn't have to be something that only lasts 5-20 yrs after 1st degree, until you figure out you can't jump as high, kick as high, move as fast as those who are younger, or if you feel at some point you can't train at their pace. I believe it should be adaptable with a person's age and last a lifetime. I believe there are too many black belts, masters and grandmasters included, sitting at home or being inactive, because they never figured this out and boxed themselves into their own unrealistic expectations. What's worse is I've heard of some masters and grandmasters coming out of their holes every few years to accept new rank, while being 100% inactive (meaning they quit training, teaching and are for all practical purposes retired). What is their new rank based on, just being alive?


Here's an interesting contradiction, one of the core values of many martial arts styles is "never quitting", yet many talented black belts, masters, and grandmasters who once taught that, have quit! Here's a thought, if masters and grandmasters quit, retire, or become inactive, then what in the world are they masters and grandmasters of anymore? I always felt those titles were only deserved by those who stay actively involved until their last breath!


Martial arts is suppose to be something that once you become a black belt you never stop doing. You stick with it and do what you can, and don't give-up because of certain things you can't do as time goes by, nor because of injuries, or slowing down. Grandmasters should constantly be showing the world they meant "never give up" all the way to the grave. If they picked the wrong art that was 100% about kicking, and they can't do that anymore, then they should find a new one, but you never, ever, give-up. Why bust your tail for many years to get good at something to quit 5-20 yrs afterwards?  Then within a few years of inactivity your skill level diminishes to that of a beginner. What was the point of all that, all the wasted time, money, effort and sacrifice you spent? Just so a person can brag about a few old trophies, titles, or certificates?


If you're an adult considering or evaluating an instructor/school, and looking for a mix of martial arts techniques that can last a lifetime, I'd like to suggest you look for a program that's designed to cover that. If you are hoping to train into your 30's, 40's, and 50's and beyond, be very careful choosing a school that doesn't have any people in those age ranges? That's a sign that what they teach may not be something a person can do when they get older. I say if you forgo that warning, there's a good chance you might be heading down a short dead-end road.


My hope for everyone that tries martial arts is that they choose wisely, and if things don't work out at one place, keep trying others until it does!  Good luck.

Mann's Martial Arts - Dallas | 10675 E. Northwest Hwy., Ste. 2600, Dallas, Texas 75238 | [email protected] | 214-579-4682