Sunday, 16 August 2020

White Belt Mentality


The concept of having a ‘Beginners mind’ is very important in your long term success in martial arts training as well as in many other areas of life.

This means constantly treating each session as if you are learning the techniques for the first time even if you have been training for many years. Many intermediate level martial arts students feel that some skills or techniques are too basic. Everyone learns this technique when you first start training and then once you have learnt them you can forget about them and move on the advanced stuff.
In my experience, this is not the case. When a beginner is first taught a basic technique they have usually come from no previous training background. They learn a technique such as a kick, punch or arm-lock and from their limited point of view due to their lack of experience, they think they have got the hang of it and now it's time to move on to the next move.
This is compounded in some cases by the fact that they receive verification that they have mastered the technique because they were able to apply it in sparring against another beginner level student.
This is a pattern that is repeated often in martial arts training and it's something that is detrimental in the long term for the student.
The opposite of this is to constantly have a beginner's mind. For example, you may have learned how to do an arm lock on your first day of training three years ago but chances are that on that day your mind wasn't really ready to absorb all the important details of the technique. Even though you ‘think’ you already know how to do it it is very likely there are huge chunks of information that you missed out on or just didn't pay attention to.
I have often come across this lack of ‘beginner's mind’ when visiting other schools or academy's. Students who have been training for a relatively short period who obviously feel like they already have a superior skill level. These students feel like they don't need to waste their time paying attention to what the instructor thinks will be most beneficial for their long term improvement and development. This is illustrated by the huge number of ‘advanced’ students at the average school who don’t feel they need to turn up to classes and instead just come in for open mats or sparring.
I used to think that these types of students were just too arrogant and were un-coachable. I could never imagine myself ignoring the advice or instructions from someone with literally ten times as much experience.
Recently I have come to the conclusion that it isn't really the fault of the student. It is an inherent ‘fault' with martial arts training in general. In a famous interview Helio Gracie, Grandfather of Brazilian JiuJitsu, was asked about his son Rickson who was regarded at that time as the best fighter on the planet. Helio said it's not that Rickson is good but it's that Jiujitsu is good. What he meant is that his son didn't possess any particular talent that made him special. What made him special was that he had spent his life training in Brazilain Jiu-Jitsu.
I think this is an important statement because the majority of people who begin martial arts training usually have little or no natural fighting ability. Even if they consider themselves to be ‘tough’ they would usually only last seconds against someone with actual training. If the beginner trains regularly (in an effective martial art or combat sport) within a few months or years they will find that they go from zero to being able to legitimately control and defeat the vast majority of the non-training population.
Obviously, this will have some effect on their perception of themselves, Many people struggle to get their head around their newfound ability and rather than accepting that it was the training methods, techniques and hard work that led them to develop fighting skills it's easier to believe that it was just down to natural talent.
This inevitably leads to problems because once you start believing in your own talent you will tend to ignore the things that created that ‘talent’ in the first place.
Even as an instructor I think it is very important to have a beginner's mind. There are many techniques which I already ‘know’ and which I feel can teach very well. However, I am still constantly researching better and more effective ways of teaching. If I have a class with twenty beginner students they should all be able to perform the basic techniques correctly after I teach them. That is after all that I am being paid for. It is unacceptable to me that after I teach my favourite technique only three or four of the most talented students are able to perform it. To be a world-class martial arts coach. I need to find the best ways to teach and explain every technique so that all of my students can improve.
I remember speaking to another instructor who said he wasn't interested in learning or researching any of the modern developments in Jiujitsu because he’d already been training for over twenty years and didn't want to change the way he did things. I found this interesting because to me, martial arts and fighting is a science, why would anyone not want to learn or re-learn a better way of doing things if better technology becomes available? Especially if it's your job and if it will help your students to improve.
Keeping beginners or white belt mentality is one of the keys to continual improvement and avoiding hitting the sticking points in your training that ultimately lead most people to quit.

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