It’s Okay To Screw Up…

In the past 25 years that I have been teaching Karate some of the craziest things happened in my dojo. When it comes to beginners it always amazes me that they get frustrated and feel they have to get everything right the same day as it is being taught to them. I am sure that society has placed this demand on them, be it a child or an adult, but in the dojo we train with patience and longevity of our skills in mind…not the quick fix, learn it now attitude.

Recently I was teaching in my dojo and young student had that look of utter confusion on their face. It was clear they were getting frustrated that they just couldn’t get the material we were working on. After about 30 minutes of watching them get progressively upset I made sure to remind them that learning what we do is a life long process and even the best of the best black belts will mess up when training. The student looked a bit relieved but you could tell they expected to get material right then and there. This is one of the great aspects of martial arts, it teaches us patience. There are so many people who think that they are expected, or worse should get things right then, right now. This is not how Karate can be learned, nor anything of value in life.

One of the things I feel very blessed about in my own training is that I can still recall my first few years in Karate. Everything was frustrating and new, as it should be. We were taught the blocks but had to get hit to understand how they worked and improve them. We were taught the Kata but had to repeat them time and again to get good at them. Everything in the dojo was learned through experience. Sensei would teach us but it was up to us to train what we were being taught and get good at it. That hasn’t changed today but there are a lot of schools out there who will reward a student for mediocrity effort with a belt if they can pay the test fee. My school is not one of them and never will be but I also don’t expect those testing for a yellow belt to be as good as though testing for a green belt.

Over the years I have had to remind my students, even the black belts, that what we do is a journey. When you place to much emphasis on getting belts you miss the real picture. I watch as students, and their parents, place emphasis on them “getting it” and being “the best” at it. Neither of those matter. I had a student who trained constantly. This student struggled to learn everything, was not coordinated and had a hard time getting their Karate down. On the other hand, at the same time, I had a student who could grasp everything and excelled at their training with a quick pace. I watched both of them as they trained. One on hand we had the student who struggled but never gave up. On the other was the student who had natural talent and got it easily. Fast forward four years later and the student who had all the talent is nowhere to be found but the other student is doing great and has achieved great things in their Karate…as well as surpassed the one who had got it easily. My point is to just train, no matter what, and keep improving. Sure you may struggle, may not get it but over time you will become great at it because, unlike others, you didn’t throw in the towel and quit. That is another valuable lesson martial arts training teaches us…perseverance.

Often times when I see students being too hard on themselves I remind them about how I failed my green belt and brown belt exams. I was prepared both times but just didn’t have what was needed to pass the exams. I watched as others failed their exams only to no longer see them in dojo. I guess the thought of failing and the embarrassment that they must have worried about was more important than just chalking it up and getting back to training to improve and accomplish that goal. I remember feeling the embarrassment but I still went back to class. It wasn’t easy either time but I am so glad I did. Sensei pushed and pulled me to get better, to perfect what I messed up on…and I did. This lesson got me through some very big screw ups in life, financially, educationally and otherwise. It is a great part of our training and we call it humility.

Most people that train under me will tell you that I am a demanding Sensei. I don’t expect my students to be perfect nor to get the material in a few classes at all however I don’t tolerate excuses. A lot of people come up with blaming other things for their failures and in martial arts we don’t accept that at anytime. A good martial artist will learn they are responsible for every decision and action they make. We don’t blame others for our failures at anytime. We take action, fix the problem and grow from it. In my dojo this is how I teach. When a student who is a green belt begins slacking in their training they will learn right away it is their responsibility to catch up and progress. Over the years I have watched many students, as well as parents, get upset with me because of this part of the training but in the long run that is the discipline that will help them achieve great things instead of going through life complaining and blaming others for their failures.

There is an old saying that goes “the more you sweat in training the less you bleed in battle”. This saying also addresses life aspects. The more self discipline, perseverance, humility and personal responsibility we learn when training our martial art the better our lives will become and the more we WILL achieve…but never forget that it is OK to screw up in the dojo…you are supposed to. The dojo is a place of training, to get better, to refine both our martial art and our own selves. Sure Sensei may get on you when you mess up but that is just to help build you into the person we believe you can be. Next time you feel upset, confused or frustrated in the dojo remember this article and that your Sensei was there too. They made it through it as have the other black belts and you WILL too. As we say in Karate “Damatte Keiko” which means “Shut up and Train”. All the things you want to get will happen when you just train…this is the great thing about Karate.

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