Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Some wise words

but not written by me!

Excerpt from an interview with Chris Kent, Jeet Kune Do instructor and student of Dan Inosanto ("Combat" magazine vol 35 no 12, cover date March 2010):

"When it comes to cultivating your body as a martial instrument, do not compare yourself with anyone else. The only meaningful comparison you can make is with yourself. While anatomically and physiologically we might all be the same, variations occur with regard to such things as an individual's age, their genetic pre-disposition, their degree of physical fitness when they start training, and their commitment to training etc. You don't know what you can do until you do it. So don't look round at other people and compare yourself to them. It does nothing but waste your time and energy and has noting to do with your own path. The level of skill of another is irrelevant to you because they are not YOU. Be your own story."

I think this is brilliant and probably should be given to every martial arts student and definitely to every instructor. I actually parted company with a couple of instructors because whilst they claimed at the outset to respect every student's differing physical abilities and skillsets, the reality was that they didn't really understand that no matter how hard they trained, not everyone could be as physically able as their favourite students. One went through a phase where he got very angry and confrontational when people couldn't meet these arbitary standards. This is the same instructor that I overheard tell one student that his severe asthma attack was all in his mind. Unsurprisingly I left shortly afterwards.

Don't get me wrong here - I'm not saying that instructors shouldn't be able to define the standards of fitness and skill which are required as students progress. Nor am I saying that these must be set to some kind of lowest common denominator. What I am saying is that any such standards should be set at a level that the average person could achieve with appropriate training and support. Where possible, allowances and adaptations should be made for those with physical or health limitations. Perhaps students could be rewarded for improving on their own performances rather than being punished for failing to reach standards that may have been set by people half their age and without health limitations!

Training in the martial arts / combat sports has so many benefits to offer, and it concerns me that people are missing out due to the impatience and ignorance of a number of instructors. I can understand how rewarding it must be for an instructor to teach those students most able to learn and learn quickly. I can also understand the extra work that must be involved in offering classes that continue to attract and challenge the top students, whilst keeping the less able involved. But how rewarding to see those same less able students progress!

If some of this reads as bitter, it actually wasn't intended that way! I have had some unfortunate experiences around the martial arts in recent years. I am 42 years old. I am short, fat (let's not beat about the bush here!) and have hypothyroidism and asthma. Despite the medication a wonky thyroid can have significant impact on both physical and mental capabilities. The amount of grief I had from more than one instructor for not being as able as some of their other students wasunacceptable at times, and this was despite me putting in extra effort in my own time to learn! For this reason, I have huge amounts of empathy with those students coping with far greater challenges than my own.

I am delighted with what I have achieved through practicing martial arts. I will probably never be a world champion now (too old) but I've done things I would never have thought possible (handstand pushups anybody??). Training has been such a positive influence in my life, in spite of my health issues. I guess I just get irritated at the negativity of some instructors.

Martial arts instructors can have very powerful influences on their students' lives. In an ideal world these influences would always be positive. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Thankfully this is often not deliberate, but is a result of ignorance and inexperience.

I would hasten to point out that this is absolutely NOT directed towards any of my current instructors. I may not always be their fittest or most able student but I've had nothing but encouragement and support from them. I thank them most sincerely for this.

Disclaimer: This post went in a direction not initially intended and may be edited for content at a later date! We now return you to your regular programming.

Where I meant to go with this post: I thought of the words at the top when I trailed in a dismal last during the shuttle runs at krav class last night. Once upon a time (and not so long ago actually) I would have been pretty upset with myself for being last. I would have been looking around at everybody else and wondering why I was so bad at running etc. I would have been pushing myself way beyond my physical ability and probably making myself unwell.

Last night it was more about accepting the fact that I'm never going to be a fast runner, that I would push myself as hard as I was able to manage, and tough if I was last. The speed I did was faster than was comfortable for me and if it was slow for everybody else, well so what. It's all relative.

That is a v grown up and enlightened attitude for me lol.


  1. Great stuff. I didn't even think you were that slow last night!

  2. Hi Chris

    Thanks for the support! I am approx 3 mins a km slower than my partner lol.

    Erm - injured again. Busted a couple of toes at KM last night. Just general training injury, nippy as anything. Hopefully just bruising and a sprain though. Suspect I may require a swear box for the forseeable though.


  3. Hi Avril.

    This was a great post - really from the heart! I absolutely agree with what you're saying. I have been lucky with my instructors so far and have had nothing but positive experiences - but I've heard about the others! lol.

    I have a lot of respect for people who push themselves beyond their boundaries inspite of problems. The tricky thing I find is getting the balance between accepting that age starts to impose a few restrictions on achievement and not using this as an excuse to stop trying! If we use age as an excuse to accept decline then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Hope your toes get better soon!