Perception and Value

Brandon Profile

A short while ago, I was having a conversation with Master Ben Johnson about perception. We were discussing the view that students, and parents, take on martial arts training in general. And specifically, how it can be so vastly different from one student to the next, one family to the next, or from one instructor to the next. This prompted a fairly lengthy discussion about how often the lines are not clear, or the expectations are vague, for the student, or the parent, or even an instructor. With that said, there are a few things I’d like to bring into focus in regards to how you may perceive your martial arts journey.

A message for students about perception

Don’t let yourself get caught up in trying to be better than the guy or girl beside you. It is very easy to begin to compare yourself to the students around you in class. I mean, they are standing right there, and it’s easy to judge yourself against them, especially if you are seeing them every class, right? You have to be careful though, as this can lead down a number of negative paths in your training.

The first path will take you down a road of over confidence, and arrogance. Continually trying to “outdo” the student next to you, so you can feel better about yourself is a hollow victory. The sense of accomplishment will never last, and you’ll be right back where you started trying to “outdo” the next student in line. I have had the unfortunate experience of working with a number of students, and worse, instructors, who walked down this path in their training. Actually, “walked” is not the best word to describe the attitude and demeanor. I think “strutted” down the path is more accurate. It is exceedingly difficult to work with this type of student, as they are a legend in their own mind, and they know it. Instructors... even worse.

The second path is one of self­ doubt, and lack of confidence. As a student, if you are continually comparing yourself to other students, and coming up short in your own mind, you are purposely undermining your own success. You are your own worst enemy. A person, in general, will tend to see the absolute worst in themselves as a rule. Continually reinforcing these negative beliefs by trying to be someone else in class will only lead to disaster. This path will eventually lead to you, as a student, leaving the do jang, with a very negative set of memories revolving around the thought that “I just wasn’t good enough to be a martial artist, so I quit”.

There is a third path you can take in your martial arts journey. But in order to walk this path, you must realize a few key things before you begin. First, everyone is not the same. We can’t all have perfect splits, break insane amounts of boards, or leap over small buildings with amazing flying side kicks. We are, each and everyone one of us, uniquely different. Second, see that first thing again. Third, read the first and second things again. Just saying.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I encourage you to find the students in class who are absolutely amazing, and try to emulate them. Watch how they train, ask them questions, copy their attitude and effort. You may never be as physically skilled as the people training beside you, but you can always Ki­Hap as loud as they do, and give 110% , just like they do. As an instructor, I’d rather work with the student that isn’t perfect, but gives every effort they can in the attempt to get there someday, than the student who has the “I’m the greatest gift to martial arts EVER!!!!” attitude.

A message to parents about perception

As a parent, it is extremely important that you lead by example for your student. Martial arts training is about an individual journey for each practitioner. As I’m telling the students to focus inward, and evaluate their personal growth, I’ll tell you the same thing. Martial arts training isn’t baseball. You can’t coach your child from the sidelines, criticize the students lined up with your child, compare your child to that other kid, offer valid feedback on physical skills, or critique an instructor’s skill level. You honestly aren’t qualified, in most cases. If you have not received your own black belt, trained in martial arts, or stepped foot on the training floor of a do jang, then your experience playing high school baseball means exactly zero. If that is what you are looking for, then martial arts training is not really the best place for your family.

Now, I don’t say this to be rude, but I’m a parent myself, so I can relate to wanting to compare my kids with everyone else’s kids, so I do have some experience with this issue. And I will tell you, it is a challenge at times to not get caught up with that competitive mentality, especially if you find yourself surrounded by this type of parent when you are a spectator to a class or event. Multi­school testing, and tournament situations are the absolute worst environment for this. When you are sitting with families you don’t know, you’ll often find the “peanut gallery” has a lot of opinions to share with whomever will give a willing ear. It’s unfortunate, but not every do jang has an instructor who is willing to point out this problem, and hold families accountable for their negative behavior or attitudes.

The most important thing to keep in mind, as a parent, is that you made a conscious decision and choice to enroll your child in a martial arts program. WHY? In most cases, this was not done on a whim, but with a serious amount of thought involved. You were looking for a structured program to help your child’s development by building self­confidence, self­esteem, physical strength, flexibility, or a positive social environment. No matter what the specific reason, the ONLY thing you need to do as a parent is look at your child, and ask yourself, “Is this the same person who walked in the door when they started?”

Every student will grow at their own pace, and it’s important to understand and acknowledge that fact. Encourage them whenever you can. It’s not the big compliments or recognition that makes the difference, but the continual little words of encouragement, and positive comments that build over a lifetime, that really make the difference.

It’s an honor and privilege to have the ability to work with you, and your family, as you move along your martial arts journey. Your thoughts and feedback are welcomed and appreciated. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments. And remember, keep your head up, your heart humble, and your mind sharp, and always... train hard.

Master Brandon Bastin 

© Aim and Focus Karate 2019