Focusing on Training Over Rank

By Suino, Nicklaus
This article first appeared in the "SMAA Journal" Volume 22, Issue 1
Focusing on Training Over Rank

Is a new rank your biggest motivating factor in martial arts?

Are you fully committed to your martial arts training?

In nearly 50 years of martial arts training, competing, deep study, and teaching, we’ve seen it over and over. There is a real difference between the exceptional martial artist and the average student. The exceptional martial artist keeps rank in its proper perspective. They know that the momentary joy of getting a new belt or certificate fades. Don’t go for that. The deep internal joy of learning and doing great martial arts changes you forever. Go for that.

Getting a new rank can be very motivating. It’s recognition from your instructor or your system that you’ve worked hard and learned key aspects of your martial art. It’s a Catch-22, however; getting new belts (or sashes, or whatever external emblems of progress your system uses) is nice, but if you only focus on training for the next belt, you’ll be a dilettante forever.

Forge Character with Martial Arts Training

You can’t hide it. If your primary focus is on the next rank, your ability will top out. Your attendance will spike just before tests but will fall off in between. Your focus and attention will lag during “consolidation” periods—those times when the very purpose of training is to repeat your top-level skills until they are hard-wired into your nervous system. There are ability and character transformations that can only be gotten through real immersive training. Seishin tanren (austere spiritual training) is the method for forging character. That’s why it’s so important to pick an art and a dojo that you like; there will be some heavy weather on the way to greatness, but starting in the plus column of love for your art will help get you through it.

Getting past that intellectual understanding and into a true emotional understanding of the depth and joy possible in your training has to come from inside you. Commit completely.

Approaching Martial Arts with Reserve

The act of approaching your martial art with reserve means you’re dooming yourself to miss out on many of its most profound, valuable aspects. Those who completely immerse themselves in their martial art are the ones who enjoy it the most. If you dabble, you’re going to have less fun with it and get a lot less of its essence. Similarly, if you don’t find ways to immerse yourself in practice during consolidation periods, you’re going to fall short of your potential.

But you don’t have to fall short. You can change in exceptional ways. You can get that change by reading this article and taking decisive action. Keep in mind this truth: change can come from within, or it can come from what’s around you. Sometimes change comes from a combination of the two. Something will affect your thinking or your attitude, and you’ll be able to use that push to improve. If you’re both lucky and diligent, you’ll improve far out of proportion to the size of whatever that push was. At other times, you’ll need a whole lot of push even to make small changes.

SMAA – A World Martial Arts Association for You

The Shudokan Martial Arts Association promotes training based around the two central pillars of classical Japanese martial arts: kata geiko and seishin tanren. The use of handed-down kata helps our members, regardless of division, to forge their spirits to face the stress of combat and the uncertainties of life. In this way, those in the SMAA learn to protect themselves, and live well, while they develop the spiritual strength needed to make a positive contribution to their communities and the world as a whole.

Contact us today to join a world martial arts association with high-ranking members across the globe.


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