Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to be a good martial art student

    In a previous post, I've talked about what it takes to be a good martial arts instructor.  For this column I'm going to write about some of the characteristics that make someone a good martial arts student.  This is as much a learned behavior/skill as teaching is.  If you want to get the most out of your time, here is some pieces of advice that may help.

1. Empty you cup

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.  The Professor started talking to Nan-in trying to impress him with his interpretation of Zen.  Nan-in suggested they have some tea.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
Reprinted from wikipedia
 You are in the class to learn.  So listen to what the instructor has to say.  One of the things I hate in new students, is when they're coming from another martial art, and would rather tell you how their art does it rather than listen to what you have to say.  They essentially are telling the instructor their way is better, and won't listen to the reason why that art does the technique that way.  I'm not saying you have to forget everything you learned in the past, but at least listen to what the instructor has to say.

2. Know the forum for asking questions

  Every school is different in how you are allowed to ask questions.  For example, in traditional Japanese system, students don't ask the instructors any questions.  If they need to, they'll correct you.  In my opinion, that leads to a slower learning process, but it makes the student internalize the small issues first, before they get to the bigger issues.  In our school, we demonstrate a technique a couple of times, ask for any questions, and then the students practice the technique.  Most of the time, this is when questions actually arise.  In our case, our system is, the student asking the question goes to the instructor (rather than calling them over).  The instructor also walks around and corrects things, or answer questions as the students practice. 

3. There is always more to learn

  At some point, you will start to see techniques repeat themselves.  Don't fall victim to the "I know
this one" line of reasoning.  You can always learn more from a technique.  Look at the details.  I've been doing aikido for 12-15 years (I'm not quite sure myself) and even when I see something as simple as ikkyu, I still can catch details about how another person does the technique.

4. Do your homework

  I heard a good line about martial arts classes.  I'm paraphrasing, but it goes something like this "You're here to learn, you can practice at home." Use your time in the dojo wisely.  You have such a short time with instructors who have more skill than you do, why would you want to spend it practicing things you can do at home?  Unless you're getting your movement's critiqued, in which case, it is valuable time spent.

All in all, keep an open mind, be sincere in your training, be polite, and follow the culture of your dojo. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this to us..

  2. i wish my son could start to learn martial arts when he is five, he is three now. lol
    Kung Fu school in China