Advice on how to handle martial arts related setbacks.
Dealing with Setbacks – Episode 129
Below is a transcript of the episode. Thanks for listening (or reading!)
Well, here we are. Episode 129 of whistlekick martial arts radio is about to roll. On this episode we’re going to talk about how you can better handle those stumbles, those setbacks, that you’ll inevitable experience in your martial arts training.
First, let me introduce myself. I’m whistlekick’s founder but I’m better known as your host for the show, Jeremy Lesniak. whistlekick, I am proud to say, makes the absolute best sparring gear, apparel and accessories for practitioners and fans of traditional martial arts. I’d like to welcome all the new listeners and thank everyone that’s come back.
All of our past episodes, show notes and a bunch more are at whistlekickmartialartsradio.com. From that site you can sign up for our newsletter, and I hope you do, because we offer exclusive content to subscribers, discounts and it’s the only place to find out about upcoming guests.
Everyone stumbles, everyone falls. Sometimes, as martial artists, we fall, literally. We take our shots… man, there are a lot of clichés that apply literally here.
Which is why the best martial artists seem to be the best with handling adversity. It’s impossible to live a life that doesn’t deal with setbacks, and there’s a lot of advice on how to handle that – but how about handling setbacks that occur within your training or your martial arts school?
While there are a lot of different things that you could experience, they really come down to only two types – setbacks by your definition and setbacks by other’s definitions.
You could make the argument that you shouldn’t care what other people think, that the opinions of others don’t matter… but that’s a pretty idealistic view and one that most people aren’t ready to accept. Even when they do accept it, it’s pretty hard to let your feelings line up with the belief. What if the opinion is coming from your instructor?
For this episode, we’re going to lump the two together – because, really, it’s how you respond to the situation that matters. You can’t control the opinions of others, and the tools we’re going to give you are for you. You can’t make someone else implement them.
Besides, if someone sees what you’ve done as a setback, and you don’t… does it matter?
You may have noticed that I didn’t use the word failure, and that’s for good reason. I actually won’t let people use that word when I’m teaching, especially the way some use it today – describing something as “a fail,” meaning a poorly-executed attempt.
The word failure has a finality to it – you’ve failed, you’re done, there are no other options. In martial arts, there is almost always another option, another chance to try. I’d encourage you to look at that word’s usage in your life, if you do use it. Words have a lot of power.
Which brings us to our first bit of advice…
Choose Your Language & Stay Positive
Ours is a world where text-speak and slang abound, whether we like that or not. Every word has meaning and the words you use have an effect on your being.
Let’s say you’ve competed at a tournament and botched your form. If it’s your first time, you might be tempted to make excuses – “I didn’t know what I was doing” or “I’m no good at this.” Those word choices have a significant impact and can actually program your subconscious over time. You won’t catch me letting people talk like that in a class I’m teaching.
How do you handle that situation, then? You have to say something, even if it’s only to yourself. You could say “I know a lot more than I did coming in” or “This is a challenge I’m willing to take on.” If you think about the facial expressions that people would have when they’re saying these, you can see that the second two are far more positive than the first two. That positivity is key to overcoming any setback, in life or in martial arts. Whether it’s a botched form at a competition, or a failed rank exam.
Admit Your Mistakes
Missteps can be excellent teachers, but only if you’re willing to admit them. I’m not talking about literal missteps, or you settling into the wrong stance during basics. I’m talking about real errors, and likely the kind that makes you say “I knew better.”
Martial arts classes can be emotional places. They’re often hot, there’s a lot of energy and sometimes there’s a competitive edge that can come between people. When you think about it, it’s incredible that this combination doesn’t lead to more incidents, but sometimes it does.
We’re all guilty of it. I recall some instances in my teens – and even in the last five years – that I’ve made amends for. We’re all human beings and we’re training to become better human beings. We’re going to falter, but part of the progress that martial arts supports is admitting when you’ve screwed up. If you got hot-headed and hit someone harder than you needed to – apologize. If you came to class with outside thoughts on your mind and you were a bad partner to someone else, tell them you’re sorry.
These sorts of setbacks only stick if you don’t apologize. You don’t want to be known as the person who doesn’t seem to care about their actions. Showing humility and an ability to admit when you’re wrong will go a long way in your training as well as being someone that others want to train with.
Know When to Say When
Sometimes our body fails us. Martial arts, for all the mental aspects, is rooted in physical practice. Everyone will experience setbacks related to their body at some point. Pulled muscles, broken bones – I doubt there’s an active martial arts class in the world where someone isn’t nursing some injury.
Those physical issues can be some of the toughest to handle because they can mean a change in your training. Sometimes they mean no training at all. We talked a lot about recovery and rehabilitation on Episode 77.
It’s crucial that you recognize a physical setback as a lesson – you did something wrong. It may not have been wrong in that moment, yet, somewhere along the line you should have done something differently. Better.
Maybe you tore a muscle throwing a kick. Did you throw it higher than you should have? Was your form poor? Did you not warm up properly? Was there a minor pull in the muscle that you chose to work through?
Our body is a wonderful teacher, if we listen to it.
Use Adversity as Fuel
One of the best motivators I know is to tell someone they can’t do something. For some people, that’s a terrible thing to do. For others, for those that have decent self-esteem, expressing minor doubt of their abilities will often yield renewed effort. Many of us see this in children, both in and outside of the martial arts.
When someone tells us we can’t do something, we have a choice as to how to respond. If we use it as motivation, it can be incredibly powerful. We talked about positive language before, and this is positive thinking. When someone says you can’t, and you say you can… it’s no wonder this is so effective. You’ve already decided on the outcome.
Which is why it’s important to take your lumps and redouble your efforts. If your side kick isn’t looking so good, practice it. Practice it until it’s good. No, great. Practice it until you know you’ve got it down because you deserve to have a better side kick. You’re the only one standing in the way.
One of my favorite motivational quotes comes from the Rocky movie, Balboa. This is only part of it, and we’ll link the video and full quote in text over on the show notes, whistlekickMartialArtsRadio.com
Or, to say it another way with another quote.
Success can be defined in many ways, but failure with only one: quitting.
Whatever the setback, take it as a challenge. Your martial arts path is a journey, and there will be stumbles.
Being a martial artist isn’t easy, that’s why so few people earn their black belt. There aren’t a lot of people out there, relatively speaking, who have spent 30, 40 or 50 years doing anything – and even fewer who have spent that time in martial arts.
Ours is a path to being better people, but that development means facing obstacles and overcoming them. Carl Jung, famous psychiatrist once said: I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.
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That’s all for today. Until next time, Train hard, smile, and have a great day.