It’s time to hit the road. In a few days I will be traveling to an annual training seminar that is always one of the highlights of my year. The three-day event will be more somber this year due to the recent passing of our organization’s founder, Taika Seiyu Oyata. But I also know it will be a great opportunity to train, learn, and be inspired to continue training and learning.

For those of us who do a significant amount of solo training, events like this one are vital. Whether or not you are part of a regular dojo, gathering with a wider group of martial artists is a great reminder that you and/or your group are not isolated and that there are many fellow “warriors” working on the same challenges that you face. The key to getting the most out of these events is setting the right goals and keeping and open mind.

To my mind, there are really only two types of seminars to consider. The first would be one that focuses on your own martial arts style. The seminar I am attending falls into this category. The subjects being taught are all areas of the arts that I am familiar with and my goal is to expand the material I have to work on.

But let me stress that learning new material just to learn new material is always a mistake. Avoid becoming an encyclopedia of techniques, drills, or kata. Instead, try to learn things that deepen your overall understanding. I hope to learn a new weapons kata. But, instead of working with a brand new weapon, I will seek out a kata for a weapon I already train with. This is the best of both worlds. I will grow the material I have to work with at home while also growing my understanding of what I am already doing.

The second type of seminar is one that either focuses on one area of martial arts outside your regular training, or which brings together numerous instructors to share ideas from different styles. In these cases, your goals should still be a reflection of what YOU need to grow and develop into a better martial artist. For this reason, I don’t recommend attending an event that bears no relation at all to what you normally do. Not unless you intend to repeatedly seek out that instruction regularly. Sure, the event will be fun and eye-opening. You might well pick up a few tips. But back home, if they don’t fit well into your regular practice, those techniques will probably be forgotten. Or worse, they will be remembered badly, not practiced, and join a list of techniques that you “know” intellectually but cannot “do” instinctively.

Regardless of which type of seminar you attend, the other important piece of advice is to stay open-minded from the moment you arrive. Despite what you may want to learn, there might well be a surprise opportunity to learn something far more important for your own development. You might “click” with an unexpected instructor who turns you on to ideas in a way others haven’t before. And there are other types of learning opportunities that you need to be aware of. Watching the movement and techniques of people you do not work with regularly can provide you with lots of insights into your own training. Conversations before or after the event can raise questions that fuel your practice. Making new friends can provide you with invaluable contacts when you return home and start trying to remember what you learned.

Lastly, don’t try and learn too much. This sounds crazy but, as I said before, becoming an encyclopedia of technique will not make you a better martial artist. If one hundred techniques are shown you will be lucky to remember five. If those same five are all that are shown, you may actually gain some proficiency. In the end, no matter how much fun it all was, you need to remember what you learned, naturally add to what you do, and train it to a point where you become better. Any seminar that provides you with that kind of education is worth it’s weight in gold.

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