I’m back. For those who did not read my last post, I spent last weekend at a national seminar and I have returned, full to the brim with ideas and material to work on. I was surrounded by a wonderful group of knowledgeable and generous martial artists and I am hopeful that some of those skills and qualities rubbed off on me.

Yes, I did learn a new kata. Yes, I did learn a new drill or two. Yes I followed all my own advice and did all the things I talked about doing in my last post. But, despite being very excited about all of that, a surprising idea has been on my mind this week. I would call it a revelation but that suggests I had not considered it before. The truth is that this idea has always been there but somehow came into sharp clarity at the seminar.

The men and women I trained with are predominately middle and high-ranking black belts dedicated to a lifetime in the martial arts. Given the nature of the group, one might assume that the focus would be on complex, advanced techniques. It was quite clear, with everyone I worked with, that the depth of knowledge ran deep. Yet, the training, for the most part, was on fundamental skills. So, if advanced techniques aren’t taught in a seminar like this one, where did these individuals learn their skills?

The answer is really what this blog is all about. These black belts took the basics they were shown and they didn’t just memorize them, like the ABC’s; or just practice them, like a basketball dribble; or just train them like lifting weights. They also studied them like a PhD candidate studies for her doctorate. They broke things down, dug deeper, and kept exploring until every nuance became apparent. Then they put each part back together with a new understanding of how to make these techniques better.

Sounds simple enough, right? Obviously it is easier said than done but we can all do it. The first thing you need to do is embrace the term “student” and start to really study what it is you do when you train. Good teachers will come along and help from time to time but they can and will only take you so far. You have to do the research on your own to get better. And, when you are better, whether they intend to or not, those same teachers will enlighten you further because you will understand more going in.

Maybe it is not a coincidence that we use the term “master” for high-level martial artists and the term “masters degree” for those achieving a post-graduate level education. In each case, in-depth study was necessary to advance understanding of a chosen subject. This might also be why, despite their achievements, those that really have studied a subject never see themselves as anything other than a student.

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