Last week (well this week if I had actually posted this on time – I was out of the country), I took a class at a local martial art school. I have been taking classes there on and off (more off than on) for the past 20 years. Even though the underlying technique of the motions covered sometime directly contradicts what I teach in Taekwondo, I toughly enjoy going to classes because it allows me to be a color belt again. Yes you heard it correctly, I have been going there for 20 years and I am a color belt (remember the off part is larger than the on part). Anyway, back to the class. We had just finished warm-ups and stretches when the instructor broke the students up into two groups. There were 6 students in class that night, which meant 3 students per group. I was in a group with one black belt and one color belt (the same rank as me). The instructor then demonstrated an application of a standard wrist lock. Basically what happened next was one at a time both of us color belts would grab the black belt and she would defend herself with the technique. Then the other color belt would bow to her and replace her as the person that was being attacked (grabbed). Then I would grab him, then the black belt would grab and then I’d bow and replace him. Then it was my turn. This process would happen over and over again until the instructor introduced a different technique.
Everything was going just great until the instructor introduced the third technique. After he demonstrated it, the black belt was up and the other student grabbed her. She couldn’t do the technique. It had nothing to do with a lack of ability but because she had, if I had to guess, never done this specific defense before. You could immediately see (and feel) a shift in her mental state. She was getting very frustrated and upset. However, this new attitude wasn’t directed toward herself (due to her inabilities) but rather at the instructor and the two of us. In addition, it got much much worse after the two of us were able to do the technique. Was it because we were better than the black belt? No, it’s because we had the benefit of watching the instructor fix the black belt’s technique. Also, I had done the technique before. The rest of the class (while in that group) went downhill from there. It would be one thing if the black belt’s new attitude only affected her but it didn’t. Within a very short period of time, she stopped bowing to either of us when we would switch with her. Then she started slowing down the entire group by taking little breaks between techniques. Why did all this happen? Ego.
Martial art students often think the hardest part of their training is learning a specific technique, but in reality it is keeping the “ego” in check. The thought, “I’m better than the black belt is,” never entered my mind and if I had to guess it never entered the other student’s mind. Therefore, the black belt wasted a good portion of a class because her ego was worried about something that it didn’t have to worry about. This happens all of the time in almost every martial art school. Students and black belts are more focused on how other people perceive them than they are on their own techniques. What a waste of time. If the black belt in the above mentioned class had focused on learning the technique instead of getting upset, she might actually be able to do it the next time it is taught.
Traditionally, the highest dropout rank in a martial art, other than white belt, is 1st degree black belt. Why? Because, that is when the “ego” starts really coming into play. What a waste. How many times have you seen two black belt’s, that have never met, walk up to each other and immediately count the number of tips on the other’s belt to determine who outranks who? What a waste. How many times have you wasted an entire class upset at yourself for not knowing something or not being able to do something someone else could do? What a waste. How many times have you seen someone doing a breaking demonstration, only to fail and have a temper tantrum? What a waste. Etc. etc. etc. etc.
I have found this to be a very difficult post to write. It’s very hard to talk about this in written from especially with a wide-ranging group of readers. If I were writing for a group of Kyudo students, this would be easy because eliminating ego is a main focus of the art. In order to leave you with something other than wondering thoughts, I’ll say this, notice the ego. Have you noticed how when you get a new car, you tend to see a lot more of them on the road? Once you notice your ego, you will see it pop its ugly head up all the time. That is when you can start to get the ego under control. It is a never-ending battle that will last as long as you practice martial arts. In fact it gets harder for most people as their rank gets higher. Remember you are taking Taekwondo for yourself and not to impress other people or students. Look at every failing as a learning experience. Some of my most profound insights into Taekwondo occurred when I failed at something. I hope I continue to fail, because when I stop failing my ego has won.
Something to think about…