Why Haven’t I Progressed? The Self-Inflicted Knockout of a Martial Arts Career.

A revised article from The Grand Master’s Herald, April 2010

Article by: Bro. Jeff Webb

Founder/Grand Master, A.O.C. European Martial Arts


So, you see a fellow martial artist within your martial arts school displaying what appears, and may very well be a natural tendency to quickly pick up on and employ some elements of the style that they are being taught. They do very well on the drills/katas. Perhaps this person managed to achieve two or three promotions within the minimum allotted time to do so. They’ve even competed some and may or may not have earned a medal in the process. This person seems ready to take their next test, but the instructor does not appear to be giving the time of day for it. It may cause that student to ask the question, “Why am I not getting to test?” One thing is for sure. If a student does ask this question of an instructor, it needs to be respectfully asked with the motivation to find what the student needs to work on rather than with a tone that conveys to the instructor that the student feels wronged.


There could be any number of reasons why the instructor is holding off on testing the student. The first thing that a student must do is a self-evaluation to determine whether or not there is something that he or she is missing. What is essential in this self-evaluation is that the student is being completely honest with himself or herself. More than likely the student will always look at the actual drills/katas or technique and style that they are practicing in attempting to determine why they have not been allowed to test. While this is a legitimate area in which one should conduct a self- evaluation, there are several other areas that are very basic in which the student may have some deficits that could cause them to slow or even halt in progression through the ranks of his or her art of choice. One thing to also consider is that most often than not, the instructor will call attention the forms/techniques and execution of the various moves on which a student needs to improve. Furthermore, when the instructor has called these areas to the student’s attention, either individually or addressing an entire group of which the student in question is a member, did he/she listen and take the instructor’s words to heart? If the student did hear the instructor, did the student take it as the instructor helping him/her get better, or did the student take offense?


No matter where you are training or in what martial art style you are practicing, there are some very basic things that always play a factor in your progression and your relationship with your peers and your instructor. Here are some factors that your instructor/s are also looking for in the dedicated member/student.


A couple of these factors are courtesy and respect. How is the student in his/her mannerisms and attitude towards the instructor? When the student arrives how long does he/she take before greeting fellow members? Does he/she greet them at all? How long does it take the member/student to address and greet the instructor? Does he/she do it at all or does the instructor have to finally initiate interaction through greeting the student first? As a student/member subordinate to the instructor, you should always be looking to greet your instructor at the first possible opportunity. That said, do not ignore other fellow members to get passed them to the instructor, but address the instructor as soon as possible, especially if you are the first one to arrive for practice/training. Common sense should prevail here. Simply observe a basic level of courtesy and respect. When addressing your instructor or being addressed by your instructor, you should always answer saying, “Sir,” or “Ma’am,” unless you have been instructor otherwise by the instructor.


Another factor is attitude. What is your attitude as pertains to your training and in your relationship with your peers and instructor. Is the member in question good at the martial arts style though he or she may be big-headed about his or her abilities (or perceived abilities) or is he/she humble and realize that there is always more to learn, and that all ability comes from God and not through their own doing? How about this? Is the student actually not nearly as skilled as they puff themselves up to be, and yet acts arrogantly at times? There is always someone better, or that can “one-up” you on any given day. This is true for all of us, Lead Instructor or otherwise. There may be a person that you can defeat time and again in freestyle fighting who, much to your amazement, can defeat the person that defeats you time and again in freestyle fighting. This is the way of things often. We must keep a humble and genuinely good attitude when engaging in our training and with our fellow martial artists. Getting upset and perhaps throwing a sword in frustration, cursing or mouthing off to the instructor is not the way. Mouthing off to an instructor is never a good idea. It usually happens no more than once or twice and ends with the student being dismissed from the school for insubordination and/or poor conduct. If the conduct doesn’t warrant dismissal, this person’s progress in the school will “flat line.” They will level off at a given rank and the instructor will more than likely leave them there. From an instructor’s standpoint, there is an overall membership in the school to consider. While each member is important, if there is one that is causing an issue that has already, or may possibly cause uncomfortable situations, then that member probably needs to be removed. What will happen is that one member with whom there is an issue may cause others to leave due to the awkward situations that occur. An instructor cannot allow that to happen. It’s a disservice to the students who have the right attitude and are working hard. It’s also a disservice to the name and reputation of the school.


What about the person who is dedicated to their training, keeps a great attitude about what they are doing and while they may not be the strongest martial artist, they practice hard and display a genuinely high level of enthusiasm and dedication to what they are doing? Perhaps this person will be defeated every single time they spar with the “big-headed” member. Who should be considered above the other for testing or meritorious promotion to the next rank? I think the answer is clear in this case. The dedicated member with the great attitude and desire to work hard to get it right on all fronts. While the “big-headed” member stalls in progression, eventually the student with humility and a great attitude will surpass him/her in rank.


Another matter of importance is condition and appearance of the student when arriving at training sessions/practices. Is the student wearing a designated uniform? Is the uniform clean or is it dirty and perhaps very wrinkly? Does the member display the correct rank on his or her uniform? What about the student’s gear and equipment? If using a weapon in their art, is it well maintained as instructed? Did the student bring with him/her all of the gear he or she knows they should have for the type and level of practice in which they are engaged? Is the member on time or is he/she late for practice a decent amount of the time? If so, is there a reason presented to the instructor that is legitimate, perhaps a scheduling issue, emergency, or something else. All of these things are factors that an instructor considers and looks for in his/her students when evaluating who is ready to test and progress to the next rank in their organization. Always be sure to be in a well-maintained uniform when attending training. Always be sure to have all of the gear that you need to engage in your level of training. And when in an art that is weapons based, always be sure to have your weapon/s maintained properly. This is for your own safety and for the safety of others, but too it shows a level of dedication and caring for the art in which you are training. If your appearance and the appearance of your gear and equipment looks as if you do not care, then your instructor, while he or she almost surely does care about you, may take the outward approach to you that they do not care if you do not advance any further. In almost all martial arts schools if you do not wear your uniform as it should be worn at practice and/or you do not bring your gear, you do not get to train, but must watch the others if you are allowed to remain present for the training session.


While there are many different reasons why a person joins a martial arts school, they usually want to enjoy themselves while they learn. They want their experience to be a good and enjoyable experience. The same is true for the instructor. The instructor also typically loves what he or she is doing and wants the time instructing others to be enjoyable and fun. If the instructor sees that a member, through poor conduct is jeopardizing the positive learning environment, it is likely that member’s “days are numbered,” as the old saying goes.


Keep a good attitude. Be respectful. Be responsible. Pay attention to what your instructor is saying to you and modeling for you in form and technique, and behavior. Be humble, and kind. Be honest and do not just say what you think your instructor wants to hear. You will go a long way. Do not deal yourself a knockout blow to your martial arts career.


Bro. Jeff Webb, Founder

A.O.C. European Martial Arts

October 13, 2017

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