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Beginner tips

Intro

If you try, and you travail, you will triumph! -TKDTutor
You are in your first martial arts class and class is about to begin. You are apprehensive and wondering if you made the right decision. You want to do well and not embarrass yourself. The following hints may help you overcome your apprehension and uncertainty.

You are a beginning student in a martial art. Your ultimate goal is to become a master of in the martial art. What is the difference between the two?
  • Beginning Students are not aware of their mistakes while others easily notice them.
  • Intermediate Students are aware of their mistakes and others notice the corrections they make. 
  • Advanced Students are aware of their mistakes that others do not notice and, when they correct them, only the instructor notices.
  • Instructors are aware of their mistakes that others do not notice and make corrections that are known only to themselves.
  • Masters are aware that they still make mistakes and strive to perfect themselves even though they know perfection is impossible.
The following are some tips to help you on your road toward becoming a master in your martial art.

Know your motivation

After years of study, students begin to view their chosen martial art as a "way" of life, but this is not what motivates a beginner. People usually begin to study a martial art as a way to get in shape, as a method of self-defense, out of curiosity, or as something that may enhance their lives. No matter what your motivation is for studying a martial art, stick with it until "the way" takes over. If your only motivation is to get in shape, at some point you will get bored and look for another method. If your only motivation is self-defense, your studies will probably be a waste of time since most people will never have to defend themselves. If you stay with a martial art for any reason, at some point, you will achieve "the way" and your motivation will be merely your love for the practice of the martial art.

Open mind

Bring an open mind to training. When presented with new thoughts, philosophies, and techniques, keep an open mind, absorb the information, process it, and determine if it is useful to you. If it is useful to you, use it. If it not useful to you, remember it, but do not use it except when instructed to use it in class.

Empty cup

Bringing an empty cup to class means you come with no preconceived ideas. For example, if you come to class with thoughts of another martial art style in your mind, you will be constantly comparing techniques learned in that style to those you are learning in your present style. You may end up with a blend of the two styles, instead of one clear style. Blending styles is undesirable for a beginner. Store the previous style in your memory and, after years of training in your current style, you may find that the techniques are interchangeable.

Be courteous

Courtesy can be especially difficult for a beginner student. Many times, on the streets, in schools, and in the workplace, assertiveness is considered a personal strength and courtesy is considered a weakness and—no one what to be considered weak. Oriental traditions, such as bowing, seem subservient to most Americans. However, if one considers the bow as a greeting and sign of respect, like a handshake, it will seem more natural. If you are respectful and courteous toward your martial art, the school, the instructor, and fellow students of all ranks, it will lead to your demonstrating more respect and courtesy at home, on the streets, in school, and in the workplace. This in turn will make you more respectful and courteous in class—forming a circle of courtesy. As you become more confident in your martial art abilities, you will find it easier to be courteous. When you don’t have a personal need to "prove yourself" all the time, you will be more courteous, and less assertive.

Evaluate yourself

Critically evaluate yourself. Look for what needs improvement and seek ways to improve it. However, remember that you are your own worst critic—you are usually doing much better than you think. Don’t expect overnight success. If it were easy, everyone could do. Progress in a martial art is not always level and consistent. Some days you do well, some days you don’t do so well. Progress comes in small increments until one day it all "comes together" and you feel like a true martial artist.

Learn the basics

Sometimes fundamentals are overlooked in the haste to become a black belt. Achieving perfection of the basics will help you more than training for high kicks. The discipline you gain from the process of perfecting the basics during training will be more useful to you than the techniques you learn from the training.

Learning

Individual students learn in different ways. You must find which way works for you. Once you know which type of learning works best for you, you may adjust your training to accommodate your individual learning needs. For example, you may need to see a technique performed repeatedly before it makes any sense, or you may need to see the technique in the context it is used. You may need to have the instructor facing away from you, so you can align your body accordingly and mimic the instructor's motion. You may learn a hyung/form/pattern easier from a book or video at home at you own pace than you could in class. These are just some of the numerous ways a person learns. If you do not take the time to discover how you learn, you will have a difficult time learning as the techniques get more complicated.

Sometimes we learn without even knowing it. Many times, parents bring their children to a martial arts class, and stay and watch the class each time. After a few weeks or months, the parents decide to start training themselves. At their first class, they perform so well that people ask them if they have trained in the martial arts before. The parents find that they have absorbed a lot of information just from watching classes.

Clear your mind

Clear your mind before training so you are not distracted. On a physical level, this will lower the risk of injury to yourself or others due to your not paying attention. On a technical level, you will be more alert and not miss any information you may need to perform a technique properly. If you practice a technique improperly, you will just have to learn to do it properly later. Also, clearing your mind of all problems during training may give you a new perspective on the problems after the training.

Spar black belts

New students always seem to be afraid to spar with a black belt; they seem to think the black belt will hurt them. Actually, the odds are much greater that a fellow color belt will hurt them. Black belts have years of training under their belts, they know how to control their techniques, and they do not have to beat up on students to prove their abilities. Whereas, color belts are inexperienced, have little control over their techniques, and sometimes feel the need to hurt the other person for getting the best of them.

If you spar a “true” black belt, you will find that many times your attacks get through and that you are able to block many of the black belt’s attacks. This is not because you are a great fighter. The black belt permits this to happen, praises you when it does happen, and probably will tell you how to make it better. Then, before the sparring session ends, the black belt will step up the action to let you know where you really stand. This will be done without comment and you will not be harmed, but you will be aware of whom the black belt is and who the color belt is, and that you have much to learn.

Karaoke karate

When using karaoke equipment, the user stands in front of the equipment, listens to the music it generates, and sings along with the music repeating the words that the equipment presents without questioning the validity of the words or the music. Karaoke karate is when students stand in front of an instructor, listen to what the instructor says, and perform techniques in the same way the instructor has shown them without questioning the validly of the information or the technique. This is not necessarily a bad way to learn a martial art, but it may lead to blind adherence to improper information or to a futile effort to perform techniques that are not suited to the individual student. Just as karaoke singers are a poor imitation of the original artist, Karaoke karate students are a poor imitation of the instructor. The original singer worked with many musicians trying many variations in singing styles until he or she developed a unique style that suited his or her personality and abilities. While this singing style works great for the singer, when others try to imitate it, they fall far short of the original.

When studying a martial art, listen to the instructor and try to perform techniques as the instructor presents them. As you progress, analyze the way you perform techniques and the way you are told to perform them. Ask questions as to why you are being told to perform a technique a certain way. Be critical of yourself. Is your inability to perform the technique as the instructor asks because you are not trying, you have not trained enough, your body makeup precludes your ever being able to perform the technique as shown, or is it because the technique itself is flawed?

Just as the original singer studied music, practiced daily, analyzed and tried and rejected different variations of musical styles, and finally found the style that worked for him or her as an individual, so should the martial art student analyze information the instructor presents and not merely be a Karaoke karate student that blindly repeats all the information presented.

Concentrate

Patterns must be performed in a powerful, but exact manner. While training with a partner in class, you must execute powerful techniques, but with absolute control, so you don’t harm your partner. Both actions require intense mental concentration. If you practice intensely and concentrate on a performing a difficult technique, such as a jump-spin side thrust kick, at some point, you will achieve a "breakthrough moment" (the point in time after which you are able to perform the technique consistently). The technique that seemed impossible in the beginning will now seem easy. To achieve a breakthrough moment on a technique, you must concentrate on the technique and not let your mind wander. After achieving a breakthrough moment, you will find it easier to concentrate on and perform that technique. The ability to concentrate your efforts to complete a task will also help you in your daily life and at work.

Work hard

To experience a good training session, you should relax and have fun, but you still must train very hard. Always put one hundred percent of your concentration and effort into every class. Contrary to popular speech, you can’t give 110%. Once you have given all you have, you can’t give 10% more because there’s no more left to give. When the mental and physical aspects come together, you will feel great and have a sense of achievement.

If you are sick or injured, don’t go to class. Stay home and get well so you may train at one-hundred percent when you are well. If you are merely feeling "down' or out of sorts, you may find that as the class progresses you will feel better and be able to perform at full intensity.

At the end of each training session, if you have put forth maximum effort, you will be exhausted. As your fitness level improves, you will have to do more and more before reaching exhaustion. It may become convenient to not exert yourself physically or mentally so that you may stay comfortable. However, if you only do what you can comfortably do, you will not progress. Progress comes from doing more than you thought you could do. A class session in which you have mentally and physically challenged yourself will always be a good class.

Take time off

Don’t be afraid to take a couple of days off occasionally. Just as muscle needs time to heal, the mind needs time to refresh itself. After taking a short time off, you may return to class refreshed and full of enthusiasm. Martial arts training should be something you enjoy, not drudgery. Try not to take more than two consecutive days off at a time.

Persevere

It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop. -Confucius
Without perseverance, you will not learn how do perform that technique or pattern that is giving you a problem or learn how to improve your sparring. Without perseverance, you will probably not even come to class! Statistics show that fewer than five percent of students who join as a white belt make it to black belt. Why? it is because they do not have the perseverance to give themselves a chance to achieve black belt. There are many demands on your time and the study of a martial art will compete with these demands. If you enjoy something, then commit to it and persevere. If you try, and you travail, you will triumph!

Practice alone sometimes

Practicing alone at times gives one an opportunity to practice patterns and techniques without the pressure of being watched. It allows you to concentrate on the meaning and reason for every move. Using a mirror to watch yourself may improve your patterns and techniques.

Share

As you progress, share your knowledge with lower belt students. The experience will be most gratifying. Never forget that you were once a beginner. Remember the problems you had as a beginner and guide other beginners through their problems. Don’t teach students techniques that are beyond their level of proficiency; it may ruin their self-confidence. You may reach your own level of self-actualization through teaching others your martial art.

Personal style

Each of us has a different personality, and thus, a different style of performing techniques. The way one person performs a technique will be different from the way someone else performs the same technique. People are different, with different abilities and strengths.

Focused observation and critical analysis are the first steps in learning the essential components of every technique. When first learning a new technique, it is important that you grasp the essential elements of the technique, while neglecting the unnecessary style elements associated with the instructor's style. Learn to observe the details of a technique and pick out essential components that cannot be omitted. After you have mastered the essential components of a technique, you may then begin to add your own artistic flair, within certain perimeters.

Ethics

As stated above, students have different reasons for initially beginning martial arts training. Since martial arts training involves learning techniques designed to injure or kill a human being, you should want to know why you have a desire to learn such techniques.

You have a right to learn to defend yourself from the criminal element of society. However, if you feel the need to beat up anyone who offends you, then you have a problem. You need to examine the reasons why you think that beating someone up is going to solve your problems. Martial arts instructors will not necessarily reject you as a student if you exhibit these aggressive tendencies, but they will watch you carefully and expect the training to change these tendencies.

If you are ever in a situation where you must defend yourself, you have the right to use any reasonable force necessary to protect yourself, but you must still have compassion. No matter how angry you get, you must remember that every attacker has parents, family, or someone who loves and values them. Your actions will also affect their lives.

Violence for the sake of violence is a never-ending cycle. When you respond to violence with violence, the attacker will respond with more violence. You must use your creativity, dignity, integrity, and honor to end the cycle. You must use every way you can to avoid violence, but when it is inevitable, and then you must be the victor. The longer and harder you train in a martial art, the less need you will have for the physical aspects of the training. You will find yourself dealing with people on more of an intellectual and psychological level.

The Way

There is more to the martial arts than just the self-defense aspects. It is the ability to concentrate on a problem, overcome fear, control anger, and complete a task. It is the daily usage of the tenets of the art, such as the taekwondo tenets of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. Once you apply these tenets and the other taekwondo principles to your daily life, you will discover the full meaning of the martial arts; known as "The way."

As you train more and more in your martial art, you will find that what happens in the school reflects what is happening in your daily life. The microcosm of what is happening in the school reflects the macrocosm of your life. In class, if you are off balance, then your kick will have no power. In life, if you are out of balance in one area of your life, it will disrupt your life in other areas. For example, you may find you are expending too much energy in one area of your life (possibly too much martial arts training time) while ignoring other areas, such as spending more time with your family. This may be remedied by the entire family training in the martial arts together.

Remember, the real purpose of martial arts training is to train the body, cultivate the mind, and nurture the spirit, which will hopefully lead to a long, healthy, and happy life.

Don't quit!

Many students are gung-ho and train regularly until they reach black belt; then they fade and quit. They have pursued the goal of a black belt for years and now see it as the end of their journey.  As in any art, to reach enlightenment, one must work hard, and gain knowledge, experience, maturity, and understanding. When enlightenment comes, one will then fully understand "the way" and know that the journey has been worth all the effort.

Do not be the person who looks back over his or her life in later years and says "WouldaCouldaShoulda!"

SOURCES
  • Allen, G. (1998). Ten Lessons That May Assist You As A Beginner.
  • Clifford, M. (1998). Traditional Martial Arts Training.

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