Lack of Failure in Traditional Martial Arts While we all dislike failing, without a doubt
– failure is an essential part of life. Most people agree that each failure equals
a lesson and without these lessons there is no way to actually grow. Yet how many people really embrace this kind
of attitude? How many people actually allow themselves
to constantly fail in order to become better? And how can avoiding failure affect our martial
arts training? Hi, my name is Rokas and in this Martial Arts
Journey video we will take a look at the Lack of Failure in Traditional Martial Arts and
how it affects our development. Before we begin though, I would like to define
what I mean by saying Traditional Martial Arts, as there are a number of possible interpretations
to it and discussing a subject while having different interpretations of the same term
may lead to a lot of misunderstanding. I do not mean to say that I think other definitions
to be wrong, but the one that I am about to share with you proved to be the most efficient
to me personally when debating traditional martial arts and trying to understand the
whole subject. To me, traditional martial arts are martial
arts which are heavily focused on tradition, rather than practicality as its primary goal. While not always – this focus on tradition
is often related to various cultural aspects. To give some examples I’ll ask some questions. Why do most Japanese martial arts schools
teach to sit on the knees? Is it because it’s the healthiest way to
sit? Or is it because it’s part of the Japanese
culture? Why do Bujinkan (often referred to as Ninjutsu)
practitioners usually wear black Gis? Is it because black is more practical for
being less visible while training? Or is it rather because it alludes to ninjutsu
practitioners on certain occasions in the past prefering to wear black to disguise themselves? How about defending from a Japanese sword? Is it very likely to be attacked by one these
days? Or is it trained because it was more likely
to happen in Japanese culture 400 years ago? There is a story of Jigoro Kano, founder of
Judo, telling that he started decreasing the amount spent in newaza, grappling on the ground,
because in his opinion, to quote him: “Humans were meant to walk, not crawl”, which is
actually a representation of the Japanese cultural mentality. This mentality was passed on from generation
to generation even till today, as newaza in Judo is more of a side, than primary focus. Yet the question is, is it so because it’s
– quote on quote – not practical or less important, or is it because it’s part of the tradition? On the other hand the Gracie family started
off training Judo, which back then was still more commonly known as Jiujitsu, yet Brazilians
are infamous for not caring much for tradition and authority. They did not concern themselves with such
beliefs as not “crawling on the ground” and while they kept a few, minor traditions,
such as wearing the Gi (which has practical aspects too), they focused mostly on practicality
and efficiency, which made Brazilian Jiu Jitsu one of the most widely recognized effective
martial arts today. Many more examples could be given, but as
you may see, traditional martial arts tend to have a high emphasis on preserving tradition
and sometimes even sacrificing practically and efficiency to do so, often times doing
so unknowingly. To summarize, one definition of traditional
martial arts may be closely related to the heavy investment of a particular martial art
into traditions, such as Aikido, Bujinkan, Wing Chun, various styles of Kung Fu, Tae
Kwon Do and more versus other practices which are more focused on practicality such as Brazilian
Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Muay Thai, Boxing and Kick Boxing. This is not to say that practices focused
on efficiency do not have traditions or “limitations”, for example boxing focusing on striking only
and neglecting wrestling or kicking. Yet it’s investment into traditions is much
less significant than that of traditional martial arts. It is also interesting to point out, that
the age of the martial art is not of greatest significance here. As for example Aikido, commonly referred to
as a traditional martial art, being actually fairly young – officially established in 1942,
compared to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which is not referred to as a traditional martial art – having
been developed around a similar time. Now with all of that in mind, having a single
definition of traditional martial arts for this discussion, we may start looking at how
lack of failure may affect a traditional martial arts practitioner. Due to its heavy focus on preserving tradition,
you may notice that traditional martial arts often times sacrifice practicality as a result,
which leads to less pressure testing, such as by the means of live sparring. Even if it does, the pressure testing is often
limited by cultural aspects such as: you have to stand in this particular stance and strike
in this particular way – not because it is most effective, but because that is how it
was taught 200 years ago, or to give another example, because samurai used to wear armor
which did not allow such movements. When the emphasis are highly focused on tradition,
for a new student entering this type of martial arts school, there is usually an overwhelming
amount of cultural things to learn, starting from ethical traditions, such as what words
and when to say, where and how to bow or sit, how to address others, alongside all the other
culturally influenced physical movement intricacies which are a challenge not only in a motorical
way, but also as mental exercise to understand various particular culturally influenced stances,
techniques and subtleties. In this beginning period a new student often
experiences a tremendous amount of failure, being humbled in front of others who already
know the status quo and have mastered it. Yet after a while, if a new student persavers
and learns the ways of the school, a potential danger arises. One of the aspects of maintaining humility
is understanding and knowing our limitations, which is oftentimes formed by experiencing
failure. As mentioned before, the humbling aspect of
traditional martial arts have a tendency to be more evident in the beginning of the learning
process, when trying to understand how and why things work in this particular school
and failing to do so for a significant time. Yet since traditional martial arts tend to
put less focus on practicality and pressure testing, instead emphasizing very specific
details and particular, learnable skill set, a new student after a while starts to learn
them by heart, which leads one to experience failure less and less frequently, since he
knows what and when to do exactly. Since pressure testing or live sparring is
often times missing in these schools, there is no more way to clearly show the limitations
of this student, once more starting to limit the amount of experienced failure dramatically. This growing lack of failure in a student,
potentially starts to build an unrealistic perception of one’s own martial skills,
as this person becomes recognized and respected amongst school members, being able to perform
the specific techniques with cooperative partners on an excellent level, the way he or she is
expected to, without having a real actual live challenge where someone would by all
means try to make the practitioner fail and where he inevitably would frequently fail,
lacking this experience of constant failure, a potential sense of being unbeatable starts
to develop in this student. This is the realm where there is a lot of
potential for ego growth. Give only compliments to a person you know
for a month and most likely, you will start to see how they soon become overconfident. Keep telling the same person that he or she
is bad and most likely soon enough they will start to consider themselves a loser. This is how our psyche works. We often times rely on others to define how
we are. The best balance is where we receive a mix
between a feeling of success and failure, where we see our progress, yet we are also
forced to recognize our limitations and capacity to grow further. If we experience success unproportionally
more frequently than failure, our mind starts to naturally come to a conclusion that we
have reached perfection and excellence, far greater than that of others who still fail. This idea gives a huge sense of “I am better
than others”, which we often times call – having a big “ego”, because it is all
about me. Unfortunately, the way many traditional martial
arts are set up, giving a chance for a student to learn a specific, defined and unchallengeable
skill set without constantly needing to test it with alive resistance, where someone would
try to make the practitioner fail by all means, without constantly failing, all of it easily
creates the described conditions for an ego boost and unrealistic expectations. Maybe not in the first year. Maybe not in the second year. And not to say that when a person progresses
in a traditional martial art he stops experiencing failure all together. But by the time someone becomes a black belt
in a traditional martial art, it is quite common to experience a great sense of ego
in this person, due to his mastery of required skill set, knowledge and often times cherished
hierarchy system, which leaves even less space to question and actually challenge a higher
ranking person, unsurprisingly leading to the described results when you know how it
all works. Not to say that no one has immunity for this
boost of ego either. I’ve met some great traditional martial
arts black belts, yet I’ve also engaged with and heard others sharing their experience
of meeting a huge number of bloated egos in traditional martial arts. On the other hand when I started engaging
in more practical martial arts, I was surprised by the number of humble people I’ve met. Again, not to say that there are no egos here
either, yet the ratio was clearly different. When I experienced this difference, a natural
question arose – how come it is so? The answer in my opinion lies on the same
train of thought. Martial arts which are focused on the practical
aspect tend to engage much more in constant, never ending pressure testing, where both
practitioners are highly committed to make each other fail in order to really develop
efficiency in their technique, while not worrying if the tradition is so much as preserved. This way, you keep experiencing constant failure
from the first day you enter such a school, till… Forever. Because even when you are a high ranking person,
there is someone who ranks even higher than you, has significantly more experience than
you do, and you posses this knowledge not only theoretically, which would not be enough
to be authentically challenging – but you experience that directly by being tapped out,
kicked or punched effectively by this higher ranking student, which is a direct experience
of your limitations, constantly reminding you, that you will never be the best and that
you still have so much to learn even after 10, 20 or even 30 years of practice. This process makes sure to keep your ego in
check. And while some high ranking traditional martial
artists may be heard saying that they know that are still just a student and that they
have much to learn, it is one thing to speak of it theoretically, and it is a whole nother
thing to have a constant direct experience and reminder of it. This also clearly explains why a traditional
martial artist who after years of practicing his martial art enters for the first time
a practical martial arts school and decides to test his skills vs a boxer, wrestler, kick
boxer, or other practitioner who is used to constant pressure testing. The traditional martial artist under these
circumstances, usually experiences a huge blow to their ego, as as much as 90% of what
they learned for years fails completely. He then usually leaves confused and hopefully
humbled, because their idea of reality and their skill set suddenly become leveled by
direct experience of a tremendous amount of failing, often times given by much less experienced
practitioners of a practical martial art, which makes the lesson even that much more
difficult. I hope that this description of lack of failure
in traditional martial arts and how it potentially affects a practitioners mentality will help
both sides – those in the practical martial arts realm trying to understand why and how
sometimes traditional martial artists act and especially those in the traditional martial
arts world, who’ve potentially gone for years without really challenging themselves
anymore, without really testing their skill set and leaving the comfort zone, always finding
an excuse not to do so. I encourage all of you to be sincere with
yourself and ask – why not challenge myself and try a live sparring with a practitioner
of a generally acknowledged practical martial art? I know that they “do not practice for the
street”, but again, what do you have to lose in testing yourself, besides… Your ego? And if this message and suggestion makes you
frustrated, I also advise you to check yourself, because if you feel frustrated, that probably
means your ego and strongly developed and held onto limited beliefs are being threatened
and challenged. Because if you would be 100% confident in
what you do, why would this video and challenge threaten you? This was Rokas and I wish you to own your
Journey.

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