One Martial Arts Mistake that Cost Me Years (And How You Can Avoid It)

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5H6A4349-2We’ve talked before in this blog about the obligation of the senior student in the martial arts. It boils down to making sure that we’re taking care of the newer, junior student.

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that there are a lot of reasons to do that, but the main one is to preserve the training environment. That way we always have a well of training partners to draw from. We look for ways to keep them, not ways to dispose of them.

But that’s just part of the story. 

The junior student carries part of the burden of that relationship also, and sadly, I didn’t always understand that. So let me share one mistake I made not as a senior student, but as a junior student.

As a purple belt, I would often measure my own progress against the black belts in the class. I would place myself in competition with them in the classroom whenever I had a chance. I would go at them as hard as I could, and I made that my litmus test.  In the mafia, they’d call that “making your bones” – your initiation isn’t complete until you’ve reduced an enemy to their bones.

But here’s what happened….

Instead of “eliminating” those black belts, I ended up eliminating myself. I never developed good relationships with my seniors. I never grew into a role where they could help me. I was never available as the junior student, so I shut the door to my own progress.

You see, for the junior student there is a very important dynamic vis-a-vis the senior practitioner. It’s not like other relationships, it’s not like two beer buddies watching football together. The interplay is very subtle. But if we’re smart, we can avoid reducing it to its lowest common denominator – the opponent, the other, the enemy, even the hero to topple.

My encouragement is to be careful that you’re not evaluating your progress based only on your attempts to “shut down” a senior student.

Think for a moment about what that means.

If you can explore the dynamics, there’s a chance to benefit each others’ progress for the long term. Add on top of that the possibility that in a couple of years time you have the chance to :

– have more confidence in unfamiliar social situations
– be more open with people you know (and people you don’t)
– develop powerful, lifelong relationships with likeminded people
– become more present when people are trying help you outside the school
– stave off complacency and nostalgia
– insure ongoing personal growth

And those are just a few of the side benefits of this whole project. 

I’ll leave you with this formula: Seniors, grow the juniors and preserve the classroom. Juniors, assimilate to the process and make room for your progress. That’s the interdependent nature of this type of martial arts training.


For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.

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