At a certain stage in our personal martial arts journey we realise that what we have undertaken is different from most sporting pursuits and encompasses more than just the training of the body. The more evolved martial arts studios, schools, dojos have leaders that realise that the training requires a mental and spiritual component as well.
As a teacher and trainer it is humbling to see the immensely powerful transformations in students – both adult and children – as they embrace all the elements of training in martial arts. One of the key lessons that students learn is that nothing of value is achieved without effort.
Making an effort is usually achieved through the small things – attending training when you are tired or would rather sleep in, pushing through the minor injuries, not listening to the little inner traitor voice that say’s “I can’t” because knowing deep down that we can achieve amazing things just by consistently turning up and having a go, giving it our best.
Over the next weeks in our network of schools we have a number of adult and junior students going for first dan ranking (black belt, shodan), junior black belt and also higher dan rankings. They got to where they are through years of effort and application and the fruit of that can be seen in their readiness for the grade test. We wish them all the best, but not of luck, that’s not needed here – they have done the work already!
In psychology there is a learning model called the four stages of competence:
(The definitions of these categories are fairly obvious, but if you are interested there is summary information on the competence learning model on Wikipedia)
As a martial artist, looking back at my journey so far, I can see myself moving through all of these stages, and to be honest I am still working to achieve “unconscious competence” in many areas, maybe even “conscious competence”.
But I respectfully suggest that the model doesn’t embrace the stage of excellence, and even beyond that to mastery.
In order to understand that, and in far more a poetic way, we turn to our martial arts ancestors – the Samurai (from Hagakure – Way of the Samurai, with my overlay in red):
In one’s life. there are levels in the pursuit of study. In the lowest level, a person studies but nothing comes of it, and he feels that both he and others are unskillful. At this point he is worthless. ~ Unconscious incompetence
In the middle level he is still useless but is aware of his own insufficiencies and can also see the insufficiencies of others. ~ Conscious incompetence
In a higher level he has pride concerning his own ability, rejoices in praise from others, and laments the lack of ability in his fellows. This man has worth. ~ Conscious competence
In the highest level a man has the look of knowing nothing. ~ Unconscious competence / excellence
These are the levels in general;.
But there is one transcending level, and this is the most excellent of all. This person is aware of the endlessness of entering deeply into a certain Way and never thinks of himself as having finished.~ Excellence to mastery
He truly knows his own insufficiencies and never in his whole life thinks that he has succeeded. ~ Embracing the journey and the lifelong effort to continuously improve
He has no thoughts of pride but with self-abasement knows the Way to the end. It is said that Master Yagyu once remarked, “I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself.” ~ Effort and self correction
Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending. ~ the life long martial arts journey
See you on the mats – Ben