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Are You Training for Growth or Survival?

Black Belt Karate

You work hard during every training session. Whether practicing katas, techniques or freestyle sparring, your physical efforts are an outward attempt to maximize your combative abilities. But have you taken a moment before class to really analyze the goals you wish to accomplish on that particular day? You are obviously practicing and building your skills. However, allow me just a moment to suggest you consider whether your training is dedicated to your overall growth or simply your survival for the workout session.

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What am in driving at with this question?

I train in multiple Marital Arts disciplines. During a recent BJJ class, this question flashed into my mind while struggling with all my might to avoid being choked out by a superior grappler. With only a couple of years of BJJ training under my belt, I am a relative novice in the grappling arts. I find that I frequently revert to survival mode when up against a training partner on the mat with considerably more experience. The goal becomes making it through the round without tapping. Surviving the round is important but surviving the round “at all costs” stunts the opportunity for growth.

Clinging to our old tried and true techniques that enable us to survive is not exclusive to rolling. It’s also something we tend to do in stand-up striking as well. We know what has worked for us in the past, which is why we lean on it like a comfortable old cane that is always there for us. In doing so, we may survive the session. However, allow me to suggest that it is this practice of simple survival during training that keeps us from growing.

Why do we do this?

Well, the desire to survive is innate and it makes sense to cling to what works. But, in a training situation we intellectually know that we will “survive,” so what is really holding us back? I believe a big part of what’s halting our growth is our ego. The desire to maintain our self-esteem or self-importance forces us to cling to hanging on for dear life in training rather than taking a chance on a less than perfect technique that’s sitting on the shelf in our arsenal collecting dust. It is the practice of these alternative techniques we must employ to ultimately grow.

Again, this isn’t limited to any particular Martial Arts discipline. However, it becomes increasingly apparent in a pressure cooker like situation. For example, when performing techniques in a controlled manner where our training partner allows us to practice without threat of retribution, we can build a skill and glide through it efficiently. But when we are in the high-pressure circumstances of a live roll or sparring session, we clam up and are unable to draw upon the technique. There are of course practical and technical considerations that may hold us back. But it is at this point, when we must force our ego’s firm grip to let go and simply go for it.

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Training is meant to challenge us and at the same time give us the freedom to try new things. This is the time to apply the lessons learned during the technical moments in class. I’m not suggesting that I am a master of letting go of my ego and always going with the flow. However, I can relay that many of the most significant advancements I make in any of my training sessions come when I let go of trying to win and instead work to grow. Ultimately, isn’t this what our Martial Arts training is about anyway?

Before your next session, I challenge you to ask yourself if you are training merely to survive the class or training to grow as a Martial Artist? Whatever happens on the mats, when we put our ego aside and train for growth we ultimately win.


Ian Lauer

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