It’s okay to suck

One of the more valuable lessons you can learn in martial arts is that things are hard. New things are difficult and awkward, and you will feel like a fool as you learn. It’s unavoidable. Sometimes you look like a fool even after learning something.

I remember when I finally nailed the jump-spinning inside crescent kick. The kung fu form I was learning at the time required me to execute three of them in a row with no pause. I received zero instruction in how to do it. A senior student demonstrated the movement precisely once, and told me I wouldn’t learn anything else until I could perform it. It took about a week…15hrs training time. I moved from awkward hops and flailing to a sharp spin, jump, and quick kick. Land and repeat. Easy-peasy. Then I got cocky. I started to pick the speed up. I tried for more height, more power. My confidence grew. It was my favourite show-off technique for a while. Until I over-rotated one day and landed flat on my back. In front of the cute girl I was showing off to.

A lesson in humility, and a good one. But I still worked that kick, over and over…even though for months I was still convinced I was going to fall again and look like an idiot. Fear of looking like an idiot, of sucking, is just a part of martial arts training. Just like pain, and frustration. You learn to accept it.

I know a lot of singers. I know even more people who don’t sing. You know why most people don’t sing? Too afraid of letting that first note out of their mouths. They know it will suck, and that scares them. Singers are the ones that let that first croak out, and then the second, and the umpteenth. Eventually they got better. It’s an astoundingly rare person who opens their mouth and has a good note come out.

When I started to incorporate gymnastics and breakdancing into my martial arts classes, I had to deal with a minor rebellion. Some students just completely froze up. Throwing a punch was okay. A cartwheel? Not so much. Dancing? What if I look like an idiot? Well…you will. But so will everyone else. It was hard for everyone, but the ones that held their noses and jumped in and embraced the suck? They got better. Lots better. And they started to reap the benefits of the challenging training.

Fear of failure, fear of sucking. It stops you from moving. And that’s why martial artists need to learn to embrace that fear, and practice overcoming it.

Working security, working the door as a bouncer…you can’t hesitate when it comes time to move. In self-defense it’s even more critical. You must move. And yet, it’s the hardest thing to do. If you can make that one first motion, everything else will fall into place (Somehow! But that’s another post.) But often you won’t make that move. You won’t do anything. You may not freeze, but you might feel like someone put a dunce cap on you. You get dumb. Your thoughts slow right down. It’s fear. Fear of doing the right thing. Fear of standing out. Fear of looking foolish, of doing the wrong thing and being humiliated for it. It can freeze you stone cold, while the most horrible things happen. It happens to people all the time, every day.

There are a lot of things you can do to train yourself past that. Scenario-based training is an excellent method. Getting a job as a bouncer is also pretty good! But simple things are good as well. The reflex that stops you from interrupting a vandal is the same reflex that stops you from opening your mouth and singing. Or taking a ballet class. It’s not nearly as severe, but by practicing overcoming those small fears, we do build skill at overcoming acute fears.

I learned in grade school to be afraid to talk. Opening my mouth brought me ridicule from a particularly twisted teacher. Teaching martial arts taught me, and let me practice, not just talking but yelling. I learned to project and use my voice to control a noisy class. And that simple training let me use my voice as a lash to control rowdy drunks in a bar, to stop vandals and thieves, and stop more than one punch cold in its tracks. Everything in life is practice. Few things are more valuable to practice than overcoming the fear of sucking.

One Comment

  1. So true for so many fields of endeavour!

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