No matter how terrible the martial art, it always seems like a good fighter can come out of the school. Conversely, even the best styles can have complete drudges for students. It happens. In the poor style…or even in a poor school…the student with the right motivation will find a way to excel. Really bad technique can hamper them and teach them bad habits, but usually they just respond by gravitating to one or two workable techniques and putting serious effort into them.

In a good school, the chump students are the ones who show up basically just to kill time. They pile on excuses for not really ever trying, but they never seem to stop showing up. I’ve never understood what keeps such people showing up class after class. People who’ve been blessed by nature with a complete immunity to learning, due to physical shortcomings or “wiring” issues, still put a ton of effort in despite the constant frustration, because they have a powerful desire to learn what they can. The muddlers never find out if they have ability or inability because they never really try.

Tapping in to the motivation to get better is something some people just seem to be able to do. I’ve got my insatiable curiosity to carry me past my original goals. Others have their motivations. The successful ones in the bad schools are the ones that seem to have the most fun in what they do, oddly enough. They aren’t the ones that are single-minded grumps, surely uncare bears that live for the suffering and hard work. Instead, they embrace what there is, and work harder than others with a zeal. It’s not so much single-minded as it is narrow minded.

Without concern about whether their art or training is correct or even good, they just train. They always smile, even when their friends at better schools kick their butts. After enough years, that single-minded approach can pay off. It doesn’t take a lot of technique to win bouts or competitions, it just takes a lot of practice. Without worrying about good or bad, these odd souls have more mental energy to engage themselves in their training of the one or two good techniques or philosophies that work for them.

Of course, the students at the good school, if they train diligently, will still eat them alive. One or two good tricks can win a lot of fights, but you stop winning when the trick is exposed, and the counter widely known. And the very good students from a good school won’t be tricked by much in the first place. Good schools teach a caution and an awareness of the opponent as a thing to be developed ahead of an ability to land a quick, sketchy winning shot.

The bad schools can make the good student stand out. You can learn a lot from those students. If they can find success in a bad environment, why can’t you find that much more success in a good environment? The worthy from the poor school is the engine of his own success, and uses his school as best he can. The poor student at the good school waits to learn, expects to be taught, and when he fails at any task, he worries about what he’s been taught. Or worries that she is not good enough. Worries are things that happen when the student is paying attention only to themselves, and not actively trying to take, to own, what they can from the lesson being offered.

In Zen instruction, it is taught that the potential for enlightenment is being constantly poured into the student, at every moment, through every sense. It is never a co-incidence that a phrase, word, sight, smell or touch triggers the breakthrough, but merely that the student finally found a way, for a split second, to open themselves to the potential.

Everytime you pick up a sword, you open yourselves up. Choose your guard carefully.