Last time I wrote that continuous improvement was the most important thing to me in training. What about the rest of the club? As always, my club mates shared a lot of valuable thoughts and insight.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that nobody sees belts and grades as the most important goal in their training. Everybody recognises what they are for, and they do represent a tangible, physical sign of progress but at the same time that was not the motivating factor.
It's funny because the very first question everybody who does martial arts gets asked is "are you a black belt". To the wider population, the black belt still seems to be viewed as a mystical symbol of "BEING REALLY GOOD AT THIS" when to practitioners it's only a step along the way.
It's not that belts are entirely unimportant. David made the point that they help to measure progress and, particularly for our junior members, are an excellent incentive to continue training. At a young age, a new belt is a very tangible thing to focus on and children may see the belt as the goal without recognising the underlying improvement in their skills.
However, Jamie contrasted this by pointing out that over the 11 years he has been training, many people have reached first Dan black belt and then stopped, as if getting the black belt was the end of the journey. It could be considered wasting the potential to develop so much more. It may be a cliché but a black belt in itself is not the pinnacle of any martial art but instead the beginning of the journey.
So if it's not that £5 length of black cotton that drives people, what does?
It was a unanimous statement that ongoing sense of development was the driving force. Paul and Jamie agreed that it is the awareness of your own improvement and the resulting sense of satisfaction when a technique feels better, crisper and stronger than before.
Emma enjoys training the most when she feels improvement, whether it is in a particular skill or her fitness. During a recent ground work practice, she felt like she was going backwards in terms of performance (I can relate to that!) when training with Hugh but when mentioning it to him, he said he was just raising the bar. She was getting better, so Hugh increased the intensity of the practice to continue that development.
David trains for the continual challenge of improving his posture, his technique and his fitness. David is older than Paul and Jamie but has the same motivation. As we get older, the benefits of the training on our health, fitness and flexibility is obvious.
One thing we do not have in Shoto Budo is competitive fighting , something Jamie considers a strength, saying rather than measuring yourself against others, compete with yourself to improve. If competitive fighting is your thing, then our club may not be for you but then again, if we did competition fights it probably wouldn't be for me. IF we were to introduce a competitive, it would very much change the game. Today we can train with all of our club mates, regardless of sizes, age or sex. Introduce competition and all of a sudden that is no longer possible. Training with someone twenty years younger, several centimetres taller and kilos heavier, becomes a lot less appealing if their aim is to take off my head!
In a similar vein, Emma has been to clubs and had her "head kicked in", an understandably miserable experience. She prefers the feeling after training that she got at least one thing right / improved / learned something new and it helps that we all get along and have a laugh in the process.
I've mentioned the satisfaction of a "light bulb" going on and Emma similarly finds that sometimes training is frustrating when, after demonstration, she can't quite grasp it. This can be frustrating but then all of sudden; something clicks whether it is something simple like a small body movement or a particularly complex technique.
Paul pointed out an additional skill, that of coaching. It's not just your own skills development but the ability to pass on what we have learned is popular with everyone. That in itself is a whole new skill which must be improved continually in order to maintain your own progression and that of the club. Paul makes an excellent point here and to quote Einstein (a first for this website), "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself".
Beyond the fitness and on a very personal level, Jamie sent me a lot of thoughts on this. It was such an honest, powerful comment that I want to quote him directly (I did check with him first).
"Martial arts have moulded me to be the person that I am today. When I was younger, I was bullied for even showing a shred of my authentic self: from things as bizarre as my height to my campiness. I had problems at home; I didn't have great friends who sometimes were just bullies in sheep's clothing.
Shoto Budo was one of the very few places bar my music that didn't care about any of that. It pushed me to look into myself and find my inner strength to fight and push on with my life. Frankly if I didn't have it I don't know where I would be. Nearly 11 years on and I am happier than I've ever been.
Martial arts were one of the very few places I could be selfish, having spent my entire childhood and adolescence trying to please others, and mostly people who took my kindness for granted. The other aspect that makes martial arts what it is - family - didn't care that I was an awkward, camp, nerdy weirdo and accepted me as I am. That's what I am. A gay, nerdy, brass playing black belt; and I am kick ass"
I can't add much to that other than say it is an awesome statement of what our martial art can mean to somebody's life. Jamie wasn't alone in this view of it as a family with Hugh and Diana making very similar comments.
As you can see, the most important things to BMAC members are the development and growth; being better than you were before and improving those around you. The belts are nice but that personal challenge and development is the thing that motivates us all. It's brought a lot of pleasure and development to all of us, hopefully something that would appeal to any new members who would like to join us on this journey.
Scott has been training in Shoto Budo since 2007 and is a 1st Dan Black Belt. He is working towards his 2nd Dan grading.