I just realized yesterday that in less than one month it will be 23 years since I received my first black belt. It was July 6, 1996 to be exact. I was 17 years old and I tested for my cho-dan, or 1st degree black belt, in Taekwondo through the ATA (American Taekwondo Association).
I remember training incessantly; running through all of my sequences, techniques, sparring and board breaking. I was ready. The test itself was fairly standard and uneventful as far as tests go: I went before the review board, tested and passed. Afterwards, a group of us went out for an early dinner, as was our usual custom at least once a week after class and after a tournament or a testing; seeing as how it was a testing where several of our core little gang achieved black belt status, we decided to hit up the local Colorado Steakhouse instead of the local places we usually dropped in on after class. I was a bit more quiet than usual, which prompted some of my classmates to ask if anything was wrong, and in reality, there was nothing wrong.
Part of it was the inevitable adrenaline draw-down after an event you have been anticipating and training hard for is over-but part of it was that I realized that this was not the end to anything; it was just one more stop in my journey…which leads me to the main idea behind this post.
It doesn’t matter that I have since shifted arts.
It doesn’t matter that I no longer “officially” practice, train or teach Taekwondo (although I do fiddle around with the forms from time to time for pure enjoyment and nostalgia’s sake-lots of great memories there).
What matters is that every lesson I learned about the martial arts since I have begun training lays the foundation for more lessons to be learned; each skill I acquired in my days with the ATA laid the tracks for me to acquire more skill.
Each fear I faced and conquered- whether it be in sparring, performing a form in front of a large auditorium or slamming my hand through 6 concrete blocks on a dare (true story)- challenged my comfort zone to grow further, which in turn gave me the strength and confidence to challenge my comfort zone even more.
It’s All Part of The Process
Most of us who have trained for awhile have switched schools, styles or training systems-more than once, in fact. It is a common occurrence to hear many folks lament the time spent in other styles or arts prior to their chosen favorite, saying things like,
“I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time training in X,”
“I wish I had found this style earlier instead of wasting so much time on X.”
And if I am to be honest I must confess at various points in my soon to be 26 year martial arts journey thus far (I had a few years training in Hung Gar kungfu prior to my joining the ATA, but those are stories for another day) I have uttered those same words on a few occasions-but not any more.
For one, the friendships I made throughout my martial arts journey remain to this day and are some of the strongest bonds I have ever forged with other people. I wouldn’t trade those for the world. I also believe that we are placed exactly where we need to be at a certain time for our highest good. If that be the case-which it is whether you, me or anyone else can see it or believe it or not-how can any time spent anywhere be wasted? Actually, there is one way it can: by not appreciating these experiences for all that they are.
Remember that any training is good training if you use it properly and view it in the right way.
There is no such thing as “wasted time” training if you view all training as a constant opportunity to better yourself.
If you have trained in other styles or arts prior to Wing Chun, good for you! NEVER look at that as wasted time; instead, mentally review the art or style you studied, look for commonalities in your training now and glean the benefits of prior experiences to propel you further in your master of Wing Chun. Maintain your friendships with those you met in the arts-you are part of a small group worldwide that engage in this activity. Never lose touch with that or with them. Please trust me on this one.
What It’s All About
The long and the short of it is this: all arts were created for one purpose- COMBAT. As human beings, it’s what we do, and as UFC President Dana White said, “fighting is in our DNA; we get it, and we like it.”
Funny thing is, as we have grown more “civilized” in society (this one is up for debate) the need to utilize skills such as this for direct combat has, in a day to day immediate sense, gone away, which leads to generation after generation deviating further from the source of all arts: personal preservation.
The goods are still there, hiding in plain sight within any art you train in now or have worked in the past. All arts share a common thread-the finite range of the human body.
The essence of self defense is within each and every martial arts system out there. It is up to each of us to find it. Revisit these experiences, look for the lessons that time taught you and inject it into your training now-you will be better for it.
Train Smart, Stay Safe