So, tonight's class lesson was good enough that it inspired me to get back out there and write something. Yes. I know it's been a good while...Life, you know? At any rate, I think this one actually got through to my youth students, if only for the hour that they were with me tonight. Well, the best lessons bear repeating, don't they?
The lesson in question is normally taught as a lesson in Economics, but it turns out that it works pretty well for martial arts as well, and life in general, for that matter. Many of you probably already know the lesson, but I encourage you to look at it again, anyway, and analyze it from the perspective of a martial artist, as well as that of an instructor, should that apply to you.
I started by simply writing three words on the board, with the instructions "Pick Only Two". I asked the students to pick two in their minds, but not to share with anyone else.
I also encouraged them to consider the fact that "cheap" does not necessarily have to be thought of in only in terms of money, but that the idea of "cost" should be considered, including what something costs in terms of the more valuable currencies of time, determination, concentration, and effort. Only after everyone had picked did I encourage them to share. If I do this lesson again, I will probably print out slips of paper with these three words on them, and have each student circle two, in order to get a truly accurate picture of which two items most students would pick. Nonetheless, I asked the students to share the two items they had picked, and then separated them based on what they had chosen, and ended up with three different groups.
Group Number One was Fast and Cheap. Inevitably, there will be at least someone who has never been exposed to this lesson that will pick these two options. After all, this is how we would all prefer things to be,right? We have also ll seen students who try to make these two things work, and let's be honest, most of us have probably tried this path at least once, and have regretted it later. The problem with this, of course, is that if we pick Fast and Cheap, we can't have Good, too. Unfortunately:
Not in the "I actually mean good and tough" Michael Jackson way, though. Fast and Cheap results in just plain old bad, in the shoddy, sloppy, lazy, unskilled, and ignorant way. The Fast and Cheap mentality results in the Instant Gratification, Fast Food, Mass-Produced, Low Quality culture we see all too often. This is the path of the so-called "McDojo" that will award a black belt in one to two years, simply for showing up. This is the path to nowhere.
This is the path the serious martial artist must push away and ultimately reject entirely. After all, the goal is to "Get Good", right? As Boromir tell us, though:
We must then move on to Group Number two. This group chose Good and Cheap. Whether by conscience choice or not, this is the path most of us probably follow, at least at some point in our lives, and is also probably the path that most of our students will follow as well. Here we must remove the overly derogatory connotations of the word "Cheap". When we look at this option in terms of our martial arts training, we need to look at "Cheap" again in terms of how much our progress costs us. "Cheap" in this context is measured in terms of how much effort we give, how much actual training time we put in on the mat or floor, how much dedication we show, and how much thought we are willing to put into our development. These are the currencies with which we may purchase our martial arts proficiency, and the less we are willing to spend, the more we realize that:
This isn't saying that it isn't possible to become very proficient in the martial arts if you don't dedicate every waking moment to your training. It also isn't saying that those students who expend less effort than others in a given class, or even over a span of several ranks aren't worth our effort as instructors. It is simply important to acknowledge that this path will take much longer. This is the path for those who accept the fact that earning a black belt is probably going to take them AT LEAST five years, and quite possibly more. This is the path for those who understand that true proficiency will always come only when the ultimate bill is paid. This is the long and winding path that takes the time to see all the scenery along the way. It is the path that will get you there, but only if you are willing to follow it to the end.
The real truth, though, is that you only get out "cheaply" in the short term. In the long term, you will still pay the price if you want the "prize".
Here then, we must look at the final group. Group Number Three chose Good and Fast. We have already acknowledged that there is always an ultimate bill to be paid in order to "get good". The difference here is that the bill must be paid up front. This path shows us that:
If we want our skills to improve more quickly, advance in rank in a faster than average amount of time, or see our students improve with each passing class and examination, then we must pay the bill. The cost is in effort expended for both the student and the instructor. The cost is in determination and dedication. The cost is in training: real, deliberate, and unyielding. This is the path for those who are willing to work more than the average person. This is the path that few will choose, precisely because it comes with the highest costs. It must be the best path, though, right? It does get the quickest results, and only the most hardcore will take it, so it must be the one we should all strive to take, isn't it? Well, maybe, but not necessarily. This is the path with the quickest rewards, yes, but it also the most treacherous path, with the most risk.
I recently watched a video posted by someone who trained at the Shaolin Temple to become what is known as a "warrior monk", one who dedicates himself to learning the art of Shaolin Kung Fu. He explained that the training was grueling and unrelenting, generally taking up 7 hours every day. He absolutely "got good" at his art quickly by following this path, but ultimately, the cost proved to be too much, as he had to leave the temple due to a serious injury. This path will yield rewards, yes, but the dangers of physical injury, burnout, alienation from others, and general exhaustion are all too real.
This then concludes our lesson. Which path is yours? Which options will you choose in order to create that path? In the end, it really is up to you. Just remember, though: You can only pick two.
Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.