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4 Actionable Tips to Becoming a Better Martial Artist

by Melanie Gibson

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Did you set a new year resolution this year? If so, do they happen to be martial arts related? Do you think you will actually achieve them?

Statistics for failed New Year’s resolutions run anywhere between 45-80%. Now that another new year is here, it’s time to focus and set our eyes back on the prize in order to not become part of this rather bleak data. To help you, on this post, I’ll be highlighting a couple personal tips that may help make both your short-term and long-term goals stick.

Focusing on small milestones, following your motivation, challenging yourself, and finding what inspires you can help you make improvements for the rest year and meet or even surpass your martial arts goals and beyond!

Do Something You Enjoy


Choose to do something you enjoy

Image credit: Louyang Shaolin Kung Fu Academy


You’re much more likely to stay motivated and make improvements if you’re doing something you enjoy. What is your absolute favorite thing to do at your martial arts school? If you love to spar find ways to push yourself harder. Ask your instructor for pointers. Train with higher-ranking students. Seek out tournaments in your area for a challenge.

What if you’re doing what you love, and you’re already good at it, but you don’t know how to improve? Avoid stagnation by digging deeper into your favorite activity. Find ways to go out of your comfort zone. Ask for help and feedback even in areas where you feel you are at your best. For example, if you enjoy doing forms, ask your instructor to work with you on finer details.

Play around with timing and emphasis. Enter or at least attend a tournament to see how other martial artists practice forms and see what you can learn from them. Seek out master classes, seminars, and clinics in your area. If you want some fun and relaxation while you practice consider taking a martial arts holiday.

Alternatively, you can also work on your training from the comfort of your own home by joining an online martial arts training. As you won’t even have to step foot outside, there’s simply no excuse not to keep up your practice!

Start Small


Start with manageable goals


Think about your long-term goals and then break it down into small milestones. Do you want to be able to do fifty push-ups in one set, but right now you can only do ten? Don’t burn yourself out on day one trying to do all fifty. You may injure yourself or simply become discouraged that you can’t reach your goal immediately.

Slow down. Scale back. Try adding five extra push-ups per week, and over time you’ll build up the strength and stamina you need to meet your goal.

Maybe you have transferred schools and need to relearn the particular forms or self-defense techniques practiced at your new school. I have seen this happen with black belts and higher-ranking color belts who have transferred to my dojang. For example, a fellow black belt practiced Taeguk taekwondo forms at her old dojang, but now she needs to learn the Palgwe forms that we practice.

Rather than trying to learn everything at once, which will likely feel overwhelming, start with one technique or one form. Ask an instructor or another black belt for help. Watch videos online. Move on to the next technique when you are able to perform the first one without any guidance or prompts. 


Do Something You’ve Been Avoiding


Encourage yourself to do something you've been putting off

Image credit: Chokchai Muay Thai


Sometimes you have to do things in martial arts that you don’t enjoy as much but you still have to do due to tradition, class schedules, and keeping your practice well-rounded. Martial arts may be the hardest thing you do, but it shouldn’t feel like drudgery. Think about what you don’t enjoy as much in class or what you dread doing, and try to figure out why you avoid it. Perhaps you don’t like it because you’re not very skilled (yet), you don’t do it very often, you find it stressful, or you simply find it boring.

Challenge yourself. Find the “fun” in something that has simply felt like work. It’s easy to get better at something you enjoy and you’re naturally good at doing. Just think of how it will feel when you make improvements in an area where you have continuously struggled.

Leveraging your strengths can help you develop skills in areas where you struggle. For example, if sparring is particularly challenging, be mindful of other times when you use blocks or strikes such as in forms or self-defense. Make them as sharp and powerful as you would in a faster-paced sparring match. Ask your instructor to incorporate quick reaction drills into classes. Attend extra sparring classes, and if you are a black belt or higher ranking, attend lower ranking sparring classes and offer to coach or referee. Teaching a skill can help you make vast improvements in your own practice.


Keep Dreaming Big


Dream big!

Image credit: Park’s Taekwondo Federation


Set short-term goals, but don’t lose sight of the big goals. I learned this lesson from one of the youngest students in my dojang. Just before the start of the new year, my chief instructor said he wanted us to share our Taekwondo resolutions. A tiny five-year-old who had recently graduated from a white belt to orange belt came up to me with a worried expression on his face.

“What am I supposed to bring him?” he asked, pointing at our instructor.

“A resolution isn’t a thing you give like a present,” I explained. “It’s something you do. What do you want to do next year? How about becoming a yellow belt! I think that’s a good resolution.”

“A resolution isn’t a thing you give like a present,” I explained. “It’s something you do. What do you want to do next year? How about becoming a yellow belt! I think that’s a good resolution.”

He paused for a moment then put his hands on his hips, puffed out his chest, and shouted, “I want to be a black belt!”

Well, that is a resolution worth having.

Dream big, work hard, and make this year your best martial arts year yet!


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