Tag Archives: life advice

Q&A: Never to Late to Start

I want to learn a martial art but I am 25. I feel like I’m too old to train my body for something new. I even tried to take figure skating classes a year ago and it was embarrassing and frustrating. Everyone who great at something seemed to learn when they were kids. I read books all day and do well with learning new intellectual things but struggle with learning new physical skills.

Twenty-five is not too young. I’ve seen people get their black belts in their eighties, I’ve seen cancer survivors get their black belts, one of my major training partners for my third degree black belt was a woman in her mid forties who’d survived a stroke and the other was a man in his late forties/early fifties. Dave went on to get his fourth degree, and is still a part-time instructor at our martial arts school to this day. He got into martial arts because of his kids, and stayed long after they quit because he loved it.

Believe it or not, most martial arts masters and instructors at most schools actually started in their late teens/early twenties. You get the rare ones who start when they’re five or twelve, but most of the ones who start as kids eventually quit. They lose interest, and go on to do something else.

You’re not going to get past the embarrassing and frustrating part if you’re embarrassed by struggling, nothing regarding physical activity is going to click quickly. Training your body to do something new takes time. Realistically, in a recreational martial arts school where you train three days a week for forty-five minutes to an hour a day, the techniques will start to click about three months after you start. That’s if you’re consistent with showing up to training, and if you try hard. At two years, the techniques are going to feel good and you’ll be limber enough/coordinated enough to start doing them well. Four years to six years in is when you usually test for your first black belt, so that’s when you actually start getting good.

However, it’s only embarrassing and frustrating if you let it be.

There’s a real reason why willpower and fortitude are the most admired traits in martial arts. You don’t give up in the face of adversity. Mostly, this is a learned skill. The vast majority of people who start give up within the first three months. They get frustrated and they get bored because they’re not progressing fast enough. Physical activity is the beast where the conditioning part feels miserable until you reach a point where your body clicks, you plateau, it gets easy, and then you start all over again. There are no short cuts, you just have to do it.

It’s important to remember that the stunt actors you see in the movies have made martial arts and martial arts choreography their careers. The people you see who started as kids have all been doing this for anywhere between five to fourteen years depending on how old they are now. You don’t get to see how they looked when they started out, which most of them will admit was pretty terrible in comparison to what you’re currently seeing.

You’ve got to give yourself permission to suck. Give yourself permission to say, “yeah, I’m doing okay.” Realize everyone you train with has been where you are, at the beginning, at the bottom of the mountain and intimidated by the climb. It’s going to take awhile for your body to catch up to what your mind imagines, and you probably won’t be able to do a high kick day one. Or day two, or by day three. It takes time for your body to build up coordination, to develop your balance, and work on your flexibility.

Be honest with yourself about what you really want from the martial art experience. There’s nothing to stop you at twenty-five from eventually competing on the martial arts circuit if that’s what you want, but if you just want to practice recreationally or get skills for self-defense then try not to beat yourself up for not being Jet Li.

Focus on the progress you are making, rather than what you’re not doing right. Try to have fun. Find a good, supportive community, most martial arts schools aren’t what people imagine. They’re family affairs with people who start from all different ages and are from different walks of life. They’re communal, rather than competitive. They’ll push you to find the best version of yourself, if you’re willing to put in the time.

Learning not to be immediately discouraged by something your not immediately good at is difficult. It may take a few tries to find a martial art and a school which fit you. I can’t promise the experience won’t be frustrating at times and occasionally embarrassing because it is, you’re going to fall down even when you’re really good. You’ll get sweaty, and gross, and your face will be a red mess, you’ll get out of breath, you can pull muscles, even break bones. There will be days when you want to quit, want to give up. However, there’s no better feeling that conquering your own body. No better feeling than conquering your fear. The sensation you get where everything just clicks into place, and just works is great. The point where it stops being hard and starts really feeling good? The fantastic thud of landing a powerful kick on the training pads? Those are the moments you live for.

Martial arts is a fun, rewarding experience. Martial arts is for everyone willing to put in the effort. There is no cut off, only the hurdles you build in your own mind and your own perceptions. Ultimately, life is what we make it. Training in martial arts, what you’ll eventually learn is, most of the time, the only thing stopping you is you.

So, don’t let fear, frustration, or embarrassment stop you from getting what you want. The only way to know is to start, stick with it, and not give up if studying your martial art is what you want to be doing. Also, study a martial art you’re actually interested in because that’s half the initial battle.

-Michi

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I have a question about the instinct post, fleeing specifically. I had to run from serious danger once when I was 14 and I thought of it as instinctual, but my mind actually got really clear and I remember thinking things like I’d turn a corner rather than cut through to reduce chances of tripping and falling and the best route to reach the street where there would be people who could help. I didn’t feel panic until after I was safe (broke down sobbing then). So what was that if not instinct?

You using your brain. That was you problem solving on the fly. That was not some deep seated instinctual ability. That was you processing information, making intelligent choices in a stressful situation based on what you knew about your environment, and saving yourself.

It’s called “thinking on your feet”.

You said it yourself, you remember thinking about things.

Instinct gets you as far as running or into flight mode, but it has no direction. If you don’t start thinking about where you need to go, what you need to do, which route to take, then you can end up literally anywhere. The same is actually true for fight, one reacts on anger and fear, leap on the other person with a scream, maybe tackle them to the ground, and start swinging wildly in a blind rage.

That didn’t happen for you, you used your head. You may not realize what you were doing, but that’s what was happening. That wasn’t actually instinct. A form of self-preservation? Sure. Some level of intuition? Yeah. But not instinct.

You used your head. Acting on knowledge you had, you made decisions. You grabbed your life with two hands, and you didn’t just run for it. On the fly, you suppressed your panic, you didn’t let fear take charge, you used it, and dealt with information. You picked the best route to actually saving your life. More than that, you succeeded. You saved yourself.

You saved yourself.

That’s huge.

So, stop giving your instincts more credit than they deserve. Give it to your intuition and cognitive processes instead. Why? You’re smarter and more capable than your giving yourself credit for. This is within your ability to control it. You controlled your instincts, they didn’t control you. In the crucible of life and death, in the midst of an incredibly stressful situation where you were running for your life, you came out on top and it was all you.

Just you.

And you could do it again.

This isn’t a one time, miracle thing. You could intentionally
replicate this experience without the danger, and you probably do in
your daily life without realizing it. This won’t just happen when you’re in danger. While the danger gave you the push to realize that you needed to.

Our brains are very complicated, and we do think on multiple levels. Often, like when we’re in danger, those can feel like they’re outside of our control. Except, what you did was the actions of someone who was in control. Which I will reiterate, in the heat of the moment you made choices cognitively that lead to saving your own life.

The major problem with ascribing these experiences, experiences you may not have completely understood at the time, to instinct is that it ascribes everything we did to something else that’s outside of our control. That it’s something that can only happen when we’re in danger. Some other part of ourselves which exists in a nebulous state and slumbering until trouble arrives.

It’s a nice idea, especially since it’s an easy way to avoid challenging your own perceptions about yourself and what you’re capable of.

When you’re ascribing what happened to your instincts, you’re selling yourself short. This is especially true if you’re female and are already pushed by society to accept a passive role, to not see yourself as an active decision maker who is in control of your own existence. Someone who is capable of action, of taking charge. Pawn it off on instinct, and we can just go back to our own self-doubts. Ignore the proof, staring us in the face, that we have it in us to be incredible.

You are incredible.

You are amazing.

Not your instincts. Not some nebulous thing existing in a separate space and not part of your regular existence.

You.

Just you.

You saved yourself.

And knowing that? It’s empowering.

Empowerment doesn’t come from the amount of ass you can kick. Or from running around swinging a gun. Or from being violent or engaging in violence. It comes from making decisions, from taking action derived from choices and accepting the responsibility which comes with those choices.

It’s terrifying.

It’s also freeing.

So much of what we do is learned behavior, even when we don’t realize that we’ve learned it. The kind of rationality and logic you experienced doesn’t happen to everyone. A lot of people out there when they’re in danger freeze up, run without thinking, or end up going nowhere.

The ability to utilize your intelligence under pressure is a powerful thing.

Give yourself more credit.

Because you can do it again in your daily life, whenever you want and whenever you need to.

Powerless or powerful? All it takes is realization. So, which would you rather be?

-Michi

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I’ve read that small (usually women) people are not good fighters because they are fragile and must play to their strengths instead… I’m not really tall but I’d still like to learn to fight, is it possible?

I’m sorry, but those people don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s an attitude I see consistently perpetuated and it’s just flat out untrue. Short people can do martial arts just as well as tall people, short women can do martial arts just as well as tall women, and women do martial arts just as well as men.

It’s not a question of is it possible. There are hundreds of thousands of women out there across disciplines that do martial arts already. There’s a female division in the UFC. There are female fire fighters. Female police officers. Women in the FBI and women in the military. The style of Wing Chun’s oral history notes it as having been created by a woman. If you look into history, you’ll find footnotes throughout of women taking up arms to protect their families, their homeland, or just because they wanted to and were given the opportunity to do so.

They exist. They’re everywhere.

People of all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and histories. Remember, Bruce Lee was only 135 pounds.

The thing to understand most about martial arts and combat is that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. It’s more about willingness to overcome your own self-set limitations and determination to succeed than it is about gender or body type. People set artificial limitations all the time, but the mind is a powerful thing. What we choose to believe about ourselves will affect us in a variety of ways, those are not always positive.

If you believe you are less powerful than a man doing the same job then you will be.

If you believe you are fragile then you will be.

If you believe you are powerless then you will be.

If you believe you can’t succeed, you won’t.

If you’re willing to work hard and learn, then you’ll discover a lot of what you’ve chosen to believe about yourself or what you’ve been told isn’t true.

There are differences between men and women, physically. There are, but those aren’t the differences that matter. Cultural programming that tells you that “you must behave a certain way or do specific things because otherwise you won’t be considered X” is ultimately going to have a lot more impact.

As a female, you don’t need any special accommodations or rules to be able to compete. You don’t. You will muddle through and figure out how to make your body work best for you. And you’ll have to work hard. It will be difficult. It’d be just as difficult for most guys. We all learn at our own pace. The trick is not to get discouraged.

Start researching the martial arts in your area to get an idea of what style you’d like to start learning. There are probably some classes available at your local college, YMCA, or similar programs if you don’t have much money. The trick is finding a style which suits your interests and an instructor that you’d like to learn from. Visit their classes, watch one, see how the students behave, note how many women are there, and ask the students questions about how they like their class.

Does it feel like this would be a good fit for you?

If yes, check out to see if you can afford it and sign up.

If no, then there are other schools out there.

Not all martial styles are going to fit either on a goals level or a personal one. Find somewhere you feel comfortable, with teachers you feel you can trust.

You aren’t going to receive special treatment for being female. You won’t learn the “special way women fight”. You’ll learn the techniques as presented and adapt them to suit yourself through practice.

Eliminating those pesky mental barriers is a good first step.

Don’t let idiots decide what will or won’t be possible for you.

You want to do it?

Then do.

-Michi

othersidhe said: BTW all of this post is good for advice on writing characters whom are in the same situation as the original anonymous poster.


Ha! Yeah, life is pretty good for character building. Honestly though, I actually recommend the “Do It Yourself” approach first and foremost. It’s hard to write experiences we don’t have and even building off someone else’s isn’t the same as our own. Our blog is about supplementing that, but everything Stark and I write and do is through our own biased lens.

-Michi