Monday, January 11, 2016

Brutal Self Honesty - a Two-Sided Coin

This post was inspired by +Bamboo Spirit Martial Arts post "Self Honesty", which you can read right here.

I think it's a fantastic post.  +Brian Johns diagnoses a common problem in our martial arts culture, one that often leads to a lot of fraudulent "grand masters" and bad martial arts out there.

As he says at the very beginning of his post:

Among the hallmarks of great martial artists such as Bruce Lee, Professor Remy A. Presas, Mas Oyama, Yip Man, Jigoro Kano and many others is the willingness to be brutally honest with themselves about their strengths and weaknesses. 

Me, I try to be brutally honest with myself and my skills.  I am under no illusions of greatness here - I know I have very much to learn and improve upon, and there are so very many martial artists out there that are far, far better than I am.   I'm not as smooth as I need to be, my stances need work, I don't have as much material under my belt as I really should have, I don't practice enough so I'm not as good at what I need to be...

Actually, just a small portion of the group picture - it's too big to be uploaded to the internet.

I have a lot of work to do.

Many of us spend most of our time focused on our weaknesses, and our failures.  Perhaps it's part of the culture we cultivate - or attempt to cultivate - in the martial arts.  It's one of humility, of not putting one's self forward, and not being overly proud of our achievements.

We often interpret this to mean we must dismiss our strengths, and only focus on our weaknesses.  That is what humility is all about, right?  Denial of the ego, don't toot your own horn, think about your failures, not your successes.

The upside to this culture - when we actually live it - is that it keeps our minds open and on the path to continued growth.  After all, you can't learn if you believe you already know everything you need to know, right?

The other value of humility is there to help keep our egos in check.  It doesn't always work - there are numerous examples of this - but at least there's the attempt, right?  Keeping our egos in check keeps us in the right frame of mind to continue to learn new things and to grow.

That is the hallmark of the greats Brian mentioned above - they kept training, kept learning, kept growing.

The downside to this culture is that we don't, won't, or can't celebrate or recognize our strengths.  We don't want to be seen as one of those egomaniacs, so we deliberately downplay what we actually are good at doing. Over time, this may end up making us talk ourselves out of things like competitions (if we are in an art that does that), or teaching our art to others, or we may end up quitting altogether, because we believe we can't ever be really good at what we do.

We end up believing that we are imposters, playing at what we do, waiting for somebody else to come by, tap us on the shoulder, and call us on it.

But, if I am going to be brutally honest, I can't ignore what I actually am good at, can I?

Denial of my skill is as big of a lie as claiming a secret ninja master trained me in the American midwest.  Pretending I'm good at nothing is just as delusional as claiming Grand Mastery in many arts at the age of 30 despite not training with actual human beings since age 16.

Joe Biden holds a 10th Dan in malarkey.

I started martial arts late in life - at age 39 in 2008.  Except for a period where I couldn't practice a hard art (due to pregnancy), I've played Arnis pretty much non-stop over that time.  When you do something - anything - for that long with training partners and teachers with skill, you do acquire some skills here and there.

So let me recognize my strengths:

  • I'm very good at patterns - picking them up, spotting them, and then interrupting them.  This means I pick up and play sinawali patterns, sumbrada patterns, and the set versions of tapi-tapi pretty quickly.  Forms aren't generally terribly difficult for me to pick up - perfecting them is another matter, but it's just another pattern to me.
  • I'm a stickler for the details, so my fundamentals tend to be pretty sound.  My footwork, my targeting, my chambering (the way we do it) is pretty good most of the time.
  • I think I'm a decent teacher.  I work hard to try to find the ways that my students need me to communicate the material to them.

If you're going to be self honest - brutally self honest - then you can't ignore the good in favor of the bad, just as you can't play up your strengths and pretend that your weaknesses don't exist.

Brutal self honesty, after all, is a two sided coin.

So, what are your weaknesses AND your strengths?  Are you honest with yourself about it?  Is there someone you admire who is, or conversely, someone you've trained with who isn't?  Let us know about it!