Brutal Self Honesty - A Two-Sided Coin
Updated: Mar 10
The martial arts world is full of people who don't have an honest assessment of their own skills.
I'm not just talking about the fake "Grand Masters" and black belt mill 10th Dans and people who make up their own martial arts styles based on anime or comic books.
I'm talking about you and me.
This post isn't about those of us who OVER-estimate our skills. I think we've beaten that horse to death here on the blog and in our martial arts world in general.
Nope, today, I want to talk about UNDER-estimating our skills.
Generally speaking, our martial arts culture tends to reward a certain sense of humility in what we do. Not only is this true in our training halls, but it's true in the larger overculture portrayal of martial arts in movies and television, too.
How often do you hear a martial arts trained hero brag about how good he is? It's rare - instead, he's always humble and downplays his skills and only uses them when he must (and then he shows how good he really is).
Think Mr. Miyagi in the "Karate Kid" as an example of this.
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...
I think many - maybe most - of us spend our time focused on our weaknesses, and our failures.
Combine a community of people who like to be perfectionists with a culture that values humility and not putting one's self forward, and not being overly proud of our achievements... and you get a bunch of people insisting they suck at the martial arts in general, even though it's absolutely not true at all.
I think we often interpret "not being overly proud" to mean we must dismiss our strengths, and only focus on our weaknesses.
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 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 an egomaniac or a smug villain in a martial arts movie, 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 could 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.
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.
My teachers made me a black belt - and now a 3rd Degree Black Belt - for a reason. I can't completely suck and hold that rank.
So let me recognize some of 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.
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'm a decent teacher. I work hard to try to find the ways that my students need me to communicate the material to them, and I often come up with creative and effective ways to help students learn.
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!