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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Martial Arts Growth is NOT Linear

There is a saying I learned while I was in weight loss groups that has stuck with me:

"Weight Loss is Not Linear"

It refers to the fact that we gain or lose weight in spurts, and that it's unreasonable to expect, when losing weight, that it will consistently decrease on a daily basis.

Having lost and maintained about 40 pounds once (working on it again - thanks, migraine meds!), I can testify that this is absolutely true. There were days I went up a little bit, long periods where nothing changed, and then boom, a few pounds would permanently go away.

This fact is also true in just about any path to growth or success.  It's especially true in the martial arts.

I was telling a friend about a time I made what I would call a "leap forward" in my understanding of Arnis.  That is, I started to understand and execute some things I couldn't before and noticed while it was happening.  This was after a long period where I didn't think I was growing at all, and then suddenly - BOOM!

I don't think this phenomenon is due to any one single thing and I think I was actually progressing in that period before this big leap forward, I just didn't recognize it. One day I was struggling, and then the next,  I could "see" things.

So how or why did my Arnis suddenly seem to take off?

I suspect a few factors are at play.

Long hours of repetition absolutely played a part.  Sometimes becoming good at something is just a simple slog of doing stuff over and over and over again.  What happens at some point is that your brain and body can finally execute it to the point where you don't have to think too hard at it, so now you can see... other stuff.

The idea that if you want to see progress, you gotta carve out the time to practice over and over and over seems to be absolutely true.  The more time you can devote to this, the faster you will progress.

Teaching others played a part.  At the time, our Rec Center Arnis program was about a year old on top of the several years I spent assisting my instructor in his school.  Teaching other people definitely makes you think hard about what you do, and why you do it, and come up with creative ways to teach a variety of people the material. That process definitely gives you an understanding it's very hard to get another way.

I'd had a pretty intense year or so of seminars.  Part of the "leap forward" hearkened back to what those seminars covered.  It just took time for some of that stuff to sink in and become integrated into what I do.

When I cross-train in other styles, I "see" my Arnis in a new way.  As Arnis is my core style (versus an add-on to something else), whenever I train in something else my mind starts "seeing" Arnis... everywhere. There's no direct relationship much of the time, it just means that I can make those connections from another point of view, and that helps me understand Arnis better. At the time of that "great leap forward" I was cross training a lot, too.

Sometimes... it's just the way it is. It isn't something that is a slow and steady progress.  It comes in leaps and spurts and sometimes a step back becomes three steps forward. That graphic at the top of this post didn't have anything to do with martial arts training, but I bet you nodded your head when I connected it to our fun little hobby, didn't you?

It's frustrating for us, as we want to continually improve - to be better today than we were yesterday, and to know that tomorrow we'll be better. We and others in the sports world have lots of sayings to that effect, but the truth is, it doesn't happen that way.

The trick is enduring those periods where you don't see progress. We sometimes believe we've hit our ceiling and can't or won't be any better than we are today.

That's when a lot of us quit or move on to something else and abandon what we're doing.  Obviously, I believe that's a huge mistake.

If I'd abandoned Arnis during these plateaus, these new insights would never have happened.  When you get them,  it's almost like you fall back in love with what you are doing.  The long period of boredom is forgotten because you're excited about it all over again.

This is how you get guys quitting their art and going on to create their own art way before they've mastered their original, as they don't have the patience to get through these plateaus to growth.

Patience, y'all.  Keep at it.  Martial arts growth is not linear.

How do you weather your martial arts growth plateaus?  Tell us about a time you made one of those great leaps forward... let us know in the comments!

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