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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

The Natural

I'm not a physically gifted person.

Oh, I'm not a complete klutz, mind you.  Thanks to being in dance and cheering since I was very young, I do all right in the martial arts, sure.  But like most people, I have a few things that come naturally, and a whole bunch of things that don't.  I've done some sort of sports much of my life:  cheering, martial arts, and for much of my childhood, track and field.  I was never in the top tier, but I was good enough, at least, to not get kicked off the team.

Even with some athletic training in my background, I've discovered, like most of you, there's some things that I am just NOT great at, even when I work really hard at it.

For example, there are some people who can learn a form (kata, poomsae, anyo) quickly and do it so sharply, with tons of flow and grace.

Not me.  Nope, no matter how much I practice.  Not that my very best forms are terrible, they're just not at that, "Oh wow, that's so great!", win-all-the-tournaments level.  This is what the best of the best looks like (her name is Rika Usami and she ROCKS):

Yeeeeaaah, that'll never, ever be me.  I could practice for a million years and I won't be that good at forms.

I don't even want to discuss how terrible I am at kicking high, too.  There is a reason I don't do taekwondo anymore, folks, and it's not JUST because I fell in love with Arnis. My stubby little self is all NOPE on high kicks, especially at my age.

Just as there's stuff I am not naturally good at and have to work very very hard to be middling competent at, there's stuff that I don't have to work so hard to get good at. There's even stuff that I excel at, the "THIS IS EASY!" stuff.

For example, I'm a natural at sinawali in Arnis.

Lots of people are NOT naturals at sinawali.  They have to think hard and work hard to understand the pattern and execute it.  They have to practice at it a lot longer and a lot harder than I do to get as good as I am with it.

Maybe it's that cheering background I mentioned above. Or maybe it's just how my mind works. But for whatever reason, if you want to play a sinawali that's new to me, I can catch up to you really quickly, usually within a few seconds.

In fact, I'm also pretty good at any flow drills that depend on a pattern.  Or at least, I pick up on the pattern quickly.  So that makes it easy for me to pick up sumbrada patterns, too. 

Here's my teacher and I playing a sumbrada using bo instead of sticks.  I learned this within a couple of minutes (because I'm good at picking up patterns, as I said):

That doesn't make me better than those people who struggle, mind you. Just as people who can kick high or rock out on forms aren't better than I am, either. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, our struggles and the times when everything comes easy.

It all balances out.

Sure, there are a few people out there where everything comes easy for them.  They're the physically gifted athletes.  And there's a few people out there where nothing comes easy, and they have to work very hard at everything. I have met both in my time in the martial arts, and again, it didn't make them better or worse than me, it just meant their path was different than mine, and that's okay.

Most of us, though, fall in the middle. Talented at some stuff, not so much at others.

It can be easy to spend a lot of time obsessing over what you're not good at, and ignoring or downplaying what you are good at. Sometimes this leads to feelings of never being good enough at what you do.  Or you think that acknowledging your strengths is somehow being arrogant or taking it for granted.

I bet that very thing has caused a few people to quit training altogether.

I think, to be a balanced martial artist, you have to recognize what you are good at as well as address what you're not.  It's okay to acknowledge your strengths and celebrate them as much as you work on your weaknesses.

You have to do both.  

So yeah, I have to work hard to do forms half-way well, I can't kick well, and there's tons of other things that I struggle to do in the martial arts. But when it comes to sumbrada and sinawali, well... I'm a natural.

So what are YOU good at in the martial arts?  What comes easy to you?  What's your strength?  Let us know in the comments!

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