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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

We Are Bad Judges (of Ourselves)

There's a old saying that is so very true in the martial arts (as well as other endeavors where it takes time to acquire skill or knowledge about something):

"Proverb Quotes." Jar of Quotes, 2020. 2020-01-27.

The longer I study martial arts, the "more true" this saying becomes.

Of course, this is because after studying for some time, you come to realize how little you really know compared to all that there is to know.  That is, you become aware of the vast amount left to learn and it seems that what you do know and understand is a tiny island in a vast sea of things to learn.

This makes understanding our own progress difficult.  We have to trust our teachers when they tell us we are good or bad at something.  We are very poor judges of ourselves.

This is why ranking systems are a good thing to keep students motivated - because it's a measure we can see and understand.

Either we overestimate what we know - usually in the beginning of our journey - or we underestimate what we know or how good we might be at something.  This is the famous Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. 

Now, remember, this effect has nothing to do with smarts or intelligence.  It has everything to do with how competent a person is, versus how competent a person believes they are.

Then you combine this with something I know I struggle with - good old Imposter Syndrome - and we often have a hard time in becoming confident in ourselves and what we can do well as we progress down our training path.

It's tricky because you need the confidence in your own skills to grow past a certain point.  I believe this becomes an issue right around the point where a person is near or just past the first Black Belt rank (or the equivalent in other martial art styles that use a different ranking system).

I do know this is true: If you do not believe you can do something - it usually means you can't.

I know it was true for me - that "I'm not so sure I know diddly squat" stage of my training.  When I was promoted to Dayang Isa, part of me did not believe I deserved it - maybe the largest part of me.  It took about a year for me to feel comfortable in the rank. Heck, I'm still not comfortable with it sometimes.  And I would not presume to claim that I have a ton of competence in lots of areas of what we do.  I know how much work I have to do - work that is going to take me the rest of my life.

Then again, I know I am a poor judge of myself.   So maybe I'm better than I believe I am sometimes. My teacher posted a video the other day on Facebook of his students doing disarms, and I'm in there, doing a disarm off of a backhand strike.  My "part" of the video is actually about a year old.

This was one of the first times I've seen myself on video and said, "Hey, that wasn't too bad."

So I gif'd it! Yup, that's me, from a video by my teacher, Mark Lynn.

This was an isolated disarming drill - not how disarms actually work mind you, because I was working on a specific attribute - but hey, I pulled that one off pretty smoothly, if I don't say so myself.

I am better than I think I am, sometimes.  And so are you.

So tell me about your over or underestimation of your skill, or stories about how others have misjudged themselves.  How do we gain that confidence we need to grow?  How do we get past the "over estimation" stage of our progress?  Let me know in the comments!

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