For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by martial arts.
Growing up I’d watch martial arts movies obsessively, wishing I could do what the likes of Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Jean Claude Van Damme could. They would kick-ass, take names and look so fucking cool doing it.
This isn’t to say I was an angry kind, much the opposite in fact; I was shy and timid but nonetheless I dreamt of being just like them. You know fighting crime, getting the girls and being downright awesome.
As soon as I was old enough I began trying out different martial arts to see what I liked, over the years I had a go at everything from Karate to Taekwondo, even dabbling in Tai Chi and Muay Thai in my pursuit of being like my heroes.
I often look back and wonder why I was so desperate to learn a martial art, what was the driving force behind it, heroes and awesomeness aside?
Is it because I was bullied and wanted to find a way to protect myself?
So I could stand up for myself and not take any shit?
To build the body confidence I was severely lacking?
I think it was all of them and more.
As I got further into my teens these reasons still held true, and although the bullying stopped as the kids found new things to do or new targets to pick on, I still liked the idea of being able to protect myself.
I’d also started going to the gym around this time and thought if I started learning a martial art I’d end up look as ‘ripped’ as my idols.
I mean who doesn’t want to look like that…
A Chance Encounter
In the end, it was a Google search for martial arts gyms made by my Mum (thanks Mum) that would lead me directly to the answer I’d been looking for.
So it was, that one cold winter night me and my brother made our way to a basement kickboxing gym located in a stretch of residential no-man’s land, smack bang in the middle of various London underground stations without being particularly near anything.
Little did I know at the time the path it would set me on and the way it would change my life.
After a little trouble finding the place, we located the unassuming street-level doorway and ventured down a flight of dimly lit stairs.
We were welcomed by the sound of gloves and boots smacking bags, pads and sometimes other people.
We registered at the desk and got changed.
I stepped onto the mats for the first time and felt I was home, by the end of my first class I knew I was.
Over the following 8 weeks I completed a beginner’s course, learnt the basics and got my first belt.
At this point not wanting to commit to another course before going to University I opted to leave and learn Muay Thai with another instructor closer to home.
Built like a ton of bricks he could throw a low kick that would take your legs clean off if you weren’t careful, but he was patient and masterful in his teaching.
After training with him for a while I left to go to University and during the holidays and weekend trips found myself joining my brother to train at my original gym.
Upon my graduation 4 years later, I moved back to London and amidst a financial crisis and having a degree I disliked, I threw myself in headfirst.
I began training full time, 5 – 6 days a week often for 3 hours a night, I took several gradings over a number of years, competed nationally, became an instructor and started teaching.
I haven’t looked back since and consider myself beyond fortunate to have fallen in with such a close knit and welcoming crowd.
Not only that but my instructors are outstanding not only in their kickboxing ability (with many titles, trophies and belts to their names) but also in their ability to impart their knowledge on others confidently and freely.
It is under their tutelage that I have not only competed nationally and won, but also earned my black belt and become the instructor I am today.
Whilst on this journey I’ve learnt a lot more than just kickboxing; I’ve gained invaluable insight into myself, others and the world around me.
Today I want to share 4 of things with you.
You Never Stop Learning
To stop learning is to regress, to rest on your laurels and accolades is to stagnate and to close your mind to learning is the beginning of the end.
Ask anyone at the top of their field how they got there and they’ll tell you hard work and learning. Ask them how they stay there and they’ll tell you the same.
I don’t profess to be at the top of my field but if I’ve learnt anything from my training it’s that you never stop learning. No matter how much you know, there will always be a point of view or way of doing something you haven’t considered.
Belt after belt I would spend as much time refining the basics as I would mastering the advanced movements and working on my opposite stance.
I would seek feedback from my instructors and peers on how to improve in even the smallest of details, trying not to fall into the trap of thinking that I’d learnt everything there was to learn.
When I was awarded my black belt, my instructor (and close friend) told me that this was just the beginning, not the end like many would assume.
He said I had much more to learn and not to think that I had come to the end of my journey.
This may seem a weird concept to some people, I mean how can you be awarded the highest ranked belt and not be at the end of your journey?
To be honest it’s a fair question.
My understanding is this;
A black belt signifies the fact you now know the full syllabus and can perform it to a high level but it doesn’t mean you know how to do everything perfectly.
I’d be lying if I said I could.
So here I am 10 years down and at the beginning of my journey, looking forward to what the future holds for me.
Mistakes Are An Opportunity To Learn (Never Give Up)
Little did I know that when I walked in through that innocuous street-level door and down into that basement gym that I was training for more than just for my first belt and then ultimately my last (for now at least).
I was training for life.
I know, I know that sounds like some cheesy cliché but it’s true.
Each time I stepped onto those mats I was learning how to overcome adversity, to push through pain…to take punch or kick in the face, smile and keep on going.
I was learning how to endure bad experiences (getting hit) and learn from them (how to stop getting hit), most importantly I was learning to never give up.
There’s a quote, I’m not sure who said it or what exactly the words are but the essence of the message is “when life knocks you down, you get back up and keep going”.
I was learning this the hands-on way and instead of life knocking me down it was other people but the lesson was the same…how to persevere.
Both inside and outside the gym there have been times I’ve wanted to throw in the towel, give it all up and walk away but thanks to;
Hours of shadow boxing
Countless drills and circuits
Intense sparring sessions
I slowly developed a degree of mental toughness that allows me to push on regardless of what my body or brain might be saying.
I came to realise that everyone gets knocked down at some point in their lives and it’s how you react that defines you. Will you lie on the floor unwilling to get back up or will you drag yourself to your feet, learn from it and push on?
Teaching Others Teaches You
I remember the first time I stepped onto the mats as an instructor, I was shitting myself. My adrenaline was pumping like crazy and my legs were shaky.
I could have easily and probably quite happily walked away at this point, content to just train and not teach.
But I didn’t.
In fact, as soon as I got going and settled into a rhythm I wondered what I’d ever been scared of. Here I was with years of experience in a skill that people were paying to learn and I ad in front of me an engaged and willing group of people.
It was immensely rewarding to see the progress they made and the enjoyment they got from learning the sport that I love.
This experience taught me a few things but the most important one was this; to truly understand something, you need to teach it. Until you’re able to break something down step by step and teach it to someone else in a manner that works you don’t truly know your craft.
So, my advice to you is to teach.
Teach to everyone and anyone who will listen. Practice and experiment to see what works. Teach only using words or teach only using actions then teach using both. It’s an enlightening and gratifying experience that will reveal your strengths and expose your weaknesses but will ultimately help you grow and improve beyond measure as your understanding of your craft deepens.
As an added bonus teaching will also improve your ability to communicate a million-fold.
You’ll learn how to interact effectively with all sorts of people from all walks of life whilst developing a toolbox of techniques you can draw on at any time to relate to anyone with ease.
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
When people find out I’m a kickboxing instructor one of their initial questions usually go something like, “have you ever had to fight someone on the street?” or “can you show me a cool kick?”.
They are usually surprised by my answer to their first question, which is no.
It’s true, I’ve never been in a street fight.
If you’re wondering why it’s probably because I actively avoid trouble and am not quick to anger but I also think it’s because knowing how to defend yourself gives you a greater sense of calm and self-confidence.
You know you have nothing to prove and are safe in the knowledge that if shit hits the fan and you’re either backed into a corner or have to protect someone you care about, you can.
On top of this, knowing that you could really hurt someone has a sobering effect that reminds you to deescalate or simply remove yourself from a situation.
It’s just not worth it.
Particularly given the propensity for multiple people vs. one situations and people carrying weapons. If you’re learning a martial art to back up your trash talk on the street, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons and need to get out.
Just because you know how to kick someone’s ass doesn’t mean you should.
P.S. Yes, I can show you a cool kick.
How do I finish this post, what more can I tell you?
I guess I’m a little more like my heroes now, I’m not fighting crime or getting all the girls (just the one I need, who’s now my wife) but I can do some cool kicks and right now I’ll settle for that.
I’ve learnt a lot over the years.
I’ve changed and developed as a person, arguably more than I initially bargained for but I wouldn’t change a thing. These experiences have helped shape who I am today and for that I’m grateful.
My parting advice?
Learn a martial art, practice a skill and be open the lessons it can teach you.