Staying within your comfort zone is easy, but progress lies just beyond.
I once made a difficult decision. I could have chosen to remain with my first karate dojo, where at 18 years old, I was a black-belt instructor. I had earned respect, a certain amount of skill and could bathe in the knowledge that I had achieved something worthwhile. However, if I had chosen to stay, I would have been fooling myself. I had not achieved real confidence in my ability to defend myself or to succeed in life. I knew I needed to learn more than crisp kicks and snappy reverse punches. I chose to step outside my comfort zone.
For some time, I tentatively experimented in other martial arts while continuing my karate training. This allowed me to simultaneously feed my ego, and my curiosity. I was reluctant to leave the dojo that had seen me grow from a primary school student to a young man. This dojo had helped me through some very difficult times. This dojo had become a part of my identity, my history. I owed a great deal to dojo and sensei. However, my reluctance to completely let go was hampering my progress as a martial artist. My approach opened my mind, but had not yet led to significant learning. I needed to make a decision. I needed to commit.
I chose my future over my past.
Real progress occurred when I found a new dojo and committed to the training – up to 20 hours per week. I relished the steep learning curve and my confidence grew. I was happy.
After a short period of time, I found myself teaching at the new dojo. Initially, this helped me further analyse my understanding of the martial arts. Over a period of many years my learning curve slowed until I reached a point where I felt that I was actually losing skill. It was time to find a new mountain to climb. I had two choices: I could stop teaching and become a student only within the dojo, or I could make a new start. I have always been blessed with amazing dojos and instructors. I felt comfortable in my new dojo, as I had in my first one. I decided to leave my comfort zone completely and move to Japan and learn from the best.
Since that time, I have been fortunate enough to have learned from some of Japan’s most respected masters. But I have always been careful to maintain a steep learning curve, no matter where I was. I work hard to maintain that curve to this day, and I have no future plans to let comfort stifle my potential.
This weekend, I again ventured far from my comfort zone. I participated in a seminar with two Japanese grandmasters: Shimizu sensei, a grandmaster of Naginatajutsu; and Sekiguchi sensei, the 21st grandmaster of highly respected Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu Iaijutsu. This was my first real contact with arts of the Japanese blade. Hakkoryu Jujutsu taught me defensive moves against sword attacks, but I had never wielded the weapons properly. The art itself requires and develops great concentration and focus. Although it is unlikely that I will use the art in a self-defence situation, Iaijutsu is a cultural treasure that is to be respected. Learning to use the sword will also improve posture, relaxation and balance, essential elements in any martial art, in particular jujutsu.
Meeting with a real master is always a memorable experience, and Sekiguchi sensei taught many lessons, some tangible, some not. He challenged two youngsters to speak and act with confidence, encouraging them with the strict love of a true sensei. He taught humility, forcing Shimizu sensei to repeat the same techniques again and again and again. In his words, in front of a ‘true martial arts master’ – he was talking about me??!! – it was necessary to demonstrate the reality of the art, not just empty movements. He taught the value of precision, gratitude, persistence, sacrifice, and perhaps most importantly, of having isshin (一心) – one heart, one mind, but that is a topic for another blog. He pushed my concentration levels well past my comfort zone.
Evaluate your training critically. Be honest with yourself. Are you falling into the ego-laden comfort trap? Find a way to maintain your learning curve. Challenge yourself regularly. Am I saying:
‘no pain, no gain?
Not exactly… but without discomfort, you are probably gaining little of value. The difficult part is to challenge yourself within your limitations, but outside your comfort zone. Good luck!!