It is a well-known statement that patience is a virtue, and it is also quite commonly understood that there is a strong relationship between martial arts and patience. Of course, the practice of martial arts is supposed to help improve your tolerance for patience, but it also requires plenty of patience to progress in martial arts.
With the UK government appearing to go back and forth so often between different rules and approaches, it feels like rarely does a week go by at the moment without the need to bring myself up to date with the new rules and restrictions and how these might affect my HEMA club. These last couple of months have tested my patience more than any other time so far this year, and so this seems like a reasonable time to muse a little on the topic of patience!
This will be a slightly longer article, so please bear with me and exercise your patience as I work through some of my thoughts on the matter.
Patience as a student of martial arts
Patience to complete the drills
Sometimes, drills are boring. I don’t really enjoy getting down onto the floor to do 10 or 20 push ups. Sometimes I’d prefer to move ahead with an exercise and reach the next step. Sometimes, my partner is a beginner and just isn’t capable of giving me the quality of partner practice that I would like to have, and I’d rather move on and partner up with someone else so that I get a decent practice.
But if I don’t do the push ups, I won’t become stronger. If I skip ahead in the drill too early, I won’t learn the lesson that the instructor wants me to learn right now. If I stop working with my current partner before they understand the drill, they won’t improve, and I will lose the opportunity to gain another training partner (and perhaps friend) in the club.
Having the patience to see drills through to completion helps in all kinds of ways. Repetitions are how we build and develop skills, and good quality repetitions are how we build and develop good quality skills. No matter how boring the exercise, don’t give in and allow yourself poor quality training. Commit yourself to the very best training that you can do, no matter the exercise, and you will gain the benefits.
Patience with your instructor, waiting for new material
You might see other people doing really cool and interesting things in the class, while you are stuck doing “the basics” yet again. Or maybe you are getting bored with this particular kata or form, and you really want to move on and learn something else.
But there is probably a good reason that the instructor thinks that you need to spend more time working on the basics, or to do more repetitions of this kata or sequence.
In most martial arts, everything “complicated” builds upon the basics. Without a better understanding of the simpler motions and body structures, you simply won’t be able to do the more complicated movements properly. Since there is very little point in struggling with something because you lack the fundamentals to do it properly, it makes a lot of sense to persevere with the basics until you have the necessary skills to tackle the more complicated actions effectively.
Good instructors will never hold you back unnecessarily. If you find yourself going over the same material again and again, then perhaps consider that this material may be crucially important, and set yourself to the task of mastering it as fully as possible.
Patience with yourself, waiting for improvements
It may be that you feel disheartened from time to time, because you don’t think you are improving. Everyone goes through this, even your instructors! However, you are usually too close to the problem to see that you are in fact getting better.
Just like you would find it difficult to notice just how much the grass in your garden grows each day, you can probably observe that after a few weeks the grass has grown quite long. The growth is so small as to be imperceptible on a daily basis, but when comparing its length now with a snapshot of its length some time ago, you can see that it has indeed grown.
Even if you don’t feel like you are improving much right now, keep at it. If you could see a snapshot of your performance six months earlier, you might be surprised at just how much you have improved since then. If you could see a snapshot of what your performance will be like in the future, six months from now, you might also be quite surprised at how much you will improve by then, even if you don’t feel that much is changing right now.
Stick with it and the improvement will happen. Have some patience with yourself and you will show progress.
Patience as an instructor of martial arts
Patience with yourself, waiting for your own teaching ability to improve
In a similar fashion, as an instructor, you need to be patient with yourself. Most people are not born as teachers, and maybe lack the skills or confidence of more experienced instructors. But how did those individuals become “more experienced instructors”? They stuck with it and gained the experience.
You don’t need to be a great instructor on day 1, just like your students don’t need to earn their black belt on day 1. You need to stick at it and develop your teaching skills, just like your students need to stick at it to develop their physical skills.
Don’t be hard on yourself. Keep working to improve your abilities, and keep doing the repetitions by teaching more classes. Improvement will come over time.
Patience with your students, waiting for them to improve
Sometimes it can be quite difficult to keep patience with students.
Why can’t this person learn this basic movement? Why can’t that person remember that kata after four weeks of training nothing else? Why do you always need to tell this student to control how hard they hit? Why can’t that student keep the pace slow during slow drills?
Well, you probably weren’t always perfect while you were learning! (I certainly wasn’t.) You probably gave your instructor some frustrations from time to time as well. (I certainly did.) And in the end, you improved. You reached a level of skill and knowledge where you could start instructing others. How long did that take you?
It is important to give your students the time that they need to learn things and to improve through practice. If you became an instructor after three years, training four nights a week, then how long will it take your students to learn the skills if they are only able to attend one session a week?
I won’t say that “there is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher”, because I think that’s wrong and that there are indeed people who are terrible students and even the best instructors in the world would struggle with them. However, at the same time, if you managed to become an instructor, you are already in the minority of people, because you were able to stick it out for long enough to develop your skills enough to become an instructor. Most people won’t be able to do this as well or as quickly as you did. You may need to adjust your frame of reference and allow your students more time to understand and learn things.
Patience with the other things that come with teaching a class
I much prefer teaching compared to doing the paperwork, taking fees, noting attendance, cleaning the loaner gear, etc. It would frustrate me if I would need to deal with what might seem like childish issues between people, and it is always an unwelcome interruption (presumably to more people than just me!) if I need to go and get the first aid kit for someone.
However, if I don’t have the patience to deal with all of these things properly, the club will suffer, my students will suffer, and their learning experiences will suffer. As an instructor, I need to have the patience to deal with all the various things that come with teaching a class, otherwise my class won’t be well-organised and may not be very safe.
Just like a student’s technique is not right if their stance is flawed, it is not a good class or club where the various little tasks and details are not dealt with correctly by the instructor.
Patience as someone who runs a business
Patience with the various things that come with running a business
Similarly, at a higher level of abstraction, it is really boring to run a business. So much time is spent doing paperwork, admin, accounting, advertising, answering emails, answering messages, posting on social media, talking to people, etc. Such little time is spent actually teaching people, or training yourself!
But again, if you don’t have the patience for all of these details, your business will collapse. You may find yourself in breach of various different laws if you don’t keep up with your taxes and accounting, or your duty of care and provision for health and safety, and so on. No one wants to train in an unsafe, badly organised, or potentially law-breaking organisation. To be able to gain and retain students, you need to have all the details and processes in place for your business to be safe, organised, and above-board.
Not every instructor needs to run a business. However, every business needs to have someone who runs it! Learning patience as a student prepares you to become an instructor, and learning further patience as an instructor prepares for you running your own club and doing the business tasks that keep the organisation running.
Patience with advertising, waiting for new students to come to the club
When you want to pour yourself a glass of water, you turn on the tap, and the water is there. Lovely.
When you want to increase the number of students in your class, there is no magic member tap. It would be lovely if there was such a thing! But there isn’t. You have to make efforts up-front and then wait to see how successful they have been. The better your efforts, the more success you are achieve; but you can never have success with advertising before you actually do the advertising.
It may be deeply demoralising if you open a new club or a new class (or any sort of business venture) and wait for people to come … and then they don’t, or at least, not immediately. I have been in this position several times, and it doesn’t get much easier. But what experience has taught me is that advertising takes time to work.
Maybe people see the advert for your opening night this week – but they already had plans for this week. They figure they’ll come along next week instead.
Maybe they didn’t see the advert for your opening night this week, because you only posted one advert in one place, and they just didn’t see it.
Maybe they saw the advert, and would really like to come along, but it takes time to rearrange their weekly schedule, maybe to arrange additional childcare, or to agree with friends to move the social evening to a different but still mutually convenient night of the week.
My rule of thumb is that unless I do six weeks of sustained advertising, I cannot reasonably expect most people to have seen the adverts and to have re-arranged their lives to be able to come along to the new thing I am running. If it takes people less time than that, then it means that either I have been very lucky or I have done my work extremely well, but my expectation is always that I will probably need to spend at least six weeks advertising if I want to see results.
Just like I need to have patience with doing 10 push ups a day before I can get to the stage of doing 50 in one go, I need to have patience with spending time (and money) advertising before I can expect to see any meaningful results.
Patience with tests and experiments, waiting to see if something is successful
Similarly, if I open a new class, it probably won’t be full the first week. It probably won’t be full the second week either. It may take a few weeks for everything to “spin up” to full operation (especially if the advertising hasn’t been going on for long enough).
My rule of thumb is to let each new venture run for at least six weeks (AFTER at least six weeks of advertising) before making any kind of pronouncement about whether it has been successful or not. This means that any new experiment requires an investment of at least 12 weeks before I allow myself to draw conclusions and potentially start changing things. This requires a huge amount of patience!
I find that having this kind of patience in business is much easier if I practise having patience for other things as well:
I can allow myself to be patient this way if I am patient enough to see other (boring) business tasks through to completion.
I can be patient waiting for new students to join the club if I can be patient with my current students and their rate of progress.
I can be patient waiting for my club to be successful if I can be patient with myself as I become a better instructor and/or a better and more skilful practitioner of a martial art.
Patience with the rules and trust in authority
Patience with the rules
This is an interesting area of discussion and thought, inspired largely by the current Covid restrictions in the UK. For months, the government has been going back and forth like a yoyo, shutting things down and opening them up, then shutting them down again and letting them reopen, only to shut them again. It is exhausting to try to stay on top of the rules and keep my club compliant with ever-changing rules and laws.
But running a successful martial arts school means staying abreast of the rules and following all relevant laws. If a club takes shortcuts in some processes, or fails to do its duty in following regulations intended to keep people safe, then what other shortcuts and failings may be systemic in the club?
The moment a club or instructor stops paying attention to the rules, loses patience and gives up in their responsibilities, this is the moment that students should question their trust in the club and instructor.
If the situation was a bit different, and it was a student who lost patience and gave up following their responsibilities, perhaps turning up to classes in a terrible state of hygiene or without the right equipment or without paying for sessions, then you would naturally need to speak with the student to set the situation right. And so it is fair that students should have the expectation that the club and its staff will follow all regulations without losing patience and giving up.
Patience and trust that the rules are appropriate and made by people who know what they are doing
Of course, I do not mean to equate following the rules with assuming blindly that the rules are appropriate and that the people who made the rules know what they are doing. Currently in the UK, especially in England, the situation is clearly one where large amounts of the population are rapidly losing any faith in the government. There is little trust that the government and its officials are making the right decisions or that the rules are actually going to help at all. This is not a good.
A huge number of people have lost patience with the government and the ever-changing rules, with the result that the coronavirus has spread much more rapidly than it should, because people have been frustrated and just went out and did things that were prohibited for being unsafe (while also going out and doing things that were allowed but unsafe, or that were prohibited but perfectly safe, because the rules have often not been fit for purpose and the government has been imposing so many blanket solutions where they were not really appropriate or helpful).
Of course, I could quite easily rant about this all day, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll turn this line of discussion towards something more constructive: if this is the general situation in society, with a population losing faith and trust in their government because the rules are often inappropriate and not really fit for purpose, then can this happen in the micro-environment of a club? Yes, it absolutely can.
I have written previously about my thoughts regarding time requirements in martial arts, for gradings or suchlike, and I still hold these opinions firmly. When I see a club proclaiming that people need to spend a year holding one grade before being allowed to test for the next grade, that’s a red flag to me. When I see a club saying proudly that they don’t let new students spar for six months after joining, I think they are missing the point and could probably improve their curriculum and pedagogy significantly.
When I see rules like these, I see gaps in the relevance or effectiveness of the club’s rules and processes, and I start to wonder what other gaps exist. Before even joining the club, I’m doubting how useful the training is going to be and whether I am likely to stay for long.
My advice is to look at each of the rules, conventions, and processes in your club or school. Look at them with eyes wide open and without letting any biases creep in. Obviously, as the instructor you might think they are reasonable, you made them in the first place. But can you look at them from the perspective of a new student? A more experienced student? Someone who is in the process of becoming an assistant instructor? Do your rules, conventions, and processes still hold up, and do they serve to give your members comfort and security in the quality and safety of your club?
If not, it might be time to revise them, to make them more appropriate and relevant, so that you are giving your students a better experience and learning environment, and to avoid the situation where your members may start to lose their patience with your club and your rules.
I think of patience very much like a muscle: it needs exercise to become stronger, it can fatigue with overuse, and it can grow weaker over time with disuse.
Whether you are a student, an instructor, or you run a business, you need to exercise and practise your patience. It is always possible to become more patient with people, with paperwork, with whatever demands on your time. And generally, improving your patience is not a very fun task, because you generally don’t feel the same need to be patient when you are enjoying yourself.
But if you find yourself in a difficult situation, having well-developed patience can see you through that difficult situation successfully. Without patience, you may give up just before you achieve success, whatever task or endeavour stands before you. Martial arts give us all kinds of ways to improve and practise our patience.
What have been the most character-building events in your experience that have built your patience and tolerance? Please share your thoughts with me, I’ll be waiting with bated breath, but as patiently as I can 😉
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.