Beginner martial arts student white and gold belts.

5 success tips every new martial arts student should know

It’s that time of year. New year, new goals, and for martial arts schools like ours, new students. And while a new endeavor brings excitement, for many students it also brings something else. Frustration.

Students often come into a new class feeling a little intimidated. Others believe they’ll learn fast because they’ve always been athletic. But no matter their background or capabilities, half of all students quit within 30 days, and around 75% within the first three months.

Martial arts training brings a lot of good things into your life. But like anything worthwhile, it’ll take time. So, how do you become a successful student?

Over the years, I’ve noticed a few things repeatedly create frustration for new students. Avoid these mistakes, and you’ll have a much better chance of reaping all the positive benefits of martial arts training.

1. Expecting Miracles

Several years ago, a man and his 17 year old son sat in my office. The son was leaving for boot camp in less than two months. Very serious and expectant, the father asked me how much I could teach his son if he came to class two hours per week for the next six weeks.

I thought for a moment, and gave him my answer: Not much.

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No matter how much marketing you see selling bulletproof self defense systems that take 30 days to master, or 2 year black belt training programs, it isn’t true. Martial arts is an endeavor. Anyone who tells you different is either lying or selling your something.

Yes, you’ll learn skills from day one. But learning a skill well enough to actually use it in real life takes time. Even if you spend an hour getting the technique down perfectly, you won’t retain it.

That isn’t meant to discourage you- just being honest. Most students take 6-8 weeks to start making sense of what they’re learning. And training will always have its ups and downs. If it doesn’t, then you’re not growing. 

Don’t put a timeframe on your learning. Come with a willingness to improve a little each day. When you do that, every small step is a victory, and one that keeps frustration at bay.

2. Skipping the basics

There’s infinite truth to the saying, “A master knows the basics well.” Problem is, those basics seem boring when you’re watching the senior students do all the cool stuff. Just remember, they started exactly where you are now. 

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The basics build the foundation for all of the skills you’ll learn for as long as you train. It’s like a house. You can have the biggest, fanciest, house on the block. All the newest technology, lights that turn themselves on and off, heated floors… the works. But if the foundation is built poorly, it’s all going to fall.

Martial arts is no different. And it’s important you know not only the how, but the why. Why do you step with the right foot rather than the left? Why do you use one stance rather than another, or use an elbow instead of a punch.

All the seemingly silly nuances of the basics are important. In fact, some of the best martial arts instructors I’ve had rarely did anything flashy. But they had the basics down so masterfully, it seemed like they created effortless techniques out of thin air.

This doesn’t mean you should never play with more advanced skills. Doing so helps you understand why the basics are important. But remember- especially in a mixed ranks class- what material you should focus on for your rank. Get that down, and the next level will be easier.

3. Going too fast, too soon

If you want to learn faster, go slower. Sound silly? It isn’t. 

Have you ever heard the saying, “slow is smooth; smooth is fast”? Going slow is important to making new techniques reflexive. In other words, you don’t have to stop and think about them. Slow training allows your body to build proper neuromuscular pathways. That means your brain learns how and when to properly fire each muscle for a desired action.

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Here’s an example. Have you ever started working out and noticed the first 30 days or so, you got a lot stronger? Then your progress slowed down tremendously? Chalk it up to neuromuscular pathways. 

For the first four weeks or so of your workouts, your body is getting more efficient at moving. Most of the initial strength gains aren’t your muscles actually becoming stronger. It’s really your muscles learning to work together better.

Or what about playing a musical instrument? When you first learn a new piece of music, you practice at a slower tempo. As you learn the proper rhythm, notes, and finger positions, speed comes naturally. Why? Because thanks to neuromuscular pathways, your brain doesn’t have to think about each note so much.

Gaining speed naturally is always better than artificially induced speed. Think of it this way. If you do 100 artificially fast repetitions, you’ll most likely perform each one a little bit differently. Now your brain has learned 100 different ways of doing the technique. Each rep that is different than the others is essentially like starting over.

But if you did those same 100 reps slowly, each one exactly like the one before it, your brain and body are building that motion into memory. Which of those do you think yields better results?

Sure, you eventually have to test things out at speed. But work slowly first. Then use speed training to find out where your reflexes need to improve.

4. Resisting your partner  

There are times when resistance is appropriate. Other times it’s completely inappropriate. We’re talking about the latter.

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This one affects your training a little differently than the others. When you apply unnecessary resistance against your partner, you stand a higher chance of injury to yourself.

Improper resistance happens for a couple of reasons. One is fear. Perhaps the student is afraid a joint lock, for instance, will hurt. Or, they’re afraid of the fall during a takedown. So, they resist. The problem is, by tensing and resisting, you’ve now created a situation where your partner must do the technique harder. 

The other reason is ego. Usually, the resisting partner does so out of the desire to show they can stand up to the technique. Occasionally, someone resists because they want to see if the technique really works.

This is especially dangerous when two new students are working together, as they don’t have the proper control to do the technique both hard and safely at the same time.

And as dangerous as it is to you, it’s frustrating for your partner. Especially if your partner is also new. Right out of the gate, they feel they can’t use the technique they just learned. The problem isn’t the technique; it’s the learning curve.

Just like speed, you can’t artificially infuse resistance into training. The motions must be learned first, followed by the nuances of the technique. Nuances are things like subtle balance shifts, structural breaks, and positioning that aren’t apparent at first glance. Learning these subtleties makes the technique work with much less effort.

What if you’re unsure how much resistance to give? If you’re working with a senior student, they’ll likely give you guidance. When in doubt, ask your instructor.

5. Losing control under pressure

Ultimately, you must test all techniques under pressure. This could be through traditional sparring, or in the form of a pressure test like in Krav Maga.

Losing control risks injury to yourself– as well as your partners– when working under pressure. This alone is reason enough to maintain control in class. In real life, loss of control puts you in danger physically as well as legally. The most important thing you can learn from martial arts is self control.

Miyamoto Musashi, author of the Book of Five Rings, says it best: 

In a way, this ties back into tips number 3 and 4. When we lose control, we try going faster and harder than we’re capable of, often attempting to make up for lack of skill through sheer force. 

Remember this: as a new student, training is about finding your weaknesses and fixing them. It isn’t about proving how tough you are or how much you know. Approaching pressure training with the wrong mindset will only lead to frustration, and potentially injuries. Either of these will produce a negative outcome in your training.

Instead, look at pressure training not as an opportunity to see how hard you can go, but an opportunity to learn how to control your body and emotions under stress.

Conclusion

Martial arts training presents many positive lessons for those who train consistently. Of course, a big part of staying consistent is not quitting. Unfortunately, most new martial arts students quit due to frustration.

But this frustration is easily avoided if you begin your training with the right mindset and expectations. Proper training and learning takes time. It isn’t a race. Neither is it an ego match. 

Go slow, pay attention to the basics, and remember, training isn’t always a fight. Use each moment of training as a chance to gain control of yourself and your techniques. Before you know it, you’ll have outlasted 75% of the students who step inside a martial arts class.

Interested in martial arts but not sure where to start? Riverside Martial Arts makes it easy. Try our Integrated Martial Arts or C.O.R.E. Krav Maga classes for 3 full weeks for only $49. No contracts, no gimmicky “black belt club” upgrades. Click here to contact us about your first class, FREE.

Featured image by Jeff Klugiewicz from Pixabay 

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