Now, you can read that as a greeting, or as the sound I would make karate-chopping you in the face. Either way would be fitting for the introduction of my friend and guest-poster, Vic Magary.
Vic has a great fitness and wellness site at VicMagary.com, and is a general, all-around BAD ASS. Like Strong Inside Out, his blog is dedicated to helping you “get back up” after whatever it was that got you down. Oh, and he has 30+ years martial arts experience and is a US Army Infantry Veteran, but who’s counting?
I’m honored and excited to have Vic here on the site today. I hope you can all gain as much insight from him as I have from reading his blog!
Without further ado, here’s Vic…
When you’re a ten year old kid, you can’t understand the life-long impact of stepping into the garage of your grandfather’s friend. It was on that concrete oil-stained garage floor that I joined my first martial arts class. And thirty years later, I’m still a practicing martial artist.
I’m often asked. . . Have you ever had to use your martial arts training?
And I always reply, “Every single day.”
Thankfully I’ve never had to implement a neck break, wrist lock, or swift kick to the groin. But I have had to walk with quiet confidence, make eye contact with a genuine smile, focus amid distractions, and do my best to make the right choice even when it’s the tough choice. Every single day.
There is a deliberate discipline to learning the physical skills of the martial arts that transfers to all areas of life. But the same can be said for any art. Whether it’s learning to paint or dance or play the piano, there is a process, a system, that can be derived from the arts and applied to mastering any skill.
But since I don’t create in the mediums of paint, dance, or music, I’ll be using martial arts analogies for this black belt guide to mastering any skill:
Identify the basics of the basics. In karate there are basic punches, basic blocks, basic kicks, and basic stances. But one of those pieces is literally the foundation for all other skills – the stances. That means that a weak punch or block can often be fortified by improving the stances, irregardless of whether or not punch and block mechanics involving the arms are improved. When mastering a skill, identify these foundations – the basics of the basics – and make them part of regular practice no matter how many years you engage in a skill.
Break skills down to the smallest movement possible. Most basic kicks can be broken down into four steps: the chamber (bending the knee), the execution (extending the leg), the recoil (returning to the chamber position), and the plant (putting the foot back on the floor). Instead of practicing the full kick, focusing only on the initial movement – the chamber – allows a step-by-step acquiring of the skill that may normally be overlooked by an excited beginner. When mastering a new skill, ask yourself what is the smallest movement that can be practiced. The first fold of an origami crane? The initial finger placement on a new guitar piece? Taking a skill apart in bite-sized chunks and then stringing each piece together helps to learn the skill but also identifies the “weak link in the chain” that must be practiced over and over to acquire mastery.
Increase difficulty and intricacy incrementally. To throw a flashy jump spinning crescent kick the spinning crescent kick must first be learned from the ground. And to learn the spinning crescent kick, the standard crescent kick must first be learned. The aspiring pianist may want to jump right into Mozart, but they should start with Mary Had A Little Lamb and then continue to learn pieces of gradually increasing difficulty until Mozart is appropriate..
Return to the basics often. How often? I advise returning to the basics every single practice session. The basics serve as a great “warm up” to get you ready for the practice of more advanced skills and can never be repeated enough. One of my instructors was fond of saying, ” a black belt is simply a master of the basics.”
Set standards across the mastery continuum. In modern karate schools, the colored belts designate the skill level of the practitioner. A green belt has learned skills that the white belt has not and the black belt has learned skills that are not yet known to the green belt. There are certainly exceptions to this “grading system” as far as skill acquisition, but it is still a decent way to gauge progress. And if there is no formal “rank structure” for your skill, that’s not a problem. You can designate the standards yourself – what skills would a black belt level cake baker possess? How about a cabinet maker?
The path to mastery is about holding yourself to a higher standard and being able to endure (and enjoy) the life long journey of skill refinement. The destination is irrelevant. Whether you knot a black belt around your waist or raise your hands in triumph at the end of a marathon, it is the small consistent steps along the way that build mastery.
What skills have you mastered? What skills would you like to master? Are there any tips to accelerate the process of mastery that you know? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Vic Magary is a two-time black belt and U.S. Army Infantry veteran who writes about fitness and no-nonsense personal development at VicMagary.com. To see him demonstrate some martial arts skills, check out the video at the end of this post.