We hear it all the time. Failure makes you tougher. Mistakes help you grow. Messing up is how you learn. So… if you fail your black belt test, does this automatically make you more resilient? If you lose your sparring division, does this mean you’ll fight better next time? If you keep screwing up your kata, does this make you a better martial artist?
Mistakes won’t help you grow… if you continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Failure won’t make you stronger… if you don’t actively participate in toughening up.
Messing up won’t help you learn… if you don’t own it and figure out what to change next time.
Failure on its own won’t help you improve in martial arts if you just sit back passively and expect some magical transformation.
Making mistakes IS a great way to learn what NOT to do in a situation. This is really helpful in martial arts, where we’re learning very precise and technical movements. But making mistakes doesn’t automatically make us better. You could learn a new block and keep practising the block wrong, and you’ll get lots of feedback that that block is wrong—through getting hit or kicked, or spraining fingers while blocking poorly—but if you do nothing with that feedback you won’t improve. Instead, you’ll keep blocking poorly and ineffectively, and you’ll never get better at it.
We need to learn how to do it right, not just how to do it wrong.
We need to get curious about our mistakes. What can we learn from them? How can we use the wrong way to help us figure out the right way? Rather than just repeating the wrong way over and over, or getting complacent or quitting entirely.
And then when we do occasionally get it right: we need to pay attention to that too.
So that one time in a hundred that we get that block right and actually prevent a broken nose, what did we do to achieve that? How can we do more of that? We need to analyze our successes—no matter how small—and figure out how to repeat behaviours that led to success in the first place. Rather than ignoring that small success and thinking it doesn’t matter, because most of the time we get it wrong anyway.
Mistakes and failures are absolutely a crucial part of our martial arts journey. And great teachers in martial arts allow us the freedom to take risks and make mistakes, because they understand that we need those opportunities to become better martial artists. But to be good students, and to become better martial artists, we do need to be willing to learn from those mistakes, not just repeat them. We do need to make changes if we want to move forward on our path.
Turning failure into success in martial arts: it’s pretty simple. But it’s not necessarily easy, or else we’d all be doing it all the time. But the process when you make a mistake is as follows:
Step 1 – Learn from it. What went wrong? Get curious about the details.
Step 2 – Own it. Don’t deflect responsibility or blame it on anyone else. YOU made that mistake. To grow from it, you need to own it first.
Step 3 – Fix it. Do it the right way next time. And then finally,
Step 4 – Make sure that mistake never happens again.
This is the formula for turning failure into success in martial arts. And this is how we will ALL get stronger and move forward on that path to mastery.
Podcast Show Notes
Does failure actually make us stronger? Are mistakes the best way to learn? Join me in this episode in a discussion of failure in martial arts, and how best to learn from our mistakes so that we can move forward on our path to mastery.
Thank you for joining me on my martial arts journey, and in the exploration of all the ways we can perform better in life and martial arts.
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How do you handle mistakes and failures in your martial arts training? Feel free to share your experiences in the Comments section. Thanks for reading!