I have recently moved back to my home state after a 6 year absence due to being in the army. With the move obviously comes a whole lot of new things, one of which is the search for a judo club. I immediately made preparations to go back to the club I first started at – a big university club with lots of competition and hard training. Then I thought it would probably be a good idea to at least see if there were any new clubs close by. I found one just 10 minutes from my house and went there last night.
It was a good club. The facilities were good, the people were really nice, and the coach was a man after my own heart who put us through one hell of a training session. Upon finishing though, I felt a little sad. I was going to have to make the hard decision to most probably not go back. You see, along with one other guy there, I was the highest grade. “That’s awesome!” I imagine many people would say. I’d get to kick ass there every session. Believe me, when you’ve been out and seen the big, wide world, such a situation is a hollow feeling. It is one thing to be the big fish in a small pond that you’ve never been out of – you don’t know any better. When you have been one of the small or medium fish in several very large ponds though, you know just how little the pond you are in is and being the big fish is no consolation.
I’ve seen this at a lot of “traditional” schools. Before I started judo, I trained for 6 years in jujutsu. My instructor was big on getting out there and seeing what other schools were doing, so during that time I visited many schools. Some were good, most were between average or very bad. The problem was that each instructor had essentially set up his own little fiefdom where he held all his students spellbound by his position and title. That an instructor was unfit or lacked real combative skills was never an issue because their students never experienced anything different once they started training there, so they just assumed the instructor was worthy of their position and a badass killing machine.
The point of this is not to slag off other schools, but that in any endeavour, if you want to reach your maximum potential you need to challenge yourself. You need to step outside your comfort zone and be a bit (or a lot) vulnerable. This may seem obvious, but when the going gets tough it becomes very easy to tell yourself that you’re good enough, that you’re comfortable and don’t need to do anything more. The world is full of such people. It doesn’t matter if you realise you’re never going to get the top, I don’t consider that a reason to just throw it in and sit in a comfort zone. At the age I started judo, there was no way I was ever going to make it to world championships or the Olympics, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t give it a red hot try and at least fight at nationals.
I got good at judo not only because I fought every difficult opponent I could find, but also because I started associating with such people. In addition to competing against them hardening your skills, when you associate with them you get a whole lot of mentors, because that’s the nature of the game. People pay it forward. While this is not true of every endeavour (I’ve known of some notorious hoarders of information in other fields, but they were pretty rare), most people will be only too willing to help you out once you earn their respect and they subsequently recognise you as one of their own. And the only way to earn this respect is to get out there and give it a red hot go. People don’t expect you to come in as their equal, but when they see you working your ass off and not shying away from the tough stuff, they will reach out that helping hand.
But they won’t do it for posers or people that don’t want to do the work.