One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life...
A friend asked me today if kids are different now compared to what they were thirty years ago when I first started teaching. My answer was that I think everybody is different from how they were thirty years ago, myself included. What I see from my 46-year-old eye is mostly positive. I think that the massive amount of free information on-line is great. I think that social media has its place and I think that the ability to connect with people is so much easier now than ever before. We live in a world that can give us the information and connections we want and need faster than any time in history. But I think it comes at a price. That price is lack of focus.
Focus is at the core of any type of self-improvement. If it’s martial arts, scholastic endeavour, learning a different language, learning a trade or learning how to grow a plant it all requires focus. Focus is your ability to concentrate 100% on the task in front of you. If you’re learning how to throw a solid right hand you need to be fully engaged in the process. If you’re throwing your punch in class thinking about what someone has said about you on Facebook, and thinking about the fifty different ways that you have seen the same punch thrown on YouTube and what you’re going to eat for dinner after class - that’s all taken away from the effectiveness of that punch. Focus is at the core of mastery. I don’t consider myself a master of the martial arts by any stretch of the imagination. But any skills that I have acquired have all been from concentrated effort and consistency.
I went through a period in my early 20s where I would buy every martial arts book, magazine and VHS (for those who are old enough to remember what that means) that I could get my hands on. My thinking back then was that more information, more techniques and more variations of practice were better. I became a sponge for anything martial arts related. And guess what? Whenever I hit the gym to train the same holes in my game were there. No amount of “knowledge” could fix what had to be fixed. The only thing that filled the gap between what I was good at and what I was crap at was focused training. It was and still is, my number one principle for skill development. If you want to be good at the martial arts, you have to be totally honest with yourself. You have to know what you’re good at and you have to know what needs improvement. It’s easy to gravitate to the material that highlights your strengths. It’s ten times harder to put yourself under the spotlight of imperfection and work on your weaknesses. Being honest with yourself and knowing what needs improvement is but the first step. Working on those weaknesses is the second step on a very long journey. And this is where focus is paramount.
Focus from my understanding comes in two congruent parts. Part one is mental focus. Mental focus is to fully concentrate your mind on the job at hand. If your weakness is escaping side control, why hit the mat and not let your training partner get to that position? If you hit the mat let them get there so you can learn to focus your physical and mental energy on getting good at escaping. Your mind goes from stopping him getting there to learning to escape. Physical focus (part 2) is about fully engaging your body into what you are trying to achieve. If it’s escaping side control, you need to move your body in a way that is congruent with that goal. Trying to create space, anticipating his next move, getting your under hook, keeping your defence tight and/or moving your hips away from your partner all help get you to the position you want (out of side control).
Most of us know what has to be done to improve our martial arts training. No amount of information is going to do the work for you. You have to get comfortable in making mistakes, feeling inadequate and trying things that don’t work the first time. Almost every martial arts technique can be improved with a piece of paper and a pen. Write down what you’re crap at and spend time each month on attending the classes that cover that topic. And when you’re in those sessions focus your mind and body on the job at hand.
When you focus your training this way you’re on the road to progress and improvement. I don’t know of anyone who is a master at anything who has not spent quality time on making small improvements. Think about a professional golf player. A professional golf player spends their entire career mastering three shots - the drive, the chip and the putt. Every time they practice they are working on one of these three things. I have friends who are right into golf who spend 2-5 hours per week practicing these three shots over and over again. How many techniques are we trying to get good at - 20, 50, 100…? My point here is focus. Focus your game on improving everything you can with consistent effort and the rewards will come. Being distracted and unfocussed on your outcomes leads to frustration and disappointment.