The tips below are an excerpt from a work in progress that may well become an ebook, available here in the not too distant future. Check out Gill’s post on some of her travel experiences here.
A Few Tips for the Wandering Martial Artist
When you’re working with new people as a visitor to a school or at an open seminar, the following practices can help people get to know you, and give you an opportunity to gauge attitudes:
- When you visit other places or attend seminars, this is your mantra: “I am not here to impress anyone. I’m here to learn and to let others do the same.”
- Look for cues and customs in the group and respect them: where shoes, clothes or equipment are stored, water bottles are placed, phones turned off, food on the floor or off, etc.
- Offer to help set up, and offer to help tear down. A lot of folks are content to mill around and watch a few folks do the work. When everyone is tired after a day of training, extra help is greatly appreciated.
- Introduce yourself to the other students before training begins. Avoid going into lengthy expositions of your background and lineage. If asked, keep it to a sentence or two, and don’t try to impress anyone with the details.
- If there’s time to warm up before sessions, just do your normal routine. Don’t take up the middle of the floor, try to jazz it up, or do it half-assed. Just do what you need to do.
- If you are in a group that bows, don’t get into exaggerated bowing displays. If not, a good firm handshake never hurts.
- Don’t get competitive or take things personally. If someone is more skilled than you, learn from it; if you are more skilled, don’t be a dick about it. Over-correcting or “coaching” someone else to death falls under this heading.
- Don’t get over-awed by higher ranks/belts, or reputations. Do what you do, do it well, and do your best to adapt when an instructor wants you to try something different. Likewise, don’t expect that your rank/belt or reputation is going to be important to anyone else.
- If you need to ask questions, ask questions, but don’t monopolize training time with ad infinitum what-ifs, or lengthy explanations about how something is done in your group. Both come off as a passive-aggressive criticism. Sometimes it’s best to ask the instructor for further clarification once things are underway to avoid cutting into everyone else’s training time.
- Communicate about boundaries. All martial arts training carries some inherent risks, and it’s reasonable to expect that you’ll accumulate some bruises, broken toes, a black eye or two, and maybe a broken rib at some point in your training career. However, there is a big difference between acceptable risk and unacceptable risk. Before engaging in training with a person who is new to you:
- Establish mutually agreeable levels of force and speed. If you both agree that it’s time to go hard, go hard. If it’s time to go soft, go soft. Don’t be “that guy” who comes out of the gates at 110% when everyone else has agreed to 50%.
- Establish safety signals, such as tapping on any available surface
- Identify vulnerable areas that should be avoided or treated carefully, such as weak joints or recently healed injuries, and return the favor
- The moment that a partner ignores or “forgets” one of these points, there is absolutely no reason that you can’t excuse yourself from working with him or her. If an instructor or seniors criticize you for this, leave
11. Thank people. If you can spend a few hours throwing relative strangers into the floor, grabbing throats, cranking joints and rolling around on the ground, a sincere thanks and a handshake shouldn’t be difficult to offer.