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Training Hard Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

In martial arts, we repeat the mantra of “train hard!” so often that it’s real meaning can get lost. Jiu-jitsu and karate are nuanced martial arts with significant technical depth. Just as something as seemingly simple as a straight punch requires a sophisticated implementation of movement, coordination, and strategy to be successful, so does the adage of “train hard” have greater implications than the sum of its two words might suggest.

Train hard means setting your goals and investing in the mat time that it takes to achieve them. Train hard means finishing the round even though you are tired and feel like quitting. Train hard means welcoming the challenge of a new technique instead of letting it frustrate you. Train hard means leaving the mat today a little bit better than you were yesterday.

You cannot accomplish any of these things alone. Our gym is a community, and that’s the only way that you can grow as a martial artist. You need your training partners and they need you. You help each other. You support each other. You work together to make everyone better.

In this way, training hard is not just about making yourself better; it’s about making everyone better.

With that mind, here is what training hard does not entail:

  • Endangering the health of your training partners by rolling or sparring maliciously or without control.
  • Talking negatively about yourself or your training partners.
  • Getting angry when a training partner outperforms you in class or in sparring.

Martial arts training can be intense, and though many of us train to defend ourselves in the unfortunate event that we are attacked, we do not fight in the gym. We simulate a fight without forfeiting control of the situation or ourselves. Even though we might be sparring with speed and even power, we are never intentionally inflicting harm. In fact, we are actively trying to protect the health of our training partners because these are the people that we care about and these are the people that will help us to achieve our goals.

In general, everyone on the mat understand this dynamic, but I wanted to put it into words so that all of us can help to convey this philosophy to new students. For you and your future training partners, here are some tips for safely training hard and for maintaining mutual respect during this training:

  • If you have an intensity preference—perhaps to prepare for competition or to protect an injury—talk to your training partner about it before you begin rolling or sparring.
  • Remember that health and safety are more important than winning. No one will remember who tapped who a week from now.
  • Be happy for your training partners when they improve, even if it means that they thump you a bit more often.
  • If you feel the session getting out of control—like if stray elbows and knees are hitting you and your partner—make a conscious effort to slow down the pace.
  • If you get frustrated, take a deep breath and ask an instructor or your training partners for help on overcoming the obstacle in your path.

Training is supposed to be fun, for everyone. When everyone supports and respects each other, training is so much simpler and more enjoyable.

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