Making Peace With Mediocrity

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Discussion' started by OwlMAtt, Jun 27, 2011.

  1. Kwajman

    Kwajman Penguin in paradise....

    I'm now 51 and was really good in tournaments till I blew my knee out 3 times at age 40, 42, and 48. I've pretty much given up hope of doing a lot of things I used to do but I now know my limitations. I understand my kicking is going to be dodgy at best due to my lack of mobility, but my strikes are still pretty darn good.

    I train on my own when I can knowing that I'm only going to get worse and worse over time. But as long as I enjoy it and know my limitations, I think any martial art is better than no martial art even though being a third dan now means a lot less than it used to.
  2. ishkabibble

    ishkabibble New Member


    Yes, I am familiar with the title of the thread. I think he used "mediocre" in a tongue-in-cheek sense, eg OwlMatt's goals may strike others as unimpressive, or sub-par. Many authors give their articles/books/posts strange or somewhat shocking titles in an attempt to draw readers in. (And in OwlMatt's case, the technique clearly worked!)

    @Rebel Wado

    If OwlMatt continually strives to learn, to improve his knowledge and abilities, I think that's a great example for other students.

    I never got the sense that he's giving up or plans to stop trying, he just accepts he will never have the highest kicks or the strongest punches in class. He accepts he doesn't have the luxury of making MA his highest priority. And I never got the sense that he was blaming anybody for anything. He honestly admits that he won't be able to make MA the #1 priority in his life, but that doesn't change the fact that he really enjoys MA and he's really excited about the little time he does have dedicate to it.

    I'm not sure why you're hammering at him with this humility thing. If you think he's exercising false modesty, there's not really anything he can do to prove otherwise, is there?

    If I may respectfully ask, Rebel Wado, why does OwlMatt's essay offend you so deeply? You seem very angry with what he's saying.
  3. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    It was cleared up. I misunderstood and thought Owl said he had two black belts. I was coming from the view that he was a black belt. It turns out, I goofed up and read it wrong. He is not a black belt yet.

    If he was my student and one of my black belts, I could very well take the rank away, bust him back down to white belt. Not out of anger, but out of tough love. You don't wear a black belt on the outside, you wear it on the inside, IMHO... let's see what people are really made of.

    If you read much of koyo's posts, you may have seen that even he was busted down from black belt to white belt by Chiba Sensei at one point, if memory serves me right. Look how he turned out... (yeah I really miss him too).

    Last edited: Jun 28, 2011
  4. OwlMAtt

    OwlMAtt Armed and Scrupulous

    Of course.

    I don't know how it is where you train, but if I get black belts in aikido and taekwondo where I currently train, they will come with dan certificates issued by Aikikai and the Kukkiwon, respectively. Those are not things that an individual instructor can simply revoke on his own authority.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2011
  5. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    Best of luck man. Glad to hear it.

    It isn't a matter of authority, it is a manner of respect and humility. Do you respect the person that gave you the belt enough to accept that what they give you (regardless of signed certificates) they can take away? Are you humble enough to lose your rank and still keep going?

    IMHO, people do not earn rank, they are not awarded rank, they take rank... they fight for it. So it doesn't matter the rank, it matters the fighting spirit.

    Busting down rank is one of the extreme tests of character in martial arts, IMHO.
  6. OwlMAtt

    OwlMAtt Armed and Scrupulous

    Thank you.

    I don't think it's a matter of humility or respect. In most modern martial arts gyms/dojos/etc., a dan is not just a title granted by an instructor, it's a position within an organization. Once I have my black belt in aikido certified by Aikikai, my instructors, no matter how humble I am or how much I respect them, have no more authority to take away my black belt than they do to annul my marriage. Perhaps it is different in independent dojos; I've never trained in one.

    Your perception of the instructor/student relationship seems a little antiquated and romanticized to me. I respect my instructors for their skill and experience in the martial arts, and I show my humility by deferring to them in matters of the martial arts and acknowledging their superior skill and experience. But I don't go to the dojo for lessons in humility and character.

    There are too many great martial artists in the world who are sorely lacking in humility and character for me to believe that the martial arts are, in and of themselves, a source of humility and character.

    But that is a matter for another article. Luckily, I have already written it: Also, Rob Redmond of has written extensively on this topic.
  7. Theforgotten

    Theforgotten Drifting Aimlessly

    Easy there, tiger. I obviously had you pegged wrong and I apologize. Your article mentioned sport, and I took that to infer sport competition such as competing one-on-one, full contact. I'm sorry for the misunderstanding. We certainly do agree on the main point though, and I think too many people assume that they are going to become Bruce Lee when they sign up. Of course, Hollywood and unscrupulous schools/instructors don't help matters, either.

    My thoughts on rating and/or comparing martial artists is as follows:

    I think that it is fruitless to compare yourself to someone else to determine whether you are a mediocre martial artist or not. Martial arts is a very personal/individual thing and whether you are mediocre, ordinary, or you excel at it has more to do with whether or not you are picking it up yourself and maximizing your potential within your own set of limitations. We're all built a little differently and have different physical advantages and limitations, so you can't really compare yourself to another person and use that as a measuring stick of whether you are a mediocre martial artist or not. Now, I can see being a mediocre competitor compared to the rest of the feild (which is part of the reason why I erroneously inferred full-contact sport competition on your part), but I don't see how you can be mediocre in comparsion to someone else in something so individual as one's personal martial arts journey where each and every one of us travels a different path, gets where we aim to get at a different time, and has differing advantages and limitations at any given time on the path. If you give it your all and make the most of what you have, then that makes you a good martial artist in my opinion. If you compete against someone else in a sporting competition and you lose and/or are just simply not good enough at that particular competition, then you are mediocre as a competitor within that particular venue, but not as an individual martial artist, per se. I guess that I am looking at it from the viewpoint of one can learn a martial art and perform the martial art in a satisfactory manner as it was taught to them, but not be interested in participating in formal competition, or just flat out be underwhelming in formal competition despite being able to perform the art itself to a satisfactory standard. They'd still be a good martial artist even if they are only a mediocre competitor when compared to the rest of the feild. Please do not get angry or offended, and I am not trying to be offensive in any way. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article, as it was well written and made a lot of great points :).
  8. OwlMAtt

    OwlMAtt Armed and Scrupulous

    Thank you for your praise, Theforgotten. Like I said, I think we agree more than disagree.

    You and others here have said there is no need to compare ourselves to others in our training. I suppose I agree, but I think that since we are always learning from others, I think some comparison to others is inevitable. But I agree that we need not judge the quality of our training or the value of our training experience by how we compare to other martial artists. It's okay to look at someone with a higher rank and a younger, more athletic body and think, "I'll probably never be that flexible, so I'll probably never be able to perform that kick that well at that height, but I'll work at it to make it the best I can."
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2011
  9. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    *BOLD* This is ALL anyone is expected to do
  10. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    It's built on a bond of blood, sweat, and tears.

    We really disagree on things. That's fine. Good luck.
  11. Timmy Boy

    Timmy Boy Man on a Mission

    I empathise with OwlMAtt's position a great deal. The thing to remember is that settling for mediocrity in martial arts training doesn't mean settling for mediocrity in life in general. Not by a long way.

    The truth is that for many of us life really does get in the way. I don't think you can start serious training at a very young age in the way that most high-level boxers, judoka etc do without making sacrifices elsewhere. People in the "traditional" arts often talk about the "dedication" required by their chosen art with no real idea what their sporting counterparts go through. I like martial arts, but my ambition in life has always been to become a lawyer, and if my overarching need for the best legal education/training/experience leaves me short of practical options for regular, realistic martial arts training, then that's just how it is.

    So what now? Well, for the moment I'm settled in an area with decent public transport and a reasonable selection of quality martial arts clubs and gyms. So I'm training judo, lifting weights and doing a bit of jogging. While I'm a bit too late a starter to dream of competing at a very high level, I can certainly improve my fitness exponentially and become a far, far better grappler than Joe Bloggs. So I suppose I've settled for mediocrity in the martial arts, but I'm OK with that.
  12. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    That's the same for most everyone, Timmy Boy. There is always so much to do and never enough time.

    People do what they have to do. No one should have a problem with anyone that does what they feel they have to do.

    Not much is expected out of martial arts training... all that might be expected is that one keeps training in however way they can and when they do train, they train sincerely and hard.

    Unlike your assessment, I believe martial arts is a reflection of your life. If one trains really hard in martial arts at the cost of something else, there will be a time when the same will happen in reverse, martial arts will get tossed to the side so that time can be spent on something else. There are people that claim family is their priority, but then they get a job where they work insane hours, and the family time is lost. If someone has to work insane hours to feed the family, that is doing what has to be done... but if the person is saying family is priority but they choose to work insane hours away from the family when they don't have to... does that not seem a bit hyprocritical?

    I have seen what would seem a good percentage of martial artists that basically quit after receiving a black belt. Having reached a goal, they now find all the stuff they gave up to get there, friends, family, etc. takes up their time and slowly they show up to train less and less until they finally stop coming.

    This is a bit like finding a woman of your dreams, sending flowers everyday, and as soon as you are married, you stop sending flowers to her. Sorry, but anything worth doing is worth doing right. You send someone flowers everyday, you better be ready to do that for the long haul. IMHO. How would the wife feel if you basically said, sorry hun, got to settle for mediocrity, I know I used to give you flowers everyday, but I'm at peace with you, so you don't get flowers anymore.

    If something is important, you don't settle.
  13. m1k3jobs

    m1k3jobs Dudeist Priest

    Ok, I found this article condescending and annoying. I am 57 and train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 3 time a week. I have children older that the adults I roll with and I can hold my own on the mats. I've just started taking an interest in testing simply because 2 of my training partners that I roll with on a regular basis and consider myself their peer just got their blue belts. I realize that I can do that, even if I am an old geezer.

    Screw mediocrity.

  14. OwlMAtt

    OwlMAtt Armed and Scrupulous

    Of course it does. But that's not what I'm talking about.

    Rebel, you continue to misunderstand me, and now I'm starting to think you're doing it on purpose. I'm not talking about settling, and I'm certainly not talking about ceasing to try at a certain level. As long as you insist on saying that I am talking about those things, you are missing the whole point of the article.

    As for the scenario you're talking about here, I think you have it backwards. In my experience, most people quit trying in activities and relationships not because they are settling for mediocrity, but because they are unprepared for reality.

    People who get into the martial arts looking for an easy way to attain the physique of Jean-Claude Van Damme, the fighting skill of Bruce Lee, or the enlightened mind of a Shaolin monk are quickly disappointed. Once they get their black belts and discover that all they have been doing for the last four years is participating in a fun and interesting mixture of sport and art rather than becoming legendary warriors, they become disillusioned and eventually stop training.

    Likewise, it is far more likely that the lover you mentioned, rather than giving up on a perfect woman, is becoming disillusioned by her imperfection. He wooed her after only knowing her from afar and falling in love with her pretty face, but was unprepared for her to not like everything he liked, to not be quite as skinny and fit as she looked with clothes on, and to get older.

    We all knew this guy in college (I knew him very well--he was my roommate): he wooed a pretty girl with all the emotion and enthusiasm of a Shakespearean hero, but got tired of the girl a few weeks into the relationship and started the process all over again with another girl. Why did he do this? Because he was more interested in his dream girl than a real girl.

    To continue your metaphor, what I am suggesting is that we love the girl for what she is rather than expecting her to be something she isn't, something we have created in our own minds to fulfill our romantic fantasies. Doing that isn't settling; in fact, it's preparing us to spend a lifetime working hard for this relationship.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2011
  15. OwlMAtt

    OwlMAtt Armed and Scrupulous

    Good for you. I certainly am not suggesting this is impossible or shouldn't be pursued. What you have accomplished is a rare feat, and you ought to be proud of it.

    As for the condescension, it is a fault of mine. I apologize for that, but I think I'm still making a good point.
  16. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    My response to the article probably sounded harsh. Maybe it was. But I see this all the time. People come to me and ask me to teach them how to do full splits or kick vertical. I assess their condition, produce a step-by-step plan and show them what needs to be done. They see just how much effort it will take and say, "That looks like too much hard work. I'll stick with being average. This is just martial arts; as long as I put in some effort I'll be okay." People like this are a waste of my time. How long is it before this willingness to accept being an Average Joe seeps into other areas of a person's life? "There's an opportunity for promotion coming up, but it looks like too much hard work. I'll stick with where I am." HELL NO! I say grow a pair of balls, jump into every opportunity with both feet first and try your Goddamned hardest to be the best. Maybe it's my military heritage; maybe it's my background as an athlete; maybe I'm just an a-hole. But refusing to strive for being the best is nothing short of a one-way ticket to Loserville.

    If you need me I'll be over by the bar drinking with all the winners.
  17. OwlMAtt

    OwlMAtt Armed and Scrupulous

    I like this attitude to a point, but I think there are limits to it. Sure, I could quit my job and find someplace where I could work a night shift so that I could train at the dojo four times a week rather than two. Actually, I could bump that up to five by quitting my standing Saturday gig with the band.

    That would undoubtedly propel me to a higher level of skill. But I'm simply not willing to make those sacrifices. My job and my music are too important to me. The martial arts aren't the only important thing in my life, and there are some things I am simply not willing to do for their sake.

    If that costs me a seat with the "winners", I can live with that.

    By the way, let me repeat something I have said over and over again in this thread. I'll put it in big letters this time in hopes of not having to say it again:

    Last edited: Jun 29, 2011
  18. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    Yeah I am doing it on purpose. I'm not going to give up on you so easily Owl!

    I'm going to light a fire in you and if you can't take the heat, get out of the dojo. :hat:
  19. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    It wasn't what you said, it was the way you said it. The tone of the article did not seem sincere.

    You describe using nothing but logic, a topic that really is not about logic but about heart and soul. You dismiss ideals as antiquated and romanticized much as someone that doesn't understand something, or maybe someone that understands it all too well but is afraid to admit it. Your writing is distant and cold, as if life is nothing but a science project you need to get through for a passing grade.

    Reality? Accepting reality is important for moving on, but reality is a moving target. It's the little joys in life, the small things that keep us going. You never know what the next day will bring.

    Honesty, integrity, humility, sincerity, fighting spirit, character... if you do not find these things in your martial arts, inside you at times where you put yourself in harms way, then train harder.

    I leave you with the words of a romantic, antiquated, sorely missed soul...

  20. OwlMAtt

    OwlMAtt Armed and Scrupulous

    As for my "distant and cold" writing style, I confess I am a very dry writer sometimes, but I think that's neither here nor there. I think that, although logic is not everything, all topics can be addressed with logic in mind, and that those topics that are "about heart and soul" need it just as much as anything else.

    Now to the specifics of this quote:
    I dismiss as antiquated and romanticized a few ideas that you seemed to me to have proposed:
    1) That a martial arts instructor, solely by virtue of his experience in the martial arts, is qualified to teach life skills such as humility and strength of character.
    2) That showing respect and humility toward a martial arts instructor means accepting his word without question, even on matters that are technically beyond his authority.
    3) That a person who does not plan to devote his life to trying to become a grandmaster of his art is somehow shaming himself or his art.

    Yes, I think all these ideas are antiquated and romanticized, and I think many martial artists with great potential give up the martial arts because they can't bring themselves to think this way.

    I agree with all of this.

    Frankly, I don't think the martial arts, in and of themselves, provide us with any of these things (except maybe "fighting spirit," though I don't really know what that means and I suspect that most people who use the term have never bothered to define it). The world is full people who have devoted their lives to martial arts training and achieved great skill who display none of these qualities.

    What the martial arts can teach us, I think, is perseverance, calm in the face of adversity (is this fighting spirit?), and confidence. We can use these tools to make ourselves into people of integrity, humility, sincerity, and character, but that it up to us.

    I know very little of Coyle Sensei, and was not a member of MAP when he was here, so I have no business judging his character or credibility, so I can only reply to these quotes as I see them:
    I have a problem with anyone suggesting that aikido (or anything else, for that matter) is beyond question. I think anything that goes unquestioned stagnates and eventually dies. It is possible that I am misunderstanding Colye Sensei here; I don't know the context of this quote.

    This is an admirable attitude. Rather than complaining that he had lost what he had rightfully achieved, Coyle Sensei apparently realized that, according to the standards of his organization, he had not yet actually achieved it. And rather than seeing achieving it as a chore, he saw it as a learning opportunity. I wish more people approached rank with this kind of attitude.

    That said, I don't think this kind of thing could happen in today's Aikikai. There are too many different splinter groups making up Aikikai that all have their own different standards and methods. There is no one standard to enforce anymore.

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