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Monday, November 5, 2007

Persistance And Determination Alone

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

--Calvin Coolidge

I was talking with a recent acquaintance last week, and (perhaps not surprisingly), the topic of my martial arts training came up. When I told her about the various arts and systems that I’ve been exposed to in the last eighteen years of my life, her immediate response was “wow…you must be very talented.”

It isn’t the first time I’ve gotten that reaction, and I’m always a little confused and baffled by it. Whatever successes I’ve achieved in the martial arts, talent has had very little to do with any of them.

This is not false modesty. While I have been guilty of that sin on occasion (usually relative to my academic capabilities), when it comes to physical activities, I simply am not talented. I know I’m not, because I have trained with people who are. Physical geniuses that can watch someone move, and replicate that movement almost immediately. They are the people who intuit proper mechanics for a punch, who can seize hold of you and immediately find the weak spots in your balance, or the people who otherwise are able to do things properly with little or no instruction. With instruction, they can become devastating.

Such talent is rare. Most people do not have it. I certainly don’t. When studying under one particular instructor, I had to be shown a sequence of five movements about twenty times before I could remember it. Each time I thought I had it, he would leave, only for me to realize thirty seconds later that I had forgotten the sequence entirely. Even now, after nearly eight years of doing Muay Thai, Kru Mark will show me something new, and I’ll have to drill the hell out of it for hours before I can apply it. I honestly believe it took me two years to learn to really throw a hook properly (I could throw one earlier than that, but it wasn’t until after about two years that I was doing it well.).

So how did I get to where I am? Persistence and Determination alone. When I didn’t get something, I practiced it. If I still didn’t get it, I practiced it some more. Sometimes I practiced slowly. Sometimes quickly. But I kept practicing.

Was it easy? Not at all. It was frustrating, painful, annoying, disheartening. I’ve sat slumped in the corner of a ring, literally holding back tears after three minutes of successfully executing facial blocks, and little else. I’ve had people effortless counter something that I’ve worked on for months. Perhaps most frustrating of all, I’ve watched those with much greater talent absorb in minutes what took me months.

In the end, I’m better for it. A better fighter (though not as good as some), and a better teacher. One of the unique benefits of NOT getting things through natural talent is that you are forced to break things down in a way that allows you to transmit them to other people who also don’t get it. Because the truth is, the vast majority of the population does not get this stuff naturally. But they can get it. I did.

All it takes is persistence.


PhotoJen said...

I totally agree with you. What used to frustrate the heck out of me when I started karate was that Kris was GREAT at it because he had talent, he could move! Seth and I had to struggle to do anything, to learn any little thing whereas Kris got it instantly. Now people say "You're so talented! I'll never be that good!" and I always tell them that yes, in X number more years, they will. And they'll probably be even better. The school where I teach karate has this thing - 8 virtues of being a black belt. But honestly, it's the last three that make the karate happen: perseverance, self control, and indomitable spirit.

Val said...

Its funny, until you mentioned that i never thought about martial arts as something you could have an inherent talent for. Be fast, be strong, yes, but that's it. I always thought of knowing lots of forms as being about dedication and studiousness rather than talent; I believed in skill, not talent. Probably had something to do with the senseis I studied under in high school and their approach to things.... but that's why I suggested persistence and things along that line when you were trying to think of a name for this blog. How odd.

Jake said...

People have talents for virtually anything and everything. Martial arts and fighting are no exceptions.

Skill and talent are hard to separate at some point, but those with talent tend to develop skill faster than those who don't. There are definitely gifted people in the world.