Monday, August 18, 2008

Are you progressing (fast enough)

Do you ever wonder if you’re making sufficient progress? Assuming there could ever be a universal definition for ‘sufficient progress’, it is a question almost everybody asks. The short answer is probably yes, but even the short answer requires some explanation.

I study a martial art known as Tang Soo Do, and we teach it in a very traditional manner; lots of low stances, with an emphasis on hyung (forms/patterns/kata), and basic defensive techniques. For discussion purposes I’ll use a basic front stance to illustrate my perspective. A proper front stance has the feet shoulder width a part, with the right (or left) foot in front as if you’ve just tried to take a big step forward. The front knee is bent, while the back knee is straight. The toes of both feet point forward. The back is straight up, not leaning forward or backward.

For today, we’ll forego describing the hand positions.

So, are you making progress? What I’m about to describe will use the Tang Soo Do front stance as an example, but I’m sure you could use almost any basic technique of any martial art in the same way.

When a white belt (10th Gup) first learns the front stance they are typically ‘high in the saddle’ so to speak. Instead of a large step forward and outward, they tend to take a walking step. Remember that in a proper front stance the feet should be shoulder-width apart and the height from the ground to the groin should be just above where your knees are when you are standing erect.

So white belts tend to stand too high and too narrow. By the time they are 9th gup yellow belts, they have significantly lowered their stance. By the time they are 6th gup green belts their stance is much lower and it is often times approaching the correct width. Of course, some students make this transition faster/sooner than others. This amount of progress is noticeable by the student themselves.

And that is where the questions begin. Early on, it is easy to make a lot of ‘noticeable’ progress – but that is not necessarily ‘significant’ progress. The adage that easy come, easy go, is very real in this context. Let’s say that as a white belt your front stance places your groin 18” from the ground. As you reach yellow belt you are down to 16” from groin to the ground. This is a big two inch drop, but frankly, a fairly easy drop. Later, as you are working towards the green to red belt transition, let’s say your front stance only drops another quarter of an inch. First; you are unlikely to notice this drop. Second; this is a much more significant and useful drop that will positively affect your power, balance, and speed.

So, are you progressing? Probably – if, and this is a big if; if you are following the advice and counsel of your instructors. When the instructor says to your class, “lower your stance”, then this means you – not the guy next to you.

So assuming that you are listening to your instructors then yes, you are progressing. Early progress comes fast and is obvious. But in all honesty, this is easy come, easy go progress. Later your progress will be measured not in feet or inches, or seconds; rather your progress will be measured in fractions of inches and seconds. This progress will be harder to notice, but will be more meaningful.

You are making progress. Stick with it.

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