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From the day we’re born we get labeled by people in our surroundings. “Oh she’s so cute, she’s going to be beautiful, just like her mom!”. “Oh wow! Already counting! What a smart boy!”.

 

Our actions, looks, and mood in one particular moment can define how people see us, label us, and talk about us for a very long time.  If you’re a rebel by nature, you’ll probably say: "who cares about what people think and say about me, it doesn’t matter" and I agree. Except that, when you’re 5 years old, you are learning to perceive yourself and the world around you from the adults in your life. 

 

So that comment your aunt made about how smart you are because you were able to count all your smarties sticks with you. An adult has labeled you smart, so it must be true. Never mind that every 5 year old can count and that you’ve been counting smarties for a long time now. She said it, and so it must be true. You internalize this label, and from that point on you identify yourself with being smart. This is where it gets even more interesting: because this was a relatively easy task considering your age and development, you also attribute your being smart to not having to apply any effort. This is where the problem lies. Then you develop the belief that working hard at something means "I’m not smart", because when I was 5 years old my aunt said I was smart after I counted my smarties, which was easy.

 

How do you think you’re going to react the next time something challenging comes your way? You’ll get frustrated, because you believe that it should be easy. Maybe you’ll start making stories like “oh well, I’m really good at counting, but I’m no good at drawing”. Or you might even give up and develop a belief that you’re not good at drawing and have an aversion to arts. If you never challenge it, this belief could stick for the rest of your life. All from one comment made by your well-intended aunt! (This is an oversimplified example, but you get the picture).

 

I see this all the time at the dojo: kids and adults alike labeling themselves and having fixed ideas on their abilities and competencies, especially at the beginning of their journey. 

The beauty of martial arts though is that it doesn’t judge you on your past accomplishments and abilities. Everyone one has the potential of being a black belt one day, regardless of how long it takes. All that’s needed is the desire to learn and grow, no matter where you start. Whether you’re strong or weak, tall or short, extroverted or shy and timid, everyone gets the same amount of mat time and no one gets benched.

 

That being said, your progress really depends on how much you want to learn. How willing you are to try until you get it. How much are you willing to lose before winning? What is your tolerance for not being good right away?

 

At the beginning everyone has a different answer to these questions. The not so physically gifted know they will struggle from the get go. These people are the most inspiring because they show up day in and day out knowing that it’s going to be a struggle, but that eventually they’ll get it. Some are athletic and have an easier time learning how to move. They’ll learn faster until they hit a plateau and then start questioning their abilities (I thought I was good!).

 

This is where the magic happens. This is where the opportunity for true growth lies.

 

We all start our journey in martial arts with different mindsets. The process however, either filters out the weak (or better said, the "not-ready") or builds a strong and resilient character that sees challenges as opportunities for growth.

 

So here is my challenge to you. Ask yourself:

  • What are the stories and excuses you’re telling yourself to not embark on a new journey?  
  • Do you remember how to learn or have you forgotten?
  • Are you able to learn, un-learn, and re-learn?
  • Do you believe that it’s too late/too stressful for you to learn something new, or are you growth-oriented?
  • Do you have something in your life that challenges you to grow mentally, physically and spiritually?

Renshi Melhem Wehbe




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