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10 Essential Tips for Beginners

Starting out can be overwhelming! There seem to be so many rules, terms, and movements that you need to learn. While most of it comes with time, here are our top 10 tips to help when you're in the beginner phase.

Rule #11: Don't use someone else's gear without asking first.

1. Take Advantage of How Little You Know

Because you are so new, you will never be able to get away with as much as you can right now! You can ask almost any question and make any number of mistakes and it will be okay because you JUST started. The more you ask and the more you’re corrected, the faster you’ll learn and the bigger advances you can make during your first few years.

2. Take Care of Your Gear

We can be pretty rough on our stuff during class, so make sure to take care of yours once you bow out. That can range from sanding and oiling any wooden equipment, cleaning and polishing blades, or washing and airing out your uniform so it doesn't smell. If you don't know the best way to care for your gear, ask the instructor, a senior student, or reference one of our other articles.

3. A Black Belt Isn’t the Goal

Don’t get us wrong; finally receiving your black belt is a major accomplishment, but it isn’t the final prize. Your black belt isn't the equivalent to graduating from college. In reality, it is more like graduating elementary school and proves that you can join the “big kids” in middle school. A student with a black belt is a student who knows all of their basics so well that they are ready to unlock even more refined, more complex, more nuanced, and more difficult techniques; someone whose training has really just started.

4. Keep It (Mentally and Emotionally) Light

You don’t need to train angry and hard all the time. Being serious and focused during a training session is admirable, but what we do can be deceptively dangerous and dark. Staying in that dark mindset can do more harm than good, so we try to counterbalance it with periodic jokes. Training and fighting with a smile and a laugh helps keep the energy in the dojo up as well; perfect for those really hot days. 

5. Intent Is Better Than Intensity

A good strike doesn’t need to be full-go and as flashy as a martial arts movie! A slow-motion punch that actually makes contact and pushes your opponent back is far more useful than a faster-than-lighting punch that is never going to connect. Instead of working on how intense your moves look or feel to you, go slowly and smoothly to work on how accurate and effective they are on your training partner.

6. You're Never Too Good for the Basics

Our warm ups are our basics, and everyone from the newest student to the instructor is expected to go through them before class. After a few months, beginners are prone to just go through the motions. However, in order to get better, there are small alterations that we are all always trying to fix. If you feel that your rolls are stale or you don't want to practice cartwheels anymore, talk to the instructor for something within them that you can focus on to get to the next level.  

7. Learn From The Bottom Up

See a crazy new technique? Break it down from the bottom to the top. Start with the feet and get the placement and timing down. Then the legs, hips, chest and back, arms and hands, and even the head. For every section, ask yourself: Is anything straight or bent? Which direction is it facing compared to the opponent? Do they move at the same time as something else or is there an order? How close is each part to the training partner? If you are having any trouble, go back down to the feet and start over.   

8. Follow The Leader

Don’t know what you’re supposed to do? Mimic the person in front of you. We line up according to rank so that you have time to see what other students are doing and prepare for your turn. A big mistake beginners make is to goof off or talk to other students in line rather than watching the people practicing the technique. Visualize yourself doing the technique, shadow step as they do it, or talk yourself through the moves to engrain it better into your memory.

9. Train 5 Times, Correct 1 Thing, Repeat

We all want to get the moves right as soon as possible, but you don’t know if you’re doing it wrong after just one go. Do a technique 5 times and then change1 thing. Do it another 5 times and then change something else. That way you can really see if the mistake you made the first time is really a bad habit or just a one off and then see how the changes you make effect the whole technique during the next 5 attempts.

10. If You're Not the Best, You Just Have To Get Better

None of us are as good as the current Grandmaster. If we were, then we'd have his job! Our art also doesn't have competitions to declare the best practitioners of various styles and weapons. Instead, we focus on daily self-improvement. You may not be the best in your rank class at any given point and plateaus are bound to happen, but as long as you are better than you were yesterday, you are doing something right with your training.

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