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This weekend the CMA-Maryville team and I are visiting Orlando…again. We are sitting with hundreds of other martial artists in a hotel conference room…again. We are listening to and learning from the best and brightest martial arts business minds in the country…again. And I am faced with the realization that learning never stops and progress and growth are to be sought after…again.

So many times on the mat I’ve heard, “We did these moves last week,” or “I already have a good front kick,” or my favorite “I already know everything I need to know to belt test.” These statements, whether factually accurate or not, wildly miss the point. The point is that improvement takes reps. Sometimes those reps may be physically demanding and mentally draining, but they are necessary.

The ancient martial artists often spoke of a journey, a path of self-discovery and mastery that spans a lifetime. For those who have dedicated years, if not decades, to their chosen martial discipline, it becomes evident that the pursuit is less about perfecting a punch or mastering a kick, but rather about cultivating an ever-evolving mindset. This mindset, known in contemporary terms as the “growth mindset,” is the cornerstone of true mastery in martial arts.

Let’s start with an analogy rooted deeply in nature. The bamboo, which is revered in Asian cultures, is a symbol of flexibility, resilience, and strength. It bends with the wind, but never breaks. In contrast, the oak tree stands tall and robust, but in a storm, it can snap if faced with a force it can’t resist. In martial arts, we strive to be like the bamboo, adaptable and ever-growing, rather than the oak, which might be strong but can become rigid and unyielding.

Regardless of how advanced a martial artist becomes, embodying the white belt mentality is crucial. Remember the feeling of donning that white belt for the first time? It’s a mixture of excitement, curiosity, and a bit of apprehension. Every challenge is new, and the hunger to learn is insatiable. By maintaining this beginner’s mindset, even as a black belt, we continuously open ourselves to new techniques, strategies, and philosophies.

Bruce Lee, one of the most iconic figures in martial arts, once said, “Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.” The cup represents our mind. If we believe it’s full, there’s no room for anything new. But if we approach each lesson, each sparring session, with an empty cup, we remain open to endless possibilities.

The Japanese have a term called “Kaizen” which means continuous improvement. In martial arts, this principle reminds us that there is always room for enhancement. Whether it’s refining a kata, improving footwork, or deepening our understanding of an opponent’s energy, the quest for improvement never ends.

In a martial artist’s journey, hitting plateaus is inevitable. This is where the growth mindset truly shines. Instead of viewing a plateau as a dead-end, those with a growth mindset view it as an opportunity. It’s a sign that it’s time to re-evaluate, seek new perspectives, or dive deeper into one’s training.

The physical techniques of martial arts are essential, but they are vehicles through which we forge our minds. Embracing a growth mindset is not just about becoming a better martial artist; it’s about becoming a better version of oneself.

Every time we bow before entering the dojo, it’s a reminder of humility and the never-ending quest for knowledge. With a growth mindset, we not only become formidable martial artists but also individuals who are prepared to tackle the challenges of life with grace, resilience, and an insatiable thirst for learning.