How strongly do you wish to succeed in martial arts?

When you see a person who is active and among the top performers within your school or club have you ever asked your self what took that person to be what she is now?  We surely cannot assume that anybody was born capable of punching, kicking or performing any other martial art move in a seamlessly fashion: these are acquired, learnt skills.

I tend to think that many qualities all have an input to the final performance of a martial artist but I am willing to develop and discuss in this post the top ones:

  • Talent
  • Physical fitness that can be split essentially in:
    • Agility
    • Strength
    • Speed
    • Flexibility
    • Coordination
  • Observation skills
  • Mental flexibility
  • Wish to succeed

Let me now see these and briefly expand on them:


I define somebody talented when she walks into the training room for the first time and she naturally performs anything shown in a relatively easy and natural way.  Talent can be natural or built on previous experiences, non necessarily in martial arts: e.g. dancers and gymnast can naturally perform many martial arts moves.  Talent opens up doors and a number of possibilities to the performer.  Doing things is easy for her so she tend to quickly get to a decent level and often moving on to the next challenge without seeking excellence in its current shape or form.  While I am not stating that talented people do not stick around, in my experience they get easily bored and need continuous new challenges.  I have seen a relatively high number of talented people to get to some level of proficiency in martial arts but a much greater number dropping off within a few years.

Physical fitness

Regardless the martial art you practice there will be some physical fitness involved and being fit or developing a certain level of fitness will help your performance.  In my experience most people will develop over time the level of fitness for their required or expected performance, regardless of their initial fitness level (exceptions do apply).  This is to say that people naturally or initially fit will have an edge or a small advantage over the less fit ones but this will not affect most people in the long run.

Observation skills

I define observation skills when somebody can see a technique performed by another person and she can quickly understand and replicate it without need of deep explanation of the single movements involved.  I consider observation skills a great tool for the martial artist to improve her own performance and gradually absorb other people skills without constant assistance of an instructor or coach.  In my experience the person good in observation skills will be careful in how different people perform the same technique and find her own way to master it.

Mental flexibility

I define mental flexibility the skill of being adaptable in your approach to learn and perform a technique or a combination.  In general there are physical, mechanical and safety rules about performing techniques but often there isn’t a right or wrong about using that or the other technique.  While physical flexibility can be a great skill for certain martial arts, mental flexibility is great for all of them because it allows adapting to what works and what doesn’t.

Wish to succeed

A person with a strong wish to succeed will fuel her enthusiasm to perform.  The wish to succeed will ensure this person will:

  • train regularly and often: this will have the most immediate effect of increasing the number of hours of training per month or year; her mind will get more and more involved with the training becoming a second nature.  Let’s try to remember that the mind and the subconscious are what we mostly train when learning and performing a martial art: muscles and bones simply move in the direction and with the speed and intensity that the mind dictates.  The secondary effect of this is that instructors and senior students will see this person around more than others and default to her more and more of their attention.  This will help this person to get slightly better than other and keep an advantage over other, less committed people.
  • train with the most challenging people in the room trying to be as good or better then them
  • Participate to seminars and other external activities organized by her school or club – visit events organized by others

I will conclude this post by simply stating the following: at whatever point your martial training started or will start your wish to succeed will be the most valuable component and likely the quality that will be pivotal in your success in martial arts.  Other qualities, even the ones I did not mention here will all matter but just as long as your wish to succeed is there.

5 thoughts on “How strongly do you wish to succeed in martial arts?

  1. Hi Massimo, I totally agree with your points here. When I started training Judo at a young age I was fragile and unfit but I really badly wanted to be good! The immense desire to be good gave me the determination necessary to overcome my many problems in the long run. The same has been true since I begun kickboxing as an overweight, unfit, inflexible thirty year old. If I was less determined to be good I would have quit after the first month! After four years I am still not good but the desire to be good still pushes me along!

    Maybe it is true that you can have whatever you want if you want it badly enough!

  2. Excellent blog.

    Another thing we can look at though, what is success? Does it have to be belts or even skill? I consider success in a student is they find the love of the art and they keep showing up year after year. Nothing is more important.

  3. nice. but you forgot ‘attitude’. you can acheive fitness, talent and have all the others. but without the right attitude, none of these will applied when it counts.

    its the hardest one to acheive.

  4. @ James: I heard many times people saying that you can achieve anything you put your head to it. I can surely see that out of my experience the will to achieve a result is the more powerful component to succeed in martial arts.

    @ Sensei Strange: for me success is ultimately achieving what you feel you want to achieve: it’s not matter of belt, money, notoriety or celebrity status.

    @ the black sheep: what’s your definition of attitude? To some extent what I define the “will to succeed“ can go hand in and with attitude.

  5. I have also seen people with obvious ability and natural talent fail to achieve a high degree of success in martial arts (and in life!) just because they don’t have the right attitude (or the ‘will’) to succeed.

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