Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Martial Arts and Failure

The concept of failure has a unique place in society and in our minds. Even the word, 'failure', carries with it implications that are important to understand, as the term has become incredibly stigmatized. There is a sense of permanence to failure, that it is a state, rather than a single event, and that recovery from that state is impossible.

The martial arts encourage an entirely different attitude towards failure. In martial arts, failure is not just an inevitability but an integral part of the process. Failure is necessary for success. Failure builds a student up so that they can break technique apart and understand it in detail, teach it, interpret it and lend it their own unique perspective and life. Failure is the basis from which all martial arts improve, grow, and develop. Failure was celebrated. Sifu brought up, reveled in, and delighted in pointing out my miserable failure. His attitude towards my failure turned it into delight, as we looked upon our efforts as both a challenge and a source of humor. The truth is that the martial arts are hard. We ask ourselves to do remarkable things through hours of grueling practice and emotional investment. Why expect perfection to show itself immediately? Why beat one's self down because you do not achieve this perfection instantly? That's dumb and you should feel dumb for thinking it.

This altered conceptualization of failure is one of the reasons that I blanch when I see notes about martial arts increasing the confidence of its students. I, personally, have never felt more confident because of the martial arts. I have felt objective about my abilities, more aware of both the good and the bad but without stigma or prejudice. This is the real value of martial arts, the belief that the state of a person simply is without there being a judgment value based on their abilities.

Inability was neither viewed with dysphemistic or euphemistic attitudes. As I grew and learned, I never felt that supposed increase in self-esteem but instead lost the stigmatization around failure.

And we all must. Failure simply IS, neither good nor bad. Deal with it.

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