Many are of the view that to improve their karate, they need to train with senior students and instructors, the higher their dan, the better. However, the truth is, you can learn just as much from training with lower belts as with higher ranks, as long as you keep an open mind and continually seek ways to improve your karate. Below are some of the benefits of training with beginners or those of lower ranks than you.
Beginners and those who haven’t been training for a long time generally still maintain their beginner’s mindset (shoshin). They are curious about everything, have a lot of questions without the fear of looking foolish, and are open to new knowledge, skills and perspectives.
I’ve been told that it is sometimes easier to teach beginners new concepts than teaching black belts. This is because beginners don’t carry a baggage of assumptions; they approach new concepts with a fresh and unbiased perspective, avoiding the limitations that preconceived ideas can impose.
So, training with lower ranks is an opportunity to remind yourself to maintain a beginner’s mindset, which is crucial for continuous growth in your karate or in any other aspects of your life.
There’s a running joke in our dojo that white belts are the most dangerous opponents to spar with, and the truth is, sparring with white belts is no laughing matter. Because they don’t have experience in karate, they fight instinctively, they are unpredictable, and they don’t know how to control their power (more than once, I’ve seen brown belts and black belts ended up with black eyes and purple bruises from fighting white belts). Moreover, they are also most likely to go on the offensive and lack blocking or evasion techniques. These are all characteristics of untrained street fighters.
So, whenever you have the opportunity to fight with a white belt, treat it as a valuable training exercise to prepare for those undesirable street encounters. Don’t focus on securing victories against them, instead, use the opportunity to test your evasion and blocking techniques against their wild swinging punches or haymakers, try out your counter-attack combos, and gauge your reaction speed. Make the most of this chance to advance your fighting skills.
Beginners embrace a fearless attitude. Situated at the bottom of the pecking order, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. So beginners don’t hesitate to ask questions and fear no judgement. They often approach challenges without the fear of failure. They understand that mistakes are part of the learning process and are not afraid to take risks or try new things. They actively seek feedback, welcome constructive criticism, and use it as a tool for development.
Their enthusiasm is equally noteworthy. Observing newcomers’ commitment to learning and improvement can rekindle a sense of purpose and dedication among veteran martial artists, inspiring them to set new goals and strive for continuous growth.
Beginners make a lot of mistakes, but these errors provide valuable learning opportunities. They serve as examples of what not to do, prompting you to check your own techniques and ensuring that you avoid similar errors.
For instance, if you see beginners moving around like robots and, despite their best efforts, their techniques lack power, you know that this is due to them being constantly tense. This serves as a reminder of the importance of staying relaxed throughout the movements, except for the moment of impact.
Other common mistakes for beginners include flaring elbows and rising shoulders. If you are paying attention and actively seeking ways to improve yourself, observing them will remind you to check your own techniques and postures and make the necessary corrections.
Other Martial Art Experience
While they might be beginners in karate, many do have prior martial arts knowledge and bring with them a wealth of experience from other disciplines such as Aikido, Taekwondo, or Boxing. Engaging in cross-training, they are seeking complementary skills to become more well-rounded martial artists. This diversity in their training background not only enriches their own understanding of combat but also offers a unique and valuable perspective for those training alongside them. They may possess skills that you lack, presenting a valuable opportunity for you to broaden your own perspectives, improve your skills, and become a more well-rounded martial artist as well.
Training with lower belts means that you will occasionally be called upon to demonstrate the basics and address numerous questions from them. These situations offer valuable opportunities for you to deepen your own understanding of karate techniques, concepts, and principles.
While you may believe you have a solid grasp of fundamental basics, the true test lies in your ability to articulate and precisely demonstrate them to beginners. It is through this process of guiding lower belts that you may identify gaps in your own knowledge, prompting a need for improvement. By addressing these gaps, you enhance your understanding and execution and furthering your overall mastery of karate.
In addition, working with beginners requires patience and effective communication. This enhances your ability to convey complex concepts clearly, a skill beneficial in all aspects of life.
It is a common misconception that to improve your karate, you need to train with someone who is more advanced than you because they will put pressure on you and make you work harder or that you may be able to pick up some advanced techniques and skills from them.
While some of these assumptions may hold true, training with beginners and lower belts also have many advantages if you maintain an open mindset, stay fully present, and make the best of your training time. Even if you are a black belt, never consider training with a white belt as a total waste of time; learning opportunities don’t always happen spontaneously, and sometimes you need to actively involve and create them.
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