Student insights: Give more than you get

Some of the most cathartic moments I’ve had training in martial arts didn’t come as the result of a personal victory or winning a match. Instead, they came when someone thanked me.

Specifically, they were thanking me for some instruction, advice, or feedback that I shared with them. In some instances, I was just thanked for being a good sparring partner.  Regardless of circumstance, it reminds me of a key reason/reward that keeps me training as years wear on, athleticism fades, and injuries mount.

I train, and I know things


Good armbar George, but Spongebob doesn’t have bones. He’ll never tap.

I’ve trained for a long time. I’ve never been a full-time teacher, competitor, or world champion anything. I’d classify myself more as a dedicated enthusiast—someone who is perhaps a bit more zealous than the type of student for whom training a couple times a week is adequate to meet their needs/goals.

But any tough-guy/self-defense/fighting aspirations I may have had in my physical prime have faded and forced me to realize and accept that I am more of a dedicated martial arts academic. These days—especially as I sit here typing and periodically rubbing the chronically bad shoulder I’ve been nursing on and off for the last 4+ years—I think if I had to get into a scuffle with someone I’d hopefully be able to just fall (on them) so they can’t get up. (And I’ll be happy if that never happens.)

I still love the rewarding process of continual learning that encompasses martial arts training, but I increasingly appreciate how sharing knowledge with others is not only highly rewarding, but also important and impactful for your own training and growing the knowledge and students within your own dojo.

It may even be the most rewarding aspect of training, especially in the long term. Who doesn’t love to share their passion about something they love?

Put a smile on your face

One of those rewards came not long ago when someone thanked me for some general strategic/fundamental advice I’d given them a few weeks after we had last rolled (sparred for the non-jiu-jitsu folks).

The student (a white belt at the time) even mouthed an ‘explosion’ (and accompanying opening-hand-gesture) as he described how much it had helped them.  I was humbled. And it truly brightened my day. I wouldn’t even tell kids to get off my lawn if there were kids or a lawn to get on.

And it truly crystalized how much I enjoy sharing and giving back to other students and, as a whole, contributing to the dojo itself.

Let the young firebreathers compete, win medals, and bask in the glory. I’m happy just to have been a part of their journey, however small, and watch them grow from guys I used to smash, sweep, and choke into guys that smash, sweep, and choke me. Every once in a while, I think they might even toss themselves into one of my triangles just to say thanks. Or maybe I’m not completely out of tricks yet…

Sacrificing your ego isn’t just about your attitude when you’re training/sparring with other students. It’s also not just about “tap early and tap often,” as you often hear in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools.

It’s about being willing to help others learn and advance, even if it means sacrificing something of yourself. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, for example, it may mean giving up a position or tapping out to a lower-ranked student.

Invest in your future

Investing in others returns with interest for you and your school. It generates a positive mat-culture where everyone can contribute to the quality and body of knowledge. It grows the dojo organically by attracting and retaining like-minded, dedicated students. In time, it adds more knowledge to a perpetually growing pool. It generates a “spirit of giving” from which everyone gains and grows.

In the long term, it helps generate a growing and dedicated student body that can help retain more students, especially those brought in through mass market promotions used to draw warm bodies into the academy.

And on a personal level, teaching others grows your own understanding of your art, and speaking from experience it can help keep you motivated through the inevitable plateaus (and the discouragement that comes with them) in your own training.

Which in turn strengthens and deepens your understanding, which you can continue contributing.

And so the cycle continues.

In Brazilian JiuJitsu especially, it takes a dojo to raise a black belt.