It's not enough to just show up to class and lead a workout. That's not leadership and I'll tell you why--because any monkey can do it without too much trouble. I can point to damn near any student and say "handle the warm up" and guess what? They will handle it. If push came to shove, let me tell you something else, most competent students could coach the whole session without too many problems.
Something I have learned over the years is that leadership does not automatically arrive with a new belt, in the case of belted martial arts, or a recent fight, in the case of sports combatives. Leadership is one of those things that some embrace, but most don't; even when forced into leadership roles, the majority will fumble with the social dynamics necessary to make it work.
Being a leader is a 360 degree endeavor and requires more than simply showing up, though that's a pretty important piece of the puzzle. Consistency is valuable. But there are also key elements that need to be included. Things like demonstrated values, a grasp of scope, an eye for details, and the ability to externalize concepts that have been internalized.
Communication, understanding the difference between empathy and sympathy (and when one is appropriate when the other is not), problem solving, and a focus on making people better are just a few other things. The list is hardly exhaustive, but you get the point; there are some lofty requirements to leading.
Without those, you're not a leader; you're, at best, just the person in charge. And take it from someone who spent over a decade in a career that desperately needed leaders, but only had people "in charge," that's not enough. It definitely won't be enough to retain students, inspire new coaches or foster mentoring--it will just be enough to keep a business afloat and that's about it.
When a student doesn't get the belt they think they "deserve," it will take leadership. When a fighter loses a fight, it will take leadership. When competitions don't go as planned, it will take leadership. When someone gets injured, it will take leadership.
Someone will need to be in charge, too; but if that's all there is, it's not much at all.
And students deserve better than that.
I competed in my first submission competition as an independent, despite ties with several gyms, two of which I would have defined as "close affiliations." The tournament I entered, held in the rec room of a church of all places, was one I entered for personal reasons, not professional ones; ergo, I left a club off my entry and went in as a solo participant.
Why would I do that? There are two main reasons. First, I wanted to see if wrestling from middle school would work in the competition, as I was just getting into submissions and was still working out how to combine all of my seemingly disparate skills (it was 2004-2005). Second, it would have been unfair to the gyms I was training at to enter a competition under their respective banner having not really put the requisite time into the style of competing I was about to attempt.
I come from a background where it was (a) an insult to the gym you trained at to be unprepared for competitions and (b) an insult to the students who trained every day and were prepared come competition time to flit in and out of classes following your own agenda. So when the moment came for me to try submission grappling, that past informed my decision to go in as an independent athlete.
And I'm glad I did.
The opportunity to test where I was at and what I was capable of was important to me, but in service of a greater goal (which was, ultimately, to fight professionally). What I didn't want it to be was a reflection of the club I trained at--any of them--because then it becomes more about what gets taught there and less about what I already had. That was unfair to everyone, because we hadn't trained enough, at a high enough level, and with the intent to compete, to justify the scrutiny it would place on the gyms and coaches. There were too many variables to make it the right choice, so independent it was.
That choice honored my past coaches as much as the current ones, at least in my mind, as well as students who were training under them. Because competing is important, but not more important than a code of conduct for athletes, classes, and coaches at the respective schools you are training at.
Which brings us to today's lesson in a roundabout way: don't compete if you're not prepared.
I have long maintained that you can't teach mixed martial arts. Mixed martial arts is a sport--you can teach the rules, but it's not something that is codified in a manner that makes it conducive to structure and structure is necessary for instruction.
Ergo, you can't teach mixed martial arts.
What you can teach are transitions, and transitions between arts make the difference between someone who excels at MMA and someone who does okay. Transitions are what put the art in MMA, as far as I am concerned; everything else is a result of base training and whatever supplements it.
So when I see a meme like this:
I get disappointed with the state of mixed martial arts and the perspective this perpetuates. I think we're better than this. Actually, I know we are.
Let's have a training agreement. No more swearing when you get tapped in sparring. It's purely emotional and serves no purpose. When you emotionally react to getting tapped, like muttering an expletive under your breath, you're tapping twice. The first is to avoid a catastrophic physical injury, which is good; but the second is an emotional tap that is entirely unnecessary and only makes you feel like you did something wrong. You didn't.
When it comes to martial arts training, it's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what you are doing is all that matters; this, even after decades of mixed martial arts demonstrating that it's pretty important to broaden your training horizons to include a little more breadth and scope.
Even though specialization is mostly tried and true, it can come off a little shortsighted if there aren't some additional elements there to keep it honest. Authenticity in training or the pursuit of any goal, really, is what allows you to achieve more than just the minimum standard--it makes you a better person to have around because you are modeling behaviors that others can emulate. You become a role model and mentor, a compatriot and peer, and a person of a depth and quality. Authenticity of character is a powerful thing.
Winning or losing are states, not definitions; what you are in a given moment isn't necessarily who you are, but it can definitely influence your identity. If you let outcomes decide who you are, you're going to have problems--this comes from the very simple fact that you are letting external factors decide your self-worth. It can create a mindset that is very much about avoiding failure, which is not the same thing as a mindset that is focused on achieving success.
I can't say that one or the other is better, but I can say that the former is more fragile than the latter. I've seen it time and again--someone who is winning is a winner, and all the accolades and parades make them feel valuable. But the moment they lose, they become a loser, because nobody is paying as much attention to them.
Is this healthy? Maybe not, or maybe it is just a reality of how all of us are wired a little differently and "healthy" is in the eye of the beholder. Opinions certainly vary.
Regardless of which type of person you are, the one thing you can do to ensure at least some measure of longevity in your journey toward martial arts or competitive mastery is to understand Root Cause Analysis (RCA).
RCA is a means of addressing a problem by finding the catalyst of it through a series of reverse engineered questions. A popular method of this type of thinking is called "The Five Whys" and you see it applied to everything from parenting to exploding space vessels.
In the end, they all examine beginnings to determine how you ended up with the results you did. THIS is the most important thing of all, because it doesn't just make you a better martial arts practitioner--it makes you a better human being.
Martial arts and sport combatives are all pretty much the same in the sense that long term commitment leads to long term success; yes, the degrees vary, because individual response is subjective, but successes can be measured for even the most challenged practitioner. It's all about grading on a curve at that point.
I want to focus a little more on hacking your personal performance or that of your students than I do the gradations of achievement. This is a quick overview of some guidelines for overall improvement that work well in a limited time-frame, whether you're a coach doing the delivery or an athlete trying to find higher ground, but can also inform a longer timeline of dedication.
We can accomplish that by looking at the low hanging fruit of martial training--things that seem obvious, but once you acknowledge them, they become essential touchstones in your skills development. You increase the quality of your training, if not the scope, and this is a good thing; it makes your training less of a mathematical problem ("I don't have enough time. I don't have enough speed. I don't have enough strength.") and more of a computational one ("How can I combine the time, speed, and strength I do have to be more effective?").
It's a bit of a variation on the Albert Einstein quote, "Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value." Let's improve the value of your training and, if we do that, success will come.
Let's talk about systems for a moment.
Martial Arts are a collection of styles, and styles are closed systems just by their creation; it's a necessary element of their design or they would be chaotic. Closing them off isn't a bad thing--closed systems have a beginning and an end, and the content contained therein is what makes for an effective art (or not) based on how tied to reality it is and, equally important, how often it gets tested.
Techniques are open source, meaning that anyone can access, tweak, modify or otherwise alter them based on personal need. The great thing about this approach is that it leads to untold creativity in the application of a technique without altering the system that it exists within.