One of the keys to a school’s success is the personal success of the students. A key to personal student success is willpower. “One of my students has been extremely successful in sticking to his martial arts training program,” my associate Kevin Huston Rhodes muses. “He has so much determination; he keeps up his attendance and is making good progress. Another student has come to see me a few times but is always making excuses. I can’t help comparing them. The two men are similar in so many ways, but their biggest difference is commitment. You could also call it willpower, in the martial arts training success, as with success in any area of life.”
As the Owner / Operator of the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies in San Saba, Texas, Kevin Huston Rhodes says: “Willpower creates Real Power! The power to do, the power to be, the power to achieve. I just wish I knew how to give it to everyone.”
Call it what you want –commitment, determination, willpower, or self-control– you know it varies widely from person to person. It interacts with many factors and contributes greatly to a person’s success when it comes to lifestyle change. Becoming a martial artist is a major lifestyle change. This is one of the largest hurdles in martial arts school success. Transforming the “curious about martial arts students” into “serious about martial arts students” is an enormous challenge. Helping people improve their willpower creates success on both sides, for the student and for the school. I found that my own personal teaching success improved when I became a better personal motivator.
Developing the Nature of Self-Control
Self-control refers to the control exerted by the self over thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Self-control is involved in making decisions and choices, initiating and inhibiting behavior, and making and carrying out plans. We use self-control when we forgo immediate pleasure (i.e., decide not to eat dessert) in order to obtain future benefits (like better health). Self-control allows us to examine and change habitual behavior. Hence, whenever we attempt to help students implement behavior-change programs, students’ efforts at self-control help to determine their likelihood of success. Some psychologists who study self-control believe it is a limited resource. In other words, each person has a finite amount of psychic energy available for the purposes of self-control.
This notion of limitation helps explain why people who train early in the day or in a private class setting are most likely to be successful; they have not yet expended time and energy overcoming the barriers that inevitably develop during the day. This concept of limitation also explains why dieters are most likely to overeat in the evening. After spending all day exerting self-control to resist temptation, their resolve wears down by the end of the day. I was experiencing some sluggish feelings in the evening myself and found that by scheduling more of my private training clients in the mornings and before lunch I was able to feel better. My success became their success.
Daily life stress can reduce energy for self-control. Self-control energy is expended more quickly when you are under stress since you use self-control when you adapt to stress. You expend energy to change your behavior, thoughts, and emotions. Coping with stress can leave you emotionally exhausted, and without the energy to get to your workout, or to resist the temptation to smoke or overeat. In fact, stress is the most common reason people slip up in their attempts to overcome addictions or change other habits. Part of the explanation for this may be that the demands placed upon these stressed-out people have exceeded their supply of self-control energy.
In addition to using up energy, stress also causes negative emotions, like anger and sadness. When people experience negative feelings, they look for ways to feel better. The need to overcome distress is perceived as more important than behaving in ways that may result in future benefits. So, if you feel bad and you think eating some chocolate cake will make you feel better, you will eat the cake, even though you want to lose weight. Self-control can increase student success.
Martial arts professionals are often guilty of designing training programs that look great on paper, but don’t match the amount of energy students are capable or willing to expend. This is partly because students don’t always understand what they can realistically take on, and they underestimate the time and energy a martial arts program will require. To improve the success of your students, try to help them maximize their motivation and self-control, while reducing the self-control required by their martial arts program, by using the following suggestions.
Acknowledge that daily training requires time and energy. People who mentally prepare for the challenge of taking on a program of daily training are better able to summon the self-control required to make their programs work. Rather than telling students that martial arts classes are easy and effortless, prepare them for the work, as well as the rewards. This allows you to teach the higher standards you want without losing students with weak willpower in the early stages of their training.
Let students know they must make their martial arts training a priority. After all, it could someday save their life. Unless people see daily martial arts training as a priority, other commitments will consume their time and energy. Proper martial arts training can not only provide great self-defense techniques but can also replace their need for any other type of fitness training. I have found that many of the adult men in our program do it mostly for the exercise. That way they avoid the macho ego attitude at the gym where people look at you funny if you aren’t lifting everything on the rack. Martial arts training allow them to progress at their own speed and the belt rank system allows them to compare their personal progress with their time in training and not against the other students in the room.
Help students make martial arts a habit. Once martial arts training become a habit or enjoyable routine, little self-control is required. Use the force of habit to increase martial arts training success in your students. My Hapkido Grand Master, Yong Ki Song calls martial arts training an addiction to better health and safety. Recommend training early in the day. Research shows that people who do any form of training or exercise first thing in the morning have the best adherence. Their goals have been accomplished before other demands eat up their time and wear away their self-control energy supply. After all, why do you think those millions of people gather in public parks in China to practice Tai Chi early in the morning? Because most of them are too tired from daily work and stress to come back for the lunchtime class!
Increase martial arts self-confidence with daily success. A few words of encouragement go a long way. As students become more confident in their abilities to stick to a long-term martial arts training program, they will try harder to do so when obstacles arise. Start students off with modest demands that they will really accomplish. One of my first students told me after receiving her Black Belt she really had doubts about herself and did not plan to come back after the first class as a white belt. When she received a personal note from me telling her what a great job, she did on her first day, she couldn’t help but come back. She was excited to find out the teacher thought she had done well! She kept coming for seven more years.
Help students use training to reduce stress. Just as people can learn to overeat to reduce stress, they can also learn to train to reduce stress. Educate students about the stress-reduction benefits of martial arts training. Martial arts training does three great things: it reduces stress, creates incentives to train and increases self-control energy. Not to mention the many benefits of a total mind, body and spiritual experience that come from true martial arts training.
Encourage social support. Less self-control is needed when control is supplemented by encouragement from others. Recommend that students get a close friend or family member to join class with them. Help students set up environments and situations that require the least amount of self-control. If students seem uncertain about their class environment, help them feel welcome and at home. Remember, the family that kicks together, sticks together!
About the author: Richard Hackworth is a Grand Master of Hapkido, Taekwondo and Korea Sword. He also hold a Masters License in Tai Chi. Hackworth is best known as the host of the “World Martial Arts TV Show” and “Fight for Your Health TV Show”. To learn more about how to grow your school visit https://worldmartialartsmarketing.com and like our page at https://www.facebook.com/worldmartialartsmarketing