Budo is about becoming the best you can be. We use martial arts as our method to do this. Since we always strive to be better, we will be a student for life. Here are a few things to help be a better student.
1. Empty your cup.
You have probably heard this saying before. One of the most popular versions of the origination of this saying is:
A professor visited a Zen master to inquire about Zen. As the master was speaking the professor kept interrupting with his own opinions. So the master served some tea. He overfilled the cup and tea went everywhere. The professor shouted "the cup is full, there is no room for more tea!" The master replied "like this cup, your mind is so full of its own opinions, there is no room for anything new, in order to taste my tea, you must first empty your cup."
You have come to learn. The best way to do that is forget when you know or think you know. If you have no martial arts experience, it may be easier then if you have some already and change to a different martial art. Having studied several different styles, I still have to remind myself to "empty my cup" and learn and do that particular style. If the class is learning a technique you know already, look for a deeperunderstanding of the technique. How can you make it more effective, efficient, powerful, etc.
Zen master Shunryu Suzuki explained it best:
In the beginner's mind there is no thought, "I have attained something." All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something.
Next class, pretend you are learning something for the first time. Ask yourself lots of questions. Where does the technique start from? How does the timing work? What distance is this effective? How do I recover if it does not work? These should be enough to get you started.
2. Work with senior students
One of the best ways to learn is to work with someone better then you. I get annoyed when I ask a class to find a partner and the most senior student is left standing alone. It is fun to work with your friends; but, you will get plenty ofopportunities for that as well. The benefit of working with a senior student is that you get to see their technique and movement over and over. At first try to imitate until you learn the technique. Then you can make it your own; but, continue to look for the finer points as you get better.
3. Working with junior students
What if you are the senior person in a paired drill? Is your workout over? Not at all. First, you still get to practice the technique. You will have to adjust a little for the experience of your partner; but, there are always things to work on. Second, can you explain the technique to the junior person if needed? Explaining is harder then it looks. Ask someone who has had to lead class for the first time. They usually can't wait to get back in the class. Thirdly, by watching others, you can see what to do and what not to do. Maybe you made the same mistakes they made. Maybe they make different ones. If you know how to correct them (and therefore yourself) you will have a deeperunderstanding of the technique or principal being practiced.
This is not only a good method to reinforce what you learned; but, it can also be used to reflect on how you feel physically and mentally. Also, journal any questions you might have. These may be things you can find out on your own or ask in a future class. Yourunderstanding of the martial arts will continue to change for as long as you train. If you go back and reflect on previous journal entries you can see how you have progressed.
5. Steel the technique
This is a Japanese saying about how to learn. The teacher may not teach as much as show the technique. It is up to you to learn and figure it out on your own. However, in modern times we are not full time warriors and we need some teaching. But, the drive to learn more should follow this mentality. You will also have a betterunderstanding of the technique. Sometimes this is because you now know hundreds of ways the technique does not work.
6. Physical recovery
Training is obviously a physical activity. Some classes are harder then others. But, take the time to take care of your body. Hydrate, eat properly, stretch, and get enough rest to balance your training. With only a limited time in class, the instructor will not go into details. This information is readily available on the Internet, books, and magazines. If you have a specific question, talk with your instructor on the best way to stay physically fit for your art.
Customer vs. Student