“I’ve been training ‘X’ years.”
I’ve seen it written with such assurance and finality. The writer seems to feel that the statement, be it three years, ten years, twenty years or forty years, validates and elevates their argument and opinion to an infallible status.
I tend not to frequent martial arts forums any more. I used to engage in long discussions on elements of training and the rationales behind different approaches, but over time I gradually switched to books and blog posts instead. This was largely a matter of prioritising my time; writing long answers with evidence in online debates could take up days and those could be wasted if the other person had no intention of ever changing their mind or was simply trolling. I do still however encounter debate and comments on social media on the posts of some of the groups or friends I follow.
“I’ve been training ‘X’ years.”
Have you though? Really? What do you mean by ‘training’? Was that an unbroken period of regular study and working with others? Are you including your time in martial arts creche training as a young child?
I’ve noticed people ignoring gaps in their training where they took time out due to a relocation or a different job or to raise children. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break when other life pressures rise, but if you weren’t training… you weren’t training. Subtract those five, ten or fifteen years from your training total and be honest with yourself and others about your experience.
Experience. Experience and longevity are not the same thing.
There are many people that train once a week. Others train two, three, four or as much as seven days a week. Some people only train in classes, others supplement their class training with kata, drills, bag work or other martial arts exercises. If you are only ever training on your own (bag work or forms or shadow boxing) and not meeting up regularly with others to get peer or instructor feedback, are you really ‘training’ or just ‘mucking about’?
(That’s a genuine question, I really don’t know. Does it depend on the experience of the person? Does it depend on the nature of the training?)
When I was eighteen years old, in school term time I would do 17 hours of Karate classes a week in addition to 7 hours of personal training time (kata, weights and running). That’s the same number of class hours in a single year as someone training once a week for 12 years and I’ve met a lot of people that can only train once a week. Your ‘ten years’ might not involve as many hours actually training as another person’s ‘three years’. It’s okay to only attend once a week if that’s how martial arts fits into your life, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s the same thing as training two or three times that amount in the same timeframe.
Experience and longevity are not the same thing.
Some people either push themselves or are pushed by their instructors or their training system’s ethos to continually refine their repertoire and to broaden and deepen their study. No two years are ever the same. They are always developing. Others sadly get stuck on a hamster’s wheel, repeating the same year of training again and again. Their training still has value, but they aren’t really learning anything or furthering their skillset. In many ways they are perpetually stuck in a Groundhog day, their training years never truly increasing.
I’ve been training for a fair number of years now. No two years have been the same. I am always tweaking what I do and what I teach and trying to improve both. I am always actively looking for alternative techniques or training methods that can supplement or replace what I do if they prove to be superior for the context I envision. Those years don’t magically make me more knowledgeable than someone that’s trained regularly for a year in an area that I don’t study (such as swordsmanship) or in a field that is peripheral to my own syllabus (such as grappling on the ground). I’m ready and happy to learn from people that have trained for fewer years than me because I may have less experience and knowledge than them in their particular fields. I read a lot, I watch a great deal, and when I can I train with others that I feel have something to offer.
I’ve been training for thirty-one years now. That number doesn’t mean anything on its own. It conveys no status. It indicates no fixed level of ability, knowledge or experience. I don’t feel I have anything to prove, I do feel that I have a lot more to learn and a lot more that I can achieve.