How to Feel Good About Sucking at Karate

We’ve all been there.karate-sensei

You’re standing in the dojo, practicing some moves, when your sensei suddenly slides up from the side.

“Hey buddy. How’s it going?”

You look up.

“Oh! I’m fine, thanks. Just working on my technique.” you say.

“I can see that. But listen, if you rotate your hips like this, then twist your foot like that, then move your shoulders like this, and finally bend your arm like that, it will be much better!” your sensei replies.

BOOM!

Sensei drops a knowledge bomb and casually strolls off to the next student.

You’re just standing there…

Quiet.

To your sensei, it was a small thing to correct in his Karate class.

But to you…

It was an awakening.

Suddenly, you’re re-evaluating your whole existence.

“Why am I here? Who am I? What’s the meaning of life? Why is the the sky blue?”

But above all:

“WHY CAN I NEVER STOP SUCKING?”

Dude.

I’m exactly the same.

And I hate to break it to you, but…

It never stops.

If you are on the path of mastery – no matter what field of endeavor – you will literally NEVER stop sucking. There will NEVER come a day when you feel: “Wow! This is amazing! I finally stopped sucking forever!”

(If it does, you’re not on the path of mastery anymore.)

Sorry.

This is the dark side of Karate, that no one ever tells you about.fix_karate

Becoming really good at anything – and I mean REEEALLY good – requires you to be comfortable with the idea of sucking at it for ages.

No matter what belt you have.

But don’t get me wrong. You will have great moments too.

(Otherwise you’re doing something wrong.)

But the moments of glory will be few and far between, compared to the daily grind of hard practice. Between the occasional moments of greatness, there will be longer moments of despair.

These periods of suckiness are NOT “optional”.

They are ESSENTIAL.

And the real problem is not that you will have ups and downs.

The problem is YOUR ATTITUDE about it.

How you handle it.

Because if you always walk around feeling bad about being bad, you will constantly have a hard time motivating yourself to keep improving!

Get it?

The mindset you need to have is this:

  • Sucking is NOT a BAD thing.
  • It’s a GOOD thing.
  • It’s a GIFT.

(Click to tweet this)

Sucking is basically free information from Universe, and the message reads:

“You’re on the right path. Keep doing what you do. Don’t give up.”

At the end of the day, it all boils down to trust.

Trust yourself.

Trust your sensei.

Trust your training.

TRUST-PROCESS

Mastering Karate is not a goal.

It’s a journey.

Keep sucking.

Universe will fix the rest.

Trust me.

38 Comments

  • Rach
    Thanks for posting this. It is HIGHLY motivating!!! I think I have the right mindset now but when I started it was a big struggle. The "ahah" moment for me came when I thought.....well who cares if I suck? The other students? NO, The sensei? NO (well only in a good way - ie if I suck he's going to give me some pointers so I can suck less).....me? yes.....well if I care that I suck that's ok if it makes me practice so I suck less then that is fine but if I care that I suck and it makes me throw it in it isn't going to make me suck less. Big question then is DO I WANT TO SUCK or to SUCCEED? I choose succeed.....and by succeed I mean doing better than my best.Do I still suck? Duh.....yes. Do I suck less than I used to?....yes. Do I have great moments? occasionally. Can I still enjoy training if I don't have them all the time? Yes. Do I give it my all? yes - 110% all the time!Osu - "To press forward under adversity" is how my teacher defines it (yes I know it has several origins too).....my version is train hard / push your self no matter what!
  • Ossu! [bow]Thank you! My daughter and I joke about the "Spazzy Duck Club." If you've ever messed up in class, you're in. We haven't quite worked out the ranking system yet, but the idea is to accumulate points - some things are worth more than others. Messing up in little ways doesn't earn points. Here's some examples of things that earn points:Black eye from planting your face in someone's fistBroken foot bones from kicking someone's shinSwitching to a different kata partway through the one you're supposed to be doingMultiply points by two if the above are done during a tournament or belt promotionSo anyway, the main point is Spazzy Duck Club members are proud to be Spazzy Ducks because at least we're trying things most people wouldn't attempt.[bow]
  • Cara
    Nailed it!
    • Thanks guys, I'm glad it resonated! :-) Never underestimate the power of motivation.
  • Marjolein
    Thanks! I sucked big time today, tot really frustrated. This came at the right time! And the Spazzy Duck club: i'd like to be a member..
    • Marjolein - You're in the Spazzy Duck Club. Everyone is. I don't know a single person who has never once flapped around like a spastic duck during class. We just gotta figure out the ranking system, that's all.
  • Lora
    Thank you! I really needed to read this. Sometimes I ask myself, "What am I doing in here? Why am I even trying? I feel like an idiot." But I keep on keepin' on!
  • Felician
    Quote from Jack Sparrow! :) so true
  • Liz
    Thank you for this. As someone who does regular visual art along with practising karate as a martial art, I've actually gotten used to sucking. In pretty much any art you feel like that forever and only notice the progress you've made by really looking back on past achievements. Otherwise, you have a sort of "progress amnesia" keeping you in check. I guess it's just best to keep a "white belt mentality" and learn from sucking.
  • What a timeous and much-needed post, Sensei! I always consider myself ambitious (but rubbish) and while most of the time I am used to being terrible, there are times when it feels like a crushing weight. It is good to have a reminder that this is a process, not a result.If you ever do make that awesome 'Trust the Process' picture big enough for a wallpaper (with your signature on, please!) please do let me know. I want to put it on all my devices.Thank you again for your amazing writing!Best, Zoe-san
  • Keep sucking... or as the proverb goes "A master has failed many times more often than the student ever tried."Great article, Jesse-san, thank you for it!~ Sören / K-Blog
  • Gilles
    Yep, completely and absolutely right. Even if you have the tools to fix it you need to practice it again and again. Then when you have it right next month you may say (w wwhhaatttt) I thought I had it .... Funny, keep on practicing lol Gilles
  • Damon
    SO TRUE!!!
  • neil jeram
    Spazzy Duck Club....does it take members who started Hangetsu which somehow morphed into Tzuki Kno.My only excuse being training straight off a Europe to Sydney (home) flight.
    • @ Neil Jeram:Yes, all martial artists are welcome :-) The Spazzy Duck Club should probably have its own branch and ranking systems for dancers as well. I do know that at least forty martial artists have tried ballet...
  • I often tell folks that I consider myself lucky that I actually have no natural ability to do ANYTHING! I have always had to practice and practice and persist and persist to just be kind of competent! (at karate, at gymnastics, at music...all my interests) Talent will only get you so far...so many phenomenally talented folks in my dojo have not lasted - they give up but I am still there! Still sucking at it! :-)
  • Dene
    Domo Arigatou <3
  • Donald Miskel
    Been involved in karate (and various martial arts) for 57 years. I'm the 'Head of Family' of an international martial art organization and the 'Senior Grandmaster' of another. The pity is that I have to admit that I still suck. I suck for different reasons these days as suckiness is progressive and mutable. Fortunately I don't suck quite as much as I used to. I believe I'm beginning to make progress.
    • Elizabeth
      I love it: "suckiness is progressive and mutable"! So true! I am going to remember that one!
  • Ian
    Samuel Beckett must have been a karate-ka:Ever tried. Ever failed.No matter. Try again.Fail again.Fail better.
  • Cill
    Good words. :) Long Time ago, I had an equal discussion with my sensei. He told me the same about never feel good enougth or having a plateau. But sometimes you get a level up and every thing is so clear. And then, some days later, it's the same as before :D Keep practicing. Cill :)
  • Barbara
    I must have lifetime membership of the Spazzy Duck club. I've done all of those point scorers. I think it took me a good 10 years to be ok with sucking my way through progress. The biggest hurdle was getting to blackbelt and still sucking. That was a bit of a shock.
    • @Barbara - Everyone is in the Spazzy Duck Club for a lifetime. I've seen elderly people in physical therapy trying new things or re-learning old skills, and yep, I think there ought to be a branch of the Spazzy Duck Club for physical therapy as well :-)
  • James
    "I'm bad, and that's good. I will never be good, and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be than me."-Wreck it Ralph, Disney.
  • A wise Karate Nerd once said "sucking at something is a gift, it's nothing more than free information from nature, and the message reads "practice more"." That statement has gotten me through more bouts of karate suckage than anything I've ever read!!
  • they are the beat and i hope be like these
  • I'm trying to imagine how my sensei woild react if I kicked someone in the shin again ans broke my toe then flapped my arms like a duck quacking. Haha! Thank you this does help.
    • @Reuben: Been there, done that. Only it wasn't a toe, it was two bones in my foot. During a promotion back when I was a teenager. I got the belt - maybe they felt sorry for me. So points for the Spazzy Duck Club could look something like this: 50 points for breaking a small bone, multiply that by two. That gives me 100 points. Multiply that by two because it was during a tournament, promotion, demonstration, or other public event. 200 points :-)
  • Luca
    This is stupid! Karate is karate. If you think you suck at karate you can either quit and do something else OR not quit and do your best!
  • A.
    I checked out your site and I actually bookmarked your articles for future references :D I am a white belt and got into karate last year, I really am interested in it but I forget easily and panic when I mess up. We did kata during training and I screwed up badly. :( Thank you for posting this article, I will change my mindset from now on and try not to get demotivated again like I always do :D
  • Ioana
    TRUE! TRUE! TRUE! TRUE! TRUE! TRUE!Thank you! :))
  • talprofs
    Helpful and encouraging insight, @jesse. While teaching kata, my instructor noticid a repetitive ive error in my execution of one of the techniques. Try as I might, I just could not get it right -- even remotely. ('Suckage!') My instructor's response: 'This is something WE are going to have to work on.' (Encouragement.) Sheer genius! As the adage goes: 'When the student is ready, the master appears.' @talprofs
  • talprofs
    Helpful and encouraging insight, @jesse. While teaching kata, my instructor noticed a repetitive error in my execution of one of the techniques. Try as I might, I just could not get it right -- even remotely. ('Suckage!') My instructor's response: 'This is something WE are going to have to work on.' (Encouragement.) Sheer genius! As the adage goes: 'When the student is ready, the master appears.' @talprofs
  • john preece
    I suck! I am a 4th kyu and i am finding it difficult to get the confidence to take my 3rd kyu (my sensei says i am ready, but not feeling it yet). I think knowing you can still improve is a good thing, i would worry if i felt i was ace lolGreat article agsi jesse, thanks fof making mr proud i suck lol
  • Shawn Roberts
    It is an interesting transformation to watch in our dojo. Karateka often start with a self-conscious, what am I doing here/I suck mindset when they receive feedback from the Sensei to viewing feedback as the gift it is. Without being hokey, I think the change comes when students realize that our Sensei cares about them enough as a student and a person to stop and offer tidbits of wisdom for improvement. I am a 3 Kyu student studying Matsumura Seito karate-do and still have plenty of I suck moments. The negative impact such moments have on me has been declining over the years as I have learned the importance of failure as part of the learning process and in the development of one's character.
  • Christine
    I learned to enjoy sucking recently. After nearly two years of karate I still suck at roundhouse kicks. I can't do 10 without losing my balance at least once, including at my belt test. One day when I was particularly discouraged my sempai said, "You are getting better. You used to suck at bad roundhouse kicks and now you suck at good roundhouse kicks." He was right.
  • Kami-Sama
    This is the essence of the saying failiure is a success in of itself. thanks jesse-san keep up the good work and the good sucking!
  • Salima
    my sensei says to us all the time, "that was pretty good. You still suck, but that was pretty good.". He makes sure that we know the path to knowledge is never ending... Love that old man!

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