What Makes A Perfect Student of the Martial Arts?

I have been lucky to teach martial arts in various environments to an array of people.  Working with talented natural athletes, those who have progressed to competitive levels and young adults who probably missed their calling as kids, who make punching and kicking look easy,they have just made my job so simple. It does not take much work for me  when I have these types of students.  I reflect on this often as a trainer/coach/instructor.  Could I really grow and develop such a diverse teaching palate if this is all I encounter?  I don’t think so. 

After college I started teaching boxing, kickboxing and martial arts privately at Chicago’s East Bank Club in 1994.  I had just begun graduate school and thought I should try getting a job teaching on the side while I develop skills and knowledge for a ‘real career’ path at a university.  Little did I know, what I thought was just a full-time, life-long hobby up to that point, would become the coolest ‘real career’ I could have ever designed for myself.  I often joke with my family, who have always made be feel like a huge success, that no one wasted more education than me – vet school drop out, forensic anthropology degree?, criminal justice graduate school?, forensic training? – really don’t have to do with the price of corn, when you own and operate a mixed martial arts training center?
In 1997, I picked up two women in their 40’s as students that shared private sessions with me.  I thought it was so cool that these professional women decided they wanted to learn martial arts.  How awesome is it that they decided to pick up a hobby like martial arts in their 40’s.  They were the perfect students. They were not god-gifted for the martial arts, they were never going to be competitive and like most people in their 40’s, they had their own bag of physical limitations like sciatica, runner’s knee, joints that swelled for no reason and inflexibility.  They were perfect students!  They were motivated, positive, aware of their limitations, yet not hindered by them, on time, never missed needlessly and most importantly they continued training until now.  That is 12 years of classes!

In 2009, they were almost the age of my parents,  still punching and kicking, drilling and training with little complaint, despite being challenged by the same aspects of doing martial arts as they did in their first month of training. Like I said, they are perftect students.  Having them as students has given be so much education.  Naturally we have become friends, people I look forward to seeing and opportunities to learn how to make the martial arts accessible to absolutely everyone.  Most importantly, martial arts is something they have loved doing all this time.  Isn’t that awesome!  These two women have pushed me to become a well -rounded, positive, motivated, excited and great instructor.  

One of the women was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor of the brain about 4-5 years ago.  She continued to train with me through the beginning of this discovery and then took time off to undergo chemo and radiation.  Then of course she needed to recover from the devastation that the treatment caused.  She return about 2 years after and has been training with me since.  Can you believe that?  Brain cancer even with remission leaves quite a mark on the body’s capabilities. Her return to training was unbelievable, motivational and life-impacting on me.  Even with her return to martial arts lessons post treatment, she was far from her old self and her previous capabilities.  In the time since she returned, she made me an even better trainer because she was even more perfect than the most perfect student I have ever encountered.  I had to keep her focused on what she could do well, that the kicks we did that were so much harder were no big deal, but her execution of them were as impressive as anything I have seen.  

My friend told me about 8 weeks ago that the tumor returned to the other side of her brain.  I knew it before she said it because we were trying to accommodate an enormous amount of swelling that was limiting her joint’s functionality.  She came one more time after this lesson.  Today I visited her in hospice and was fortunate enough to visit her with her training mate that has also been with me for 12 years and continuing to train (at age 57 mind you).  I said good bye today to her.  She was not expected to awake according to the doctors, who also ensured me that she was not experiencing any pain.  That is the goal of hospice to create as pain-free of an existence for the finals days of life.  

I share all this with you because there are people in life that force us to step up as humans and professionals on every level.  She has contributed to me becoming, as my father says, “an enormous success” in my field.

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