When we think about martial arts, we probably don't first think about words. If we don't train in a martial art regularly, we probably think about UFC and roundhouse kicks and old Kung Fu movies. If we do train regularly, we might think of improving our technique and bettering ourselves physically and mentally...but it's highly unlikely that when thinking about karate, we'll first think about words. After all, there isn't a lot to be said (minus 'help, this guy's mugging me!') when we find ourselves in a situation where self-defense may be needed.
While training, however, words have tremendous power over our ability to progress. There are some words that I've discovered during my training that I like to refer to as 'power words'. These words have different connotations and some of their meanings change depending on context, but in general, these are a few that have somehow effected my training:
'Thank you' speaks for itself. We thank our partners, we thank our sensei, we thank our senior students, we thank parents, we thank God...we do a lot of 'thanking' in martial arts, for the big things and the little things. When someone says 'thank you', they are acknowledging their gratitude to you for helping them improve. It raises morale for both people and also allows us to practice our humility. Very powerful. If everybody were thanked at least once a day, even for something small, I think life in general would improve tremendously.
'Spirit' is a word that describes that attitude of always getting back up, no matter how tired you are or how hard you've fallen. This word is very motivating. It's a reminder to continue to fight; to never give up; to be your best at all times and to give your best effort to everything. Because you deserve to expect the best from yourself.
'Difficult' actually doesn't speak for itself. There are two ways to interpret and receive this word. Instead of saying "I can't", I often say "This is difficult". To me, it isn't an excuse to stop trying, it's a way to acknowledge where I need improvement. This word is powerful because it is a motivator. It is also powerful because it is scary. Difficult things are sometimes daunting, but doing them anyway makes a stronger and more disciplined person.
'Okay' is a good word because it's always what you want to hear someone say after they've taken a hard fall or a punch to the nose. I constantly say 'I'm okay' to reassure my partner that they haven't seriously injured me and they usually do the same. 'Okay' doesn't mean that I'm not in pain, though. It doesn't mean that I didn't feel it...but it means that I can continue and that I will.
'Can't' is the first power word that has a negative connotation. This word is especially powerful because once it's in your head, it's very very hard to get it off your mind. 'Can't' can be debilitating. It can keep you from learning; from trusting; from progressing. This word applies not only to martial arts, but to life. But despite the implications of 'can't', we can also use it to learn about ourselves and what we think our limitations are...it is especially valuable when we find out that our limitations are much less than what we thought they were.
'Strong' is a power word because it ties in with spirit. We train our bodies to be strong; we want our strikes and stances to be strong. We also want to be strong in our attitude about life. A solid foundation is very important to any kind of structure. Understanding that about martial arts helps us to understand it in relationship to life, as well. Strong doesn't always mean that you're the best or that you win...but it means you continue to try and you continue to improve yourself. There's a lot of power in that.
'Practice' speaks for itself. This should always be a power word because practice is what ultimately makes us improve. With practice, even the most inexperienced student can become strong, fast, and experienced. With practice, even the most uncoordinated person can learn balance and grace. Practice is taking the time to work on details that slowly bring together the whole. A talented fighter that doesn't practice will eventually be beaten by an average fighter that does practice. The attitude of spending time on something when the end doesn't seem clear teaches us to have faith and to follow through.
'Good' is a powerful word because it is encouraging. I tend to do better when I hear that something I did was 'good'. It's as simple as that. When we encourage each other, we set each other up to succeed. Likewise, if we tear each other down and use lots of negative words, we set each other up to fail, ultimately...and to feel bad. Nobody trains well when they're feeling bad.
'Tired' is my last power word because it is the word I learned about today. I've discovered that when I'm tired, I move slower, I feel stiffer, I think too much, and I'm quick to get frustrated. 'Tired' has a required co-requisite called 'patience'. When we're tired, our minds fixate on fatigue and we start to lose our focus. Even when we're legitimately exhausted, if we continue to tell ourselves that, we are only going to become more and more tired. This power word took control of me today in class and I felt that I wasn't training as well as I usually do. It's important to take care of ourselves, but it's also important to be kind because we don't always do a good job of taking care.
Words have power. They have sway over our feelings and our thoughts. I use some of these power words to fuel my attitude during martial arts. Others, I try to avoid. Attitude is 90% of the work that goes into training. It's the same with life. Words have a lot of power in regular life, too.
There are other power words. I've only listed those that come up in training, here. I'm sure you can think of others. I'm sure you can think of words that others have said to you which have had power over you. We do have power over ourselves...and that power is often brought into play by a few choice words.
It's important to be responsible with the words we use. Not only with others, but also with ourselves. Ultimately, words become thoughts and thoughts become actions. Actions become who we think we are...and that is important. That is powerful.