“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

—The mantra of every beginner.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a new-mid level fighter tell me some version of this quote, I could pay off my student loans. “But Bruce Lee was the greatest martial artist of all time!” “How could doing useless drills be good for me?” “Have you ripped out Chuck Norris’s chest hair and proceeded to defeat him in single combat?” * I can already hear the voices screaming. Stay witha me and all will be answered in due time.

To start with, the advice itself isn’t wrong. There, I said it, feel free to call me a hypocrite. It’s not wrong, but it’s terribly misleading. Almost every time I teach a beginner class I get people who think what I’m saying is wrong because it didn’t immediately work for them.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have students who rightfully call me out on my mistakes or that you need to give undying respect to those who came before you for finding the one true way. It just means that if person A has spent a thousand hours doing something, they, on average, will more likely be right than someone who has spent five minutes on it. They have most assuredly messed up somewhere in those three thousand hours, likely more than once. It is often those very mistakes that make up the core of a lesson. The reason we have teachers is so we can learn something the easy way.

How does this relate back to the one true quote? At the crux of it, most people don’t have the expertise to tell if something is right or wrong. Now, if moving that way hurts a lot, or the book you’re working from was written by a right handed six foot tall man and you are a left handed five foot woman, then yes, some changes will likely need to be made.

All I am asking you is to give the advice your teacher just gave you a good long try before you give up on it. I have had multiple instances of ignoring a piece of advice, only to realize years later that my refusal to change that one specific thing was the reason my entire game wasn’t making any promise.

Long before Bruce Lee hit the silver screen, he put years into studying just one martial art (Wing Chun), under one of the top instructors in all of China. He didn’t burst out of the womb trying to mix and match different martial arts. No, he developed an intensely strong foundation in one complete system, and only then did he start to branch out. So please, listen to your teacher and commit to just one thing before you try and tackle all that’s out there.


[*] Probably not, just wait a minute, no I have not.

Written by Arik Mendelevitz

Known in the SCA as Warder Raphael di Merisi, Arik has a great love for the art of the sword and specializes in the Italian rapier of Niceletto Giganti. From time to time, though, he can be seen playing with Pacheco's version of Destreza, Bolognese sidesword, or Fiore's art of grappling.