The True Journey of a Martial Artist

Being competitive is a good thing in some ways.  It seems, however, that many people are infatuated with being the best, and always winning.  You see it in sports all the time.  In fact, the fans of sports usually react in a much worse way than the players do when it comes to losing.  Then comes the funny part – when the fans yell at their televisions about the poor judgment the coach or players had and that they should have done this or that.  It’s always great when couch warriors try to tell successful professionals how to do their jobs.


Personally, I like winning as much as anybody else.  If you are training for competition, the goal is to win.  I just don’t base my sole purpose of life on it.  Honestly, I’ve learned my best lessons in life by failing. The only thing I never lost at was boxing, and that’s because I had only one fight.  I wanted many more, but due to circumstances beyond my control I had to retire after two years of hard core training and only one fight under my belt. Nobody trains to lose, but we must not become possessed with winning.


It’s good to have disappointments in life.  It builds character.  Imagine if you won at everything you did.  Your ego would be bigger than theGrand Canyonand the day someone finally beat you, you would crumble.  You wouldn’t know how to take it.  The best way to understand how to handle disappointments is to have faced some in your life.  Truthfully, everybody has lost at something in life.  In fact, everybody has lost at many things in life.  It’s just that society is so focused on winning that people don’t realize the importance of the lessons learned by losing.


I wrestled for eight years.  I was average at best.  I had two good years out of the eight.  I started in fifth grade and wrestled all the way through school until I graduated.  I even contemplated wrestling in college as a walk on, but decided against it.  My freshman year of high school I did pretty well, because I wrestled on the Junior Varsity team.  I did poorly my sophomore and junior years, but my senior year was great.  I was extremely proud of my performance that year, with a final record of 8-7, which means eight wins and seven losses.  The cool thing was that I beat some really good wrestlers that year.  If you look at my record it’s not impressive at all.  If you look at what I learned from the experience, it’s amazing. 


In fact, my most memorable wrestling tournament in my life was in my 3rd year. I took fourth place at the tournament.  Not impressive at all, but I fought hard for that trophy.  It’s the only wrestling trophy I still have, by the way.  I shot the rest of them with my Glock 17 .9mm and my Taurus Judge .45 long colt revolver.  It was fun.  I kept my 4th place trophy because it symbolized the hard work, focus, and discipline I had to get it.  I won my first match that day and I lost my second.  Since it was double elimination, I won my third and fourth, and lost my fifth.  It was a big bracket and I ended up taking fourth place with a 3-2 record on the day. 


I’ve taken first place in a few things in my life including one Karaoke contest, a teen bench press competition, and a couple little league baseball titles.  I was a power lifter for a few years and almost got into bodybuilding contests.  I competed in three power lifting competitions and didn’t place the first time, took two fifth places the second time and took first the third time.  My experiences of being on the top were slim.  I’ve lost much more than I have won.  I competed as an arm wrestler three years in a row.  I took 2nd and 3rd places, but never a first.  Of my eight years of wrestling I never won a tournament. I’ve gotten a few 2nd places, but never 1st


One thing for me is I have always been humble.  I come from a hard working family with amazing parents.  My parents taught me the true values in life.  When my parents got a divorce when I was seven years old my mom raised my brother, sister and I by working three jobs to support us.  My father was always there to help, however, and was always a great father.  I know what it is like to struggle, and I know that struggling did not stop my mother from setting the example that all mothers should set. 


Martial arts have helped me define who I am. As a martial artist you are on a journey of self-discovery.  It’s a personal journey, and the only person you are in competition with is yourself.  When you train, you train for you.  You aren’t training for the person beside you.  Your journey is yours only and it’s vital that you never lose focus of that.  It doesn’t matter what belt the person beside you is, or that he got promoted to green belt before you, when you started before him.  It doesn’t matter how you rate next to him.  He won’t save you in a tournament or on the street.  Only you can.  So take all your energy to focus on yourself and how you can improve.  It’s about being better today than you were yesterday.  It’s about defining, refining and discovering.  It’s about focus, self-discipline, self-confidence, self-esteem, respect, honor, dignity, integrity, awareness, and positive growth. When all you do is worry about what everyone else is doing in your class and where their journey is going, you are hurting your own journey in many ways.


You should strive for progress everyday and always give 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time.  Focus on knowledge, skill and honorable character rather than the belts.  The belts come with the territory and they are subjective.  No person is the same, so no black belts are going to be the same.  Yes, there are standards (that vary from school to school), but every individual is different and you do not join martial arts schools to chase or buy belts.  The two belts that are most important are white and black.  By black I mean all black belts (1st degree – 10th degree). You should be proud with every promotion you receive, but focus on constant improvement and refining what you already know.  Improving on what you already know is more important than new material. Black belt is the only belt that looks good on a resume, but you have to be able to back it up with the skills and responsibility that come with the territory. If you buy belts or chase belts, you won’t have the skills and knowledge to back up the very belt you have around your waist.   


About the Author:


Michael Miller is a self-defense, personal protection, and anti-bullying expert who holds a 5th degree black belt in American Kenpo – a modern reality based street system of combat.  He is the co-founder of the “Stomp the Bullying” program, where he takes an active approach to teaching children and parents all about bullying, how not to be a bully, how not to become a target, how to handle bullying situations, and more.  The program is becoming world recognized with celebrity endorsements from actors Martin Kove (Sensei John Kreese in the Karate Kid Series) and Sean Kanan (Karate’s bad boy Mike Barnes in the Karate Kid III). Miller runs a full-time martial arts school in Bradford, Pa (Miller’s Kenpo Karate Dojo) and teaches American Kenpo, boxing, kickboxing, Joe Lewis Fighting Systems, Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu, and Modern Arnis.  He is also a writer who has been featured in Inside Kung-fu and Black Belt magazines several times as an authority in his field and is the author of the Legends of Kenpo biography series.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh in writing with a minor in sociology.  He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 814-368-3725.