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Over the last few months I've been trying to learn martial arts as my main hobby. The problem is, I really struggle with performing the techniques shown to me. I constantly need correcting and just constantly make the same mistakes. I also really struggle to mirror what the instructors want me to do. I'm not sure whether I have some kind of learning difficulties that I've never been diagnosed for or if it's because I'm really nervous, or both. It's humiliating to be so awful to the point where instructors clearly feel sorry for me.

My martial art experience so far is:

I did wing chun with one school for a month (twice a week, two hours a class). Everyone was very advanced, and I just consistently messed up almost every technique I was taught. I could see it in the advanced student's face that I was hopeless (and he had a lot of patience). But the thing that made me quit was when we were doing some kicking partner drills and the advanced student was so frustrated at how bad I was that he just went off and did his own thing.

More recently I tried a Japanese jujitsu class. Again, I just couldn't mirror the instructor's warm up movements to the point where the girl behind me felt sorry for me and helped me out (I had only been in the class for ten minutes). Then the instructor tried to teach me break falls. I mentally couldn't bring myself to fall like he was showing me. I really tried, but I just couldn't. Then when he tried to teach me easier variations, I would fall, but incorrectly, every single time. Of course, after a while the instructor felt sorry for me and started trying to make me feel better while trying to get me to do any technique. He showed me the hip throw, which I struggled to remember all the steps, then when I did them he constantly told me my foot placement was wrong and I just kept making the same mistakes.

What can I do to overcome this?

I've got a muay thai class on Monday and I fear it's going to be the same deal. I intend to continue the jujitsu as it looks like it is will be really useful with muay Thai, plus the people were nice and patient.

  • Welcome to the site. I edited your question a little to remove verbiage and focus the question a little. – Sardathrion Sep 8 '17 at 13:12
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    Your MT class will be the same deal. You would look like a moron if you tried to play golf with pros too. This stuff takes thousands of hours to get good at. Years. – coinbird Sep 8 '17 at 14:52
  • Why do you want martial arts to be your main hobby? I ask because martial arts take work and the best way to fuel that work is with a desire. If we understand your desire better, that may reveal the best way to help you move forward. – Cort Ammon Sep 8 '17 at 18:07
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    "...the advanced student was so frustrated at how bad I was that he just went off and did his own thing." That "advanced student" needs some manners lessons. – jpmc26 Sep 9 '17 at 2:55
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What you are experiencing is normal. You are trying to learn new skills and movements and are clearly getting overwhelmed by it. There are a few things you can do:

  • Take it slowly, as slowly as you can manage. It takes time for your brain to control your body to teach it new movement. Let that process take its time. Do not try to do techniques at lighting speed as you will miss all of the details. Do it slow, steady, and get used to the movement.
  • Watch your instructor/partner performing the movement and try to learn the flow of it.
  • Listen and try to learn the different points of the technique.
  • Try, try, try, and try again. That's how one git gud.
  • Learning two martial arts at the same time as a beginner is not ideal. I would pick one then go back to the other once you have some experience. Otherwise, it will just add to the confusion.

As a final note, as an instructor, I never expect students to do techniques right. I do expect them to try.

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    My son's Sifu used to have a sign posted above the gym entrance that said something like "If you fail, try 10 more times. If you still fail, try 100. If you still fail, try 1,000. If you still fail, try 10,000" etc. It always reminded me of this poster. – T.E.D. Sep 8 '17 at 15:31
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    I think I'll add a point to this post, as it is the highest voted. From more than a decade teaching hundreds of children, the experience is that there are different learning types: Some can mimic, others have to understand, still others have to physically be moved correctly (mere body learners). The op seems to be of the last type. Some forms of training don't work for them, even given a million tries. The teacher has to adapt accordingly, if possible. If impossible, it's the wrong style/school. But most importantly: They can learn fast, given instruction they need. – Philip Klöcking Sep 9 '17 at 11:26
  • I should add that the mere body learners are quite rare and it is independent from cognitive or general physical abilities. It is just how things are: They have to physically feel how it's done correctly. I should say: For more than mediocre technique. As the categories as laid out above are not disjunctive, of course. – Philip Klöcking Sep 9 '17 at 11:33
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I was pretty clumsy and took a long time to learn things as well. There's basically a few strategies that can help (but you really see the benefit in terms of months of practice, not immediately):

Isolate movements

Let's say we're talking a jiujitsu throw or lock from a wrist grab. Usually there's going to be grabbing/countergrabbing the wrist (step 1), twisting their hand and arm (step 2), turning your body to get better leverage (step 3) etc.

Talk your way through the process - "Grab, Twist, Turn in, Turn at the Waist, Drop weight, etc." It seems stupid because you're not going to do this in a real time movement, but it helps add another way for your brain to keep it in mind.

Find someone who is willing to work with you and let you practice each step until you get it or, if it's something you can do solo, do that. If you find an arm or leg is in the wrong position, stop, tap/slap the the arm/leg and put it in the correct place. (tapping is to help you have physical awareness of which part you're correcting in the process).

While other people might go through 4-5 techniques in a single class, you might have to settle for trying your best to learn 1 technique until fluency kicks in.

Take Notes/Video

Before we had easy video always available on phones, I would just take a notebook and draw stick figures and add specific notes ("Left hand goes over, right hand grabs hip" etc.

Now, you can ask permission from a teacher or fellow student to demonstrate while you get a video. Best if you can get it from a few different angles as well.

You will want to go through the movement of at least one thing you learn AFTER you get home from class, and try to practice a bit between class sessions.

Helpful questions

"What part should I be pushing/pulling?" "Where should my weight go?" "Am I too close/too far?" "When do I change hand positions/step/twist/let go/etc.?" "Why does (this body part) go here? Is it a defense? For balance?"

When others demo it, watch, and see if you can watch it from different angles to see what's going on.

Patience

It'll take time, but you'll start picking things up eventually, and then you'll find other things easier to learn too - once you have the base in an art, you find everything else tends to be related. "Oh, this is just like X move except you do Y thing different!" and you're not so much learning something completely new, just a little variation from something you already know.

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If I'm reading this correctly, you spent 3 months trying to learn skills that it takes people a lifetime to master, so no it doesn't sound like you're doing anything wrong or are deficient in some way.

The first step is not to psyche yourself out. As Louis CK said in an interview, "If you are going to master a new skill, you have to accept that for the first few years, you're going to suck. You're going to fail, you're going to be embarrassed. You just have to accept that." Those weren't his exact words, but it was the gist.

Second, are you sure they felt sorry for how pathetic and hopeless you were, or did they see a novice who was trying their best? Was everyone there better in every way than you, or had they simply had more practice.

When I was starting martial arts, my instructor told me, as you're going, you don't see how you're improving until 6 months down the line, when a new class comes in. Then you can see how far you've come.

So the only thing you can do is keep trying to do what they tell you and keep putting your best out right now.

Also, don't skip around styles and schools. It's better to get a blackbelt in one style then switch than it is to have 5 different yellow belts. As Bruce Lee said, "I don't fear the man who has practiced 10 000 kicks; instead I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10 000 times."

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Repetition is the mother of learning. Russian Proverb

@Sardathion is entirely correct

I would add that it may simplify things to ignore hands and work on feet & hips first, then add hands when that feels comfortable.

I'd also suggest that you try some of the moves in private. There are a couple of sections of the Taiji sword forms that I was utterly unable to do in class. I could see the motion in my mind (barely), but my body could not execute the vision. I had to rehearse it privately with nobody watching. (OK, there was one day when I walked to lunch leaping and swinging an imaginary sword... )

I can't speak to your experience, but much of the value of martial arts is learning to move your body as a unit - a skill you don't get until probably brown belt. Martial arts is complicated - if what they are doing were easy, it wouldn't be worth your time to learn. They all look like it is easy because they've done it hundreds of times.

One of the slogans of my Taiji school is "I can't believe that wickedly complex movement you showed us at the beginning of class is the same as this simple, obvious movement we just practiced." - you'll hit breakthroughs where you cannot imagine that these techniques were ever complicated. And then you'll see a junior student attempt the move, and you'll remember.

The woman behind you who helped - that is her obligation. Every sempai is obliged to help every kohai. That is part of the way they learn.

Final thought - I still feel like I can't do the things my seniors show me; that is one of the reasons I do martial arts. It is one of the few opportunities I have to make mistakes and learn slowly without harming anyone. Elsewhere in my life mistakes are consequential. When I'm on the mat, people expect me to make mistakes, and if I'm not making enough mistakes they ramp up the difficulty until I start making mistakes.

What you're experiencing is the steep part of the learning curve. It doesn't last long.

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Your experience is normal. Every practitioner was once a beginner and felt the same way. It is expected that beginners need help (why would they be in the class otherwise?). You should not feel bad about this.

If you have full control of your body and practice diligently, you can learn standard martial arts. If you don't have full control of your body, modifications may be necessary.

Pick one style

Switching martial arts ensures you will continue feeling like a beginner. Styles do things differently in sometimes irreconcilable ways such that you have to relearn things anyway. Even schools within the same style may have completely different warmup routines. You should pick one style to focus on for a significant period of time (>1 year) before worrying about others.

Stop worrying so much

Get out of your head and use your attention on your body to practice. Part of martial arts training is learning to focus your mind and block out thoughts about how someone looked at you funny earlier, what you will eat for dinner, or whether someone failed to diagnose you as a child. In your personal practice time, practice focusing on an exercise so that you notice you stop thinking about these things, at least for the duration of the exercise. This exercise can be something as simple as breathing or as complicated as forms.

Falling as a model for how to learn

For learning falling (ukemi) specifically, I advocate an incremental backwards approach, which it sounds like your jujutsu instructor does not use.

  1. Lie on your back, with your head off the ground. Strike the ground with your arms.
  2. From a sitting position with your legs in front of you, rock backwards until you reach the position in step 1, and do step 1.
  3. From a low squatting position, sit down and do steps 1-2.
  4. From a standing position, squat low and then do steps 1-3.

You will notice that the first step does not actually have any falling. You start with something very simple, that seems too basic, but you can complete successfully. It may be mentally painful to practice because it seems like a waste to practice something so simple. Then you add another simple step, and discover that putting together two simple things yields something complicated.

A good teacher will break things down for you into manageable steps. Not so good teachers will require you to break things down yourself.

If you try to skip too far ahead (falling before you have learned how you should land), you get overwhelmed.

Practice is constant refinement

You get better because you recognize there is something to improve (a mistake, perhaps) and practice it until it improves. This is the same situation after 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, or 10 years of training.

One day you encounter a student who has trouble with your instruction, and you realize that your instruction could use improvement too.

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You've got excellent advice from others here. I agree that your experience is quite normal, as are your feelings. It's also common for new or junior students to feel they are detracting from senior students' experience and practice. It's also not unheard of for senior students to feel they are being held back, or feel bored, when they work with junior students. As for me, I'd been studying Taekwondo for then 30 years when I walked into my first Aikido class. Boy did I feel like a schlimazel. And it took several months of it for me to get comfortable enough to keep coming back to class, despite my other experience.

So there you have it: you're normal, and your peers are normal.

As to your peers and their feelings (the one who went off and did his own thing), that is a childish attitude. All senior students should be taught that at some point in their martial arts journey, they will have to work with junior students. That is a time for reflection and patience, and to focus on the basics. My senior students may occasionally feel frustrated, but they would never display such arrogant behavior. I've only once in my life seen a student shown the door, and told never to come back again, for that kind of behavior. Most of my students, and students in schools where I am a student, and myself, welcome the occasional opportunity to work with a new student. Not only does it bring about an opportunity to make a friend, but it helps keep a student in the school, which makes the school stronger, and longer lasting. Everyone has an interest in taking new and inexperienced students under their wing from time to time. My advice to you, when you come across such arrogant students, is to ignore them.

As to the student who helped you, that is to be expected by an instructor, so you shouldn't feel bad. Her helping you re-enforced what she was taught, and so, by helping, she learned. I don't think it was wise to have a student 10 minutes into their MA journey to be learning break falls in a general class, that showed some inexperience on the instructor's part. But it happens, so, expect to feel awkward.

There's an old cliche - sorry, but it's relevant - that a black belt is nothing more than a white belt who didn't quit. Do you think that even the best martial artists today - the actors, like Steven Segal, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan; or your instructor or senior students; or the founders of all the styles in the world - started out as advanced and capable students? No, of course not. They ALL made their mistakes. And all (except one of them, we'll just not mention his name) will fully admit they have a lot of learning to go through, and make mistakes even now. And this is true for any art: plumbing, electrician, computer programming, painting, glass making, smithing, sports... All start as novices.

So take heart: you're a normal student. Expect to make mistakes, that's primarily where you learn. They answer all of the "why" questions you might have:

Instructor: "Do it this way"

You: "Why?"

You: "X!#&*@#" ←------ learning!!!

Instructor: "That's why"

By the way, in the next few months, where ever you end up at, you'll meet another new student. You will probably feel quite empathetic toward that student, as you will understand how they feel. Don't be that jerk who walked away and did his own thing. The first skill you help that student with, you will feel like you learned something, something that clod will never know.

Finally, I will also say this: Don't pay much attention to the other students in class. That is, don't compare yourself to them. In any given technique, there are a myriad things that have to be done to accomplish it. You are working on one of those myriad things, and they are working on something else in that myriad of things. Focus on what your instructor or partner tells you to work on. If the construction workers focused on the window treatments instead of the foundation they were supposed to be pouring, then the foundation shouldn't be trusted. So you should only focus on what your instructor tells you to focus on, and don't worry about the rest. When you do one thing right, you'll get to correct something else later. Don't try to correct everything, or nothing will get done. Always go home with the expectation of doing at least one thing right, not everything right.

Ganbatte!

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First, a small bit of advice.

RELAX

Nobody "gets it" their first day. If they do, they have had prior training in another art. Nobody really "gets it" in the first few months, either. This is unusual training, it takes time and repetition to get it down.

Now, for the rest:

STOP BOUNCING AROUND

You are on your third art in as many months, and you are now talking about adding a second into the mix at the same time. Don't do that. If you keep bouncing around and mixing arts, you will most likely be a muddled mess in a year or two and not be very good at two different arts. Find an art you like, and get reasonably competent in it. This process could take 1 year, it could take 6. Everyone's journey is different and unique to them. Once you hit that point, talk to your instructor about adding a second art.

Second point in that, it sounds like you are sitting in on advanced classes. Seek out more beginner classes. That is your tribe, your people. They will be the ones having the same struggles you are having, and your best source of encouragement. If you keep taking class with the advanced group, you will just frustrate yourself (And to some extent them).

ENJOY WHAT YOU ARE DOING

If you don't enjoy it, you will quit. Guaranteed. Nobody wants that. Find what you enjoy, and don't let modern enticements sway your decisions. It's one thing to want to fight UFC/MMA, it's another thing entirely to enjoy it enough to do it.

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