People like to be different! It starts a young age, intensifies in the teen years, and continues into adulthood. For some adults, the need to be different does not seem to decrease, as they get older. This need to be different, be noticed, seem to be something special, and have some knowledge, ability, or skill that others lack (even if it is an ability or skill that is worthless or not required) drives people to do some strange, weird, and out of the ordinary things. They get tattoos or piercings, dress strangely, become experts in the Vulcan or Klingon languages, or become conspiracy theorists; and some train in the martial arts.
One of the intriguing things about being a martial artist is that you are different than most people you know. A martial art uniform is different than that of any other type of sport. The training is different than that of any other type of sport. The classes are also different; you yell, you get to break things, and you learn to fight without anger.
Martial art schools open for business and others go out of business every day. Some schools make enough profit to stay in operation, some thrive, and some fail. What make one school thrive where as others fail?
This is due to many factors, such as location, owner’s business and management skills, and the quality of instruction, but one factor is how different the school’s martial art is from the competitors and how different the students themselves feel. If you watch new students, they wear their uniform to restaurants to eat after class, they wear all kind of identifying clothes or patches, and they speak about their martial art as if it was something mystical. Their martial art allows them to be different and to feel different. However, after awhile, this feeling of being different wears off and is either replaced by other feelings that keep the students in training or they move on to try something different.
For a martial art school to thrive, it must keep its students feeling different and special. Some do this by having extravagantly decorated uniforms that make them stand out from other martial arts, or by requiring students to become experts in some obscure techniques or beliefs. However, the best way to make students feel different is to require them to become experts in all aspects of a traditional martial art.
Many martial arts today stress performance of many intricate techniques. This fast-paced type of training helps keep the attention of students and helps keep them interested in the art, but, at some point, there are no more new techniques to teach. At some point, the students see that, although they know many techniques, they are masters of none. When this happens, they lose interest and move on to the next “in” sport or training régime.
Traditional martial arts require great physical and mental disciple, not just physical skills. They require perfection of basic techniques and character. Since perfection is always just out of reach, students see it as an attainable goal, even though they never quite seem to reach it. As the students get closer to perfection, they began change and feel different. Not because of some flashy movements they may be able to perform or some goofy beliefs they may have, but because they feel in control of their minds, bodies, and lives, which makes them different than most people around them.
Good, solid traditional schools seldom become huge moneymaking businesses, but they also seldom go out of business; they always seem to make enough profit to stay open. They make not have as many students as the “en vogue” schools, but they have more students who stay with them for life. Students find that feeling different comes from an internal change, not from external manifestations, such as strange clothing, hair color, or behavior. It is one thing to behave differently; it is another thing to be different. It is relatively easy to act different; it is difficult to be different. One may easily act as a “gangsta” acts by dressing and speaking as “gangstas” do. However, to be a real gangster requires a mental change and arduous training on the streets in a criminal environment.
The more different the students in a school feel, the more likely they are to remain with the school for a lifetime.