How Do I Get Better?

Steven Elmore
3 min readJun 15, 2021

We all strive to be the best we can be. We all desire to improve ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. This is especially true when it comes to martial arts. One of the reasons for training is to become a better person, in all facets of life.

In most martial arts, we use a belt system to guide and gauge a student’s progress. Often, earning belts gets confused with making progress. A few months ago, I wrote a post titled “ Why am I not testing? “, which addressed this common question that gets asked to martial arts instructors. This post will be different but follow a similar tone.

A few years ago, I started telling students to stop asking the following questions:

  • Why am I not testing?
  • What do I need to do to test?
  • When will I get a <insert color here> belt?

I asked them to replace these questions with: What do I need to do to get better?

My goal was to shift their thinking from earning belts all the time and to just get better. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow it takes, as long as you are improving. You may never get to be a black belt, but if you are continuing to improve every time you come to class, you are a true martial artist.

Well, this attempt at mind altering didn’t work. Some students would ask the new question, but their motives were obvious. They simply wanted to know how they could get better…to test for rank promotion. So, nothing really changed.

After a while I got to thinking that “how do I get better?” is also a bad question to ask. If you are asking the question just in general, there are only two answers:

If you’re instructor is doing their job, they are constantly telling you what you need to do to improve. I can’t count how many times I’ve told students to bend their knees in a horse stance, lock their foot out in a front kick, or fully pivot on a side kick. The student will do it correctly when I call them out but then go back to doing it improperly. The student is simply not listening.

Listening means to try to understand what it is that you are hearing. Fixing something only when told to implies a lack of listening. We all have moments when we do something wrong, lose focus, or have a “brain fart”. But when this is a common occurrence, a lack of listening is the culprit.

Besides listening, the other reason why someone is not getting better is due to patience. Specifically, a lack thereof. You may be listening and trying your best to incorporate what your instructor is teaching. It takes time, however, for your body to get to a point where it is second nature. Everybody is different and this process takes longer for some people.

Your instructor does not require perfection, only progress. If progress is being made, you are improving and getting better. Trust your instructor and their teachings by being patient.

Now that I have shown you that listening and patience are the answers to “how do I get better?”, I am going to give you some examples of better questions to ask your instructor:

  • What is my weakest area?
  • How can I get faster kicks (or punches)?
  • How can I defend better in sparring?
  • How can I increase my flexibility?
  • How can I increase the power of my kicks?
  • What can I do to get my hips involved in blocking?

This list could go on and on but hopefully you get the idea. Do not just ask how you can get better in a general sense. That question would take hours to answer, and your instructor is telling you every class the ways to get better (listen and be patient).

Identify the specific area you want to get better at, or ask your instructor what your biggest weakness is, and ask for ways to make it better. After you feel enough progress has been made, identify or ask for another weak area.

By using this process of constant improvement, you will continually get better, and rank promotions will come naturally. You will become a lifelong learner and student rather than a belt chaser.

Originally published at on June 15, 2021.