Mistakes are Good

When I watch students perform a skill or Kata it is not uncommon to seem them wince, roll their eyes, and shake their head when they have made what they think is an error. They are disheartened that they have made a mistake.

But I think this is looking at the situation incorrectly. They should instead be happy they have made a mistake. If the student had performed the exercise perfectly then they would have learned very little. It is only via the mistake that they have an opportunity for improvement and to understand something they may not have appreciated previously.

Whenever you make a mistake you should consider it a positive learning opportunity rather than a negative performance failure. If you view it this way there is no need to shake your head and roll your eyes. You might smile in recognition of your new learning opportunity, but you don’t need to wince.

Within Tensoku Ryu we try hard not to attach any negative behaviors to errors or mistakes. When you have made an error you will want to know why. You will also want to know what you could can do to avoid the error in the future. You might also want to examine your assumptions. Perhaps what you thought was an error is in fact a perfectly reasonable way to behave. Hopefully your instructor can explain how your apparent inadvertent mistake may have a positive result.

I believe students learn any martial art primarily through trial and error. It is only during periods of error that students learn anything of value. If you are learning a new skill you will get the general idea and are then likely to experience numerous errors. These errors all suggest needed changes in behavior. These are learning opportunities, not cause for alarm.

Therefore you should never consider your inability to do something a point of failure. You are simply some number of errors away from understanding it more fully. So go ahead and make as many errors as you need. You will eventually run out of errors and have only sound skills and techniques remaining.

While I’m on the topic of errors it is also worth mentioning that you want to quickly get out of the habit of shaking your head, rolling your eyes, or using other methods of telegraphing that you have made an error. You know you made an error. You instructor almost certainly knows you made an error. Nobody else need know. The moment your roll your eyes or shake your head everyone nearby knows you’ve made an error, even if they weren’t watching you.

This is especially important if you intend to participate in tournaments. You may be performing a Kata or some other activity before judges who do not know how the skill should be performed. They may not know if you are doing the form properly or not. But the moment you shake your head the judges all know you’ve made a mistake and your placement in the tournament will suffer. Learn to take mistakes and errors in stride. They are your best form of self-instruction. Nobody else needs to know how you are learning.

This can also apply during a ranking examination. While everyone wants to do everything perfectly, you may find you have made a subtle mistake. Perhaps all the members of the Examination Board were watching other test participants at that moment in time and did not specifically notice your error. The moment you shake your head every person in the Examination Board knows you made an error. There will be likely consequences. Keep the error to yourself. It is the Examination Board’s responsibility to notice errors. It is not your responsibility to broadcast them.


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