Have you ever watched martial artists on TV or in the movies and wanted to try it for yourself? Or maybe you have recently started taking a martial art, and are frustrated with your perceived slow progress and could use some advice or encouragement.

Jim Ellison has been practicing aikido since 1979. During that time, he has experienced firsthand the joys, frustrations, friendships, mishaps, triumphs, and skills that come from several decades of practice. As his student for almost 3 years, I recently asked him what advice he would give to someone just starting out in martial arts, and this video is his response.

It boils down to these 3 points:

  1. Have Fun

    If it’s not fun for you, you will be less likely to stick with it for the long term. Not every single class has to be fun, but overall, you should be enjoying yourself. It may take some time to find the martial art style, dojo, and/or teacher that is right for you, but don’t give up.

  2. Incorporate the Art into Your Life

    Most people who have practiced martial arts for a long time will tell you that their art is not just something they do, it’s a part of who they are. Sensei Jim practices aikido techniques during his daily routine – such as using unbendable arm and moving with the center of the body (both key aikido concepts) when opening and closing doors, moving though crowded stores, working in the yard, etc.

  3. Keep It in Perspective

    No one becomes a ninja overnight. When learning a martial art, it’s normal to have periods (days, weeks, or maybe even months) during which you feel like you are not making any progress. I know firsthand how frustrating these times are. It’s disheartening, and it feels like you are not learning anything. Rest assured that you ARE actually learning, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Often, these “plateaus” are followed by bursts of insight (Sensei calls these the “Aha!” moments) where everything suddenly seems to click into place and you realize how much progress you have really made. It’s difficult not to get too frustrated during the plateaus, but the “Aha!” moments are definitely worth it.

My very first day in aikido class, I walked in to find seven black belts and a TON of knowledge and experience. I was the only newbie in the room, not particularly athletic or coordinated, and surrounded by all this talent. My training partner that day was a guy named Danny. A teacher by profession, he definitely had a knack for teaching nervous beginners. At the end of class, he asked me “What is a black belt student?” and I gave some reply about talent and skill. He shook his head and, as he gestured to the room, he said “Nope, a black belt is just a white belt who never gave up”.