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Constant and Never-Ending Improvement

This month we’ve been talking about an integral topic in martial arts, C.A.N.I., or constant and never-ending improvement. Constant improvement is at the heart of martial arts and true martial artists come to learn that improving their skills and honing their craft is a lifelong journey. There’s much to be said about C.A.N.I. and how to apply this to every area of our lives and I’d like to share a few points on how to cultivate this mindset and use it to achieve the highest success.

1. Everything is a mindset. Your mindset plays a huge role in whether you continue to improve, or you allow self-imposed limitations to hold you back. There are many mindsets people adopt that keep them from moving forward. Limiting mindsets cause people to use excuses like age, ability, fear, boredom, etc. Let’s take age as an example. Often people begin to feel “old” not because there’s some switch that says at a certain age you become old, but because they’ve adopted a negative mentality on aging and have perhaps begun to adopt unhealthy habits as a result that lead to declining health and low energy. The reality is there’s no rule that says we can’t continue to learn new physical skills, further our education or grow in other areas of our lives as we get older. When we tell ourselves we’re old, we start to believe it and stop trying to do the things we would have done when we were young like playing sports, exercising or trying something new. What really happens is that we put limitations on ourselves and then we allow ourselves to believe and live by these limitations. What limitations are you placing on yourself and how can you change that mindset?


2. Momentum is part of C.A.N.I. I have a colleague who also owns a martial arts school. He’s a great guy and runs a good program. However he struggles with maintaining and growing his business and one of the main challenges I see is that he keeps taking breaks. He goes out of town for a week here, takes a camping trip a weekend there, it seems like basically every other week he’s unplugging from his business to take vacation time. I can see exactly why his business isn’t growing, all of these breaks are seriously hurting his momentum. The same goes for your martial arts training and goals. Every time you take a break you force yourself to start back over on some level whether it’s physical or mental. The most successful martial artists are the ones who integrate martial arts into their daily routine and stick to their training habits. In order to improve both physically and mentally you have to build upon your skills over time. Stopping and restarting just slows you down and eventually leads to burnout.


3. Allow yourself and/or your kids to be uncomfortable. Growth only happens when we step out of our comfort zones and allow ourselves to be pushed a little. Oftentimes students give up before they get to enjoy this part of the martial arts journey. It makes me think of when in my early twenties, I started training at a new studio because I wanted to compete. The skill level of my training partners was much higher than I was used to. At my old gym I was one of the most experienced students and had gotten into a comfortable place and not losing very often. This wasn’t the case at my new gym and I felt very discouraged most days after training. There were alot of days I didn’t even want to train in the first place! Fortunately one of my instructors helped coach me through this and realize that being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing, it’s what I needed to take my skills to the next level. Perhaps you or your child’s discomfort is something different. Maybe it’s anxiety, frustration, laziness, lack of motivation, etc. Whatever it is, learn to face these challenges and work through the discomfort, and you or your child will be better for it!


4. Setbacks make you stronger. Years ago when I was competing in Judo, I had my shoulder ligaments torn in a match that put me out of commission for several weeks. I could’ve just stayed home and chosen to take a complete break from my training. However I didn’t want to miss out on that time or lose any of what I had been working so hard for. Instead I showed up to watch training and I did exercises I was able to do that didn’t involve my hurt shoulder. In doing so I learned I could work through limitations even if it wasn’t at full capacity and it helped me bounce right back when I was cleared for training again. I learned some things about humility during that time and really developed an appreciation for my practice. My point is, whatever setback you may be facing, find a way to work around it and use that challenge to develop your character rather than hold you back.


5. At some point you have to decide what’s more important, your goals or your excuses. The bottom line is that everyone can come up with an excuse. Schedule, stress, social obligations, distance, time, motivation, fatigue, etc. I know all about these, I’ve heard them many times from others and used them myself. However if you really want something, at some point you have to decide your goals are more important than your excuses. Are you going to be the person who gives in to your excuses or will you decide your goals and self-improvement matter more than your comfort and convenience?


6. Iron sharpens iron. There’s a lot of focus on how we improve ourselves but the residual effect of self-improvement is that you help build others up in the process. Parents, when your kids see you following healthy habits and setting and achieving goals, they want to follow your good example. Likewise, as students become stronger, more disciplined and skilled martial artists, other students are inspired to follow in their footsteps. The entire martial arts community becomes better.


7. Eyes on the prize. Goals take time to accomplish, and you won’t see results overnight. If you or your child struggle along the way, keep in mind what you’re aiming for and the reason why you started in the first place. Write this down somewhere, visualize the end goal and use this to push through the obstacles and potential excuses. Also acknowledge and make note of the small improvements and accomplishments along the way. The C.A.N.I. mindset produces small improvements over time that lead to big results. It’s important to both look forward to your overall goal and reflect back on how far you’ve come.


Constant improvement is important because if you’re not focused on growth and improvement, you’re stagnating or even declining. But the good news is you can change this at any time! In what areas of your life can you start applying the C.A.N.I. mentality?


I hope you found this useful and as always be sure to let us know if you have any questions or feedback!

Stephanie Spears

Author, The Black Belt Playbook



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