My stories as I remember them during my journey in the Martial Arts

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Feedback the Breakfast of Champions

Feedback is often times called the breakfast of champions. Feedback on our performance and work is essential in the creation of improvement. The key to the success of feedback and your own success is how that feedback is assimilated and used. While positive feedback is helpful, encouraging and motivating, negative feedback creates the greatest forward momentum.
I have been working on and trying to improve my Martial Arts skills for over 27 years now. It is easy for someone with my experience to think there is nothing more to learn, or I am too old to improve now. That is why I always recommend this old adage: Black Belts must always keep a white belt mind. The old saying tells us to keep an open mind, and be willing to learn new things and accept new ways of looking at old challenges.

Negative feedback is sometimes difficult to assimilate. We my think, “I have never been told that before” or “I’ve never needed to do that” when a person rejects feedback with these thoughts they lose the chance to improve. The analogy often used in the Martial Arts is the empty tea cup. If your tea cup is full it can’t hold anymore tea. You must empty your cup so it can take on more tea. This means you must keep your mind empty, so you can take on new ideas. If you think you have learned all there is to learn about anything you have put yourself on a dead end road and lose forward momentum. The loss of forward momentum creates a backwards motion like a stagnant environment that soon becomes a quicksand that will swallow future success.

Hard work, practice, conditioning, and personal self development (P.S.D.) are the foods that feed success for a Martial Artist. Feedback is the cook that prepares the meal and puts the right foods on the plate. A good coach/sensei/ instructor provides feedback that directs you to things to practice, areas of conditioning to work on and what direction your P.S.D. should take. No one can make you eat the food on the plate and that is where the hard work comes in. Hard work is going back and taking action based on the feedback provided.

Mr. Iannuzzo, the owner of the school where I train, has been heading a new sparring class on Friday evenings. Mr. Iannuzzo sees things in advanced students that others with less experienced eyes miss. He provided me with feedback by pointing out several things I did not realize I was doing during sparring. I took heed of his advice. Mr. Iannuzzo later pointed out that he has never seen a better sparring performance from me before. Had I allowed negative attitudes about feedback enter my mind, or thought I needed no improvement in my performance, I would still be making the same mistakes. Incorporating Mr. Iannuzzo’s coaching tips and feedback was essential to my improvement. Mr. I’s positive feedback is also a good motivator that good coaches always provide.

Even elite athletes are coached. These are people who have reached the top of their “game”. In order to stay on top they still need to improve and maintain all their skills. Without feedback from a good coach the competition soon closes in and over takes even the best of the best. While most of us are not elite athletes the same principle applies. Feedback from a good coach is needed to stay focused, move forward and grow. As a student avoid “stinkin thinkin”. I often see younger students, and sometimes older students, perceive feedback as a negative. I will sometimes hear things like: “My instructor is always on my back about…” Negative thoughts will block the message. There will always be setbacks and obstacles to overcome, but closing the door to opportunity to improve is an obstacle that can easily be avoided by absorbing and incorporating all coaching tips and instruction. Good instructors are providing you with feedback to help you. When they point out areas that need work become the empty cup and listen with open ears and an open mind. Go back to that day when you were a white belt. As a white belt you are ready to learn, respective to new ideas and anxious to get to the next step. Take on these attitudes and thought processes and it will be easy to become a champion and stay a champion.


  1. Great post Ron.

    Taking feedback in some areas, like details on kata, is easy. There's not that much ego involved. When someone points out an error, we almost always appreciate it and take it on board.

    Some feedback is more complicated. For me, it's more than a question of positive or negative, there's the extent of the changes.

    Sparring feedback can be harder. Once you've developed a personal style, feedback requires often making changes to a style developed over many years. I recently was told to change my sparing stance and I was resistant since while it would help me in some ways, not help in others.

  2. Thank you John. Yes changes are tough. That is a topic I may cover in a future post. I need to do some reading and research on the best way to handle change. Changes in sparring would mean going back and drilling and working on the change it is never or rarely something that can be done "on the spot". For me changes in Kata are difficult too since it is often times a habit developed over time. I have never had the talent to instanly pick up a Kata. I have always had to learn small sections or just moves at time work on them over and over again and comeback to learn more. I am the same way with changes in Katas, unless they are very simple.