Pain and Glee: Enjoying Your Training

At our recent Instructor Intensive, the topic of “training so hard that you lose the joy of it” came up. People who come out to intensives are hard workers. It takes a lot of drive to come out to do 50 hours of swordplay and learning crammed into 5 days. So this struggle of keeping the joy alive can be a commonly held one in this type of group. I decided to go back to the blog archive and pull up an old post I wrote on the topic. I’ve dusted it off a bit and asked some questions at the end. I hope that some of these thoughts are useful.
Things that can stand in the way of training joy:

Disconnect from Training or Training Environment

I figured I’d tackle this one first as it seems like it would be the most easily identified. You might not be enjoying yourself because the goals of your trainer or training environment don’t align with your own. You may be unsuited to your peers or the teacher, or unsuited to the art itself. If this was your feeling from the outset, then move on. Find something that you do enjoy. However, if this is a new experience and it has taken over from a feeling of enjoyment that you once had, then it’s definitely worth investigating further before making any big decisions.
Just like a personal relationship, great training relationships can’t survive on that romantic first blush forever. You need to feed and build your relationship from both sides for it to be as rewarding as it can be long-term. It’s going to have its ups and downs. Take some time to give to that relationship. Feed it with books, new training partners, new equipment, or perhaps a change in your routine. Connect with others and talk with them about how they renew their passions for the hobbies they love. And look to a few more of the following reasons to see if one of them might be in your way.


Bringing in an expectation of what you ‘should’ be able to do, comparing yourself to other practitioners, comparing yourself to other training days (“I could do this before my injury!”). We can all get caught into this and it robs us of the joy of learning, the joy of physical engagement, of competition, and all the other good stuff that comes from martial arts.
If you feel this creeping in, identify it, name it, and leave it at the door. Change your focus in your training to something where your ego does not have as much hold. If you’re getting caught up in ego while you’re competing with someone, decide instead to work on executing a particular technique rather than winning. Change the nature of what you’re practicing–switch exercises, change focus, explore something new. The encroachment of “should” can often be a sign of being caught in a mental or learning rut.

Placing Responsibility Elsewhere

The most common reason that people struggle with contentment in their training (or their lives in general) is that they put the responsibility for it on others. No one is responsible for your enjoyment of your training outside of you. Though your training partners and instructors might make the job of enjoying yourself easier or harder, you truly have all the power in this regard. Taking responsibility for your training comes in several forms:

1. You can simply decide to enjoy yourself.

The most important thing is to relax. Enjoy the moment of your training. Let go of your past successes. Let go of the fact that your partner just isn’t doing the drill right. Let go of your own expectation and mindfully return to what brought you into your martial practice in the first place. It is hard to do, but simply recognizing that this is a choice you get to make can be powerful.

2. Customize your training.

Your instructor and your training partners can only do so much to suit your training needs and learning style. If you can harness how you learn the sky is the limit for how much you
can get out of your practice. When I first realized that I learned best through ‘doing’ (rather than seeing or hearing) and from repetition of fundamental components of a technique before jumping to the end goal (the arm movement on its own before combining the leg and body movement) I suddenly had such power over my learning—if I harnessed it.
Now when I train in an activity I ask my instructor to teach to me in the way that is most effective for me: show me and pose me. When I’m working with a training partner I ask them to let me break a technique up into components, even if it was not initially presented in that way. Most instructors value students who take some responsibility in customizing their learning. When you’re learning in a way that works for you, you’ll find you enjoy the process that much more.

3. Customize your environment.

This can simply be changing where you practice or how you practice. Too many people in your class? Find a smaller one. Particular instructor not working for you? Change classes (don’t let one person hold your passion hostage). Work well with one partner and not another? Be selfish about who you practice with (let others be responsible for their own feelings as well).

Enjoyment is Demotivating

This may seem like a strange statement but for many enjoyment is equated with the end of a journey, or the laziness of a break. In our fast paced society many motivate themselves through stress, self-punishment, fear and other generally self-destructive (and certainly enjoyment-destructive) feelings. Many are afraid that if they enjoy themselves they’ll lose their edge.
Joy can have many different forms and it doesn’t need to be gleeful and with a smile on your face. Yet I do think there is much more to be gained from the type of joy that is equated with growth, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Seek that out, and all the pain and glee that comes with it.

Want to Make a Shift?

The best way to make to make a potential enjoyment shift is to allow yourself some time to experiment. Try a mental shift or make a physical shift in how you train and see how it works for you. Turning over a new leaf, at least for a time, can bring new energy in that you hadn’t realized you needed.
What does enjoyment look like to you? How do you renew your energy for your passions when you’re stuck in a rut?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Excellent post! After 13 years of practice, and a pretty significant plateau in my advancement, this website has become a major part of rejuvinating my enjoyment of learning and teaching rapier skills, as is training with partners who are just discovering their own joy for the first time. I’m letting go of “shoulding all over myself” about how I stack up against others, and what might have been had I not blown out my knee during a simple footwork drill, years ago, and instead refocusing my energy on doing what I enjoy, and trusting that the rest will fall into place as a natural byproduct of my study and work and play with a sword (or two, or dagger, etc.). It’s a new mental landscape, and I’m feeling energized by this shift.