Chances are if you took psych as an undergrad you may have come across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is a theory of human motivation posited by Abraham Maslow, a psychologist in 1943. I have used a modified form of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with my own students. I find that, often, people are not clear on their motivations for taking up martial arts.

Why would this even be important?

As a coach, one of the things that I am always trying to do is honour the goals, and needs of my students. Knowing why they are there, helps me as the coach, structure the training I give them to be aligned with what they most want and need. Motivation, the reason someone is there structures action. So for example, if you wanted to learn how to defend yourself, but I was training you to compete, you wouldn’t be very motivated to come to sessions. In other words you wouldn’t take the appropriate action in your training to achieve any kind of measurable success.

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Motivation Defines What You Will or Wont Get Out of It

Secondly, depending on your motivation for training, will define what you will and wont get out of it. For example, if your needs are Survival based, then your focus will be on learning the most functional martial skills to defend yourself. As with Maslow’s theory, if you focus is on survival needs, nothing else matters until those needs are met. So as much as I try for instance to speak to a student about Personal Mastery, they won’t want to listen.

If for example your needs are Personal Challenge based, then your focus shifts to your personal game performance in respect to others. Again, because the focus becomes exclusively on you, and your game, no student in that motivational frame will want to listen to me talk about Personal Mastery, and Survival Needs will often take a back seat. For example, there are many people now who train in the modern world of competitive martial arts, such as MMA, that give little or no thought to personal protection. They are, as noted earlier, consumed with their own personal game versus others on the mat, in the ring or cage.

 

Personal Mastery, Arguably The Greatest Motivation to Train

In order to move from Survival Needs, to Personal Challenge, to Personal-Mastery, a student has to balance his needs for himself, with the care of others. While Personal Mastery may seem about the individual, to claim self mastery over oneself, requires a deep connection to self, relationship and the world (what Maslow later referred to as self-transcendence). Often, but not always, students need to go through survival, and personal challenge, before they become open to mastery of the self. Personal Mastery also invokes self discipline – and the ability to successfully navigate within the three domains of martial art motivation, but not be consumed by one. Sadly, to often, people get stuck in either Survival or Personal Challenge mode without ever going any further in their martial arts training.

Each stage of motivation is important of course. Survival builds an inner confidence to confront a harsh reality that there are bad people out there, that may want to hurt you or those you love. Personal Challenge, teaches a person to overcome self defeating emotions and thoughts, so that one can feel capable of taking on an unpredictable, uncompromising world. Personal Mastery, teaches a person to work creatively with sensations, emotions, feelings and thoughts, so that one can choose the appropriate response to difficult situations skilfully. Self transcendence emerges, when a person begins to understand that the experience of martial arts should be one of healing, of connection, of helping others overcome their inner opponent. At this stage, violence for the sake of violence no longer exists. Is this what it means to be a true warrior? You decide!