I often tell my students that their training should be a challenge and they should challenge others in the class.  By this, I do not mean that they should put undue stress on themselves to perform beyond their abilities and definitely not to push others in a potentially harmful way.  What I mean is that the training should not be too easy, but not overly difficult, either.  I usually clarify for my students that a challenge means “it shouldn’t be easy but it shouldn’t be impossible either”.

As I suggested in a previous article, we should set goals that we can achieve.  Nobody should expect the impossible of himself or of others.  But we should not be taking it too easy, either.  This goes for life in general, in addition to our experience in the dojo.

Some common examples of how we can challenge ourselves during our training, making things neither too easy nor impossible:
• Try to have the lowest stance you can manage.  It does not need to be lower than the person who is naturally much more flexible than you.  But it should not be practically standing up, either.
• Wait until the last possible moment to move when defending in kumite/sparring.  Don’t move as soon as you see a chance and do not wait until you get hit.
• When the instructor says “full speed” do the techniques as quickly as you can manage, without letting form suffer.  Don’t do it so fast that it becomes sloppy (that’s not a real challenge) and don’t do it so slowly that it is obviously not “full speed”.
• Challenge yourself to do techniques with more speed, power, accuracy or commitment than you did during the previous workout.
• Do extra training outside of class, including aerobic and strengthening exercises.  Don’t overdo it and make yourself so tired that you cannot come to the dojo.  But don’t just sit around watching TV all day long.  When doing exercises, try to do one or two repetitions more than you did the previous week or month, to keep things challenging.

As for how we might help challenge someone else in class, here are some examples:
• Be as good an example of technique, speed, power and attitude as you can, challenging the other person (non-verbally) to be as good.
• Attack quickly and powerfully, but with control so that you do not cause damage if the other person is not up to this challenge.
• Encourage others to show as much commitment and enthusiasm toward their training as you do, by challenging them to attend as many classes and try as hard in each one as you do.

We must be careful not to push anyone else too hard.  Remember that in addition to potential for physical damage, some people may suffer emotional harm when excessively challenged.  It is always best to ask your partner if he/she would like to be challenged and, if so, how much.  As an instructor, I try to do this quite often.  It is usually better to concentrate on being the best we ourselves can be, rather than being overly concerned with other people, particularly if you are not an instructor.  We should all try to lead by example.  Challenging ourselves will hopefully encourage others to challenge themselves as well.

Challenge is something that should be welcomed.  It is a valuable tool for our development and the development of those around us.

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published February 2004)