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Know what you want, and ask for it.

The ability to ask for what you want is a critical life skill. It does not absolve those around you from paying attention to your needs, but it makes it a whole lot easier to have those needs met. This skill has two components: knowing what you want, and asking for it in such a way that you might actually get it.

As always, swordsmanship can show the way. In the basic class on Tuesday this week, asking for what you want was the theme.

It began in the warm-up, with students spotting each other in the execution of a basic exercise (the scoop). The spotters were supposed to tap their partner on the shoulder when they saw an error, but of course, to start with, they were invariably too far away, and relied of verbal communication instead. So the first fix was I had to ask them more precisely for what I wanted. Once the spotting technique was up to scratch, I had them chose either the push-up or squat to work on, using their partner. First they had to identify one possible error (such as dipping the head in a push-up), and ask their partner to watch for it. The lesson: know what you want, exactly, and ask for it, exactly. People generally are pretty good at being co-operative, but very bad at mind-reading.

The rest of the class went the same way; each student would ask for what they wanted (“give me a mandritto, not too fast”; “let’s run the dagger disarm flowdrill, you break the flow, I’ll try to counter it, put me under pressure”), and their partner would give it to them.

And here is the catch; every time you are giving your partner what they ask for, you should be doing it in such a way that you are also working towards your own goals. Every action can be improved in terms of mechanics, consistency, accuracy, and so on. So even if (especially if!) your partner is a beginner (relative to your exalted level of accomplishment), you should be getting useful practice out of giving them what they want.

Whenever I am asked to do a seminar somewhere, I always ask the organisers and the attendees to be really specific about what they want. We then set goals, work towards them, and run diagnostics to make sure we are meeting them. This practically guarantees not only improvement, but also student satisfaction. But only if, and it is a big if, the students present ask for what they actually want. Not what they think they should want, or have been told to aspire to.

A senior student recently came to me with motivation problems. I asked him what he wanted, and we discussed his goals and how we could work towards them (I see my job as helping my students meet their goals, whatever they may be, so long as they don’t go against my overall goal of restoring European martial arts to their rightful place at the heart of European culture). In this process, he admitted in a kind of embarrassed way, that he wasn’t really into the history side of these arts at all. He was much more interested in the practical, physical swordsmanship. Alleluia! Progress! Because he could articulate what he wanted, I could tailor his training in that direction. No embarrassment required.

The relevance to daily life should be obvious. You must first be honest with yourself about what you truly want. Then ask for it, specifically and without reservation. That way, you might just get it.

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