Compassion in Martial Arts?

The Life Coach vs Performance Coach

Is there a difference?

Simply stated: One helps with human behavior, one helps with high performance.

If you haven’t gotten the chance to read the book High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard, go read it. I’m actually going through it again and there was a section in the beginning of the book that struck a chord with me where the above statement has a strong vibration.

In the span of being a martial arts teacher, I can say there are many sides of offering oneself to those we wish to help. Watching them succeed using the knowledge we have shared is both fulfilling and inspiring. In recent events, I have been asking myself questions on how to improve the high performance culture at my academy.


When we, students, choose to train in the martial arts, we seek a way to be better versions of ourselves. There are questions we don’t know how to ask, yet we know what the answer is when it appears. It’s mostly felt and is felt strongly. But what are the questions? After many years of asking, I’m certain of what they are now.

For self exploration

  • Who am I?
  • What will I believe in?

There is a population of absolute beginners I’ve met that start training for reasons that connect to self exploration needing to know what they are capable of, how they are going to act, who they are going to meet and what they can connect to. This usually is a place where beliefs are strengthened, confirmed or changed.

For deliberate growth

  • What do I need to do, specifically, in order to grow?

This question is usually asked by those who want to just work and work hard. It’s for those who are able to put ego aside and just get after it. Self exploration is a secondary element or sometimes not at all. Those who ask this question desire excellence and seeks those who came before them so that they may just tell them what the specifics are.

Seeking Clarity

Martial arts, in my biased opinion, touches both. The yin and yang of sorts. When students feel these questions, they tend to excel once clarity exists. When we as martial arts teachers attempt to answer these questions, we use our experience in the way we know ourselves and how we perform to our fullest capability.


In a talk about compassion, the idea of how to develop it came up. We’ve all heard the quote “Don’t mistake kindness as a sign of weakness.” This is a extremely distilled saying. One that can be mistaken for condoning false effort. We need to know the context before understanding it. Let’s explore one.

Let’s help someone. Let’s call him Bob. Bob is in need and you give yourself to his problem solving. At times your help works. At other times it does not. You try to replicate the successful efforts but get stuck and don’t know how. You both get frustrated. Then you turn to your martial arts training.

You train hard. You stoicly reveal our exhaustion and struggle. You stand back up, engage your discipline, then continue with enthusiasm. Finally, you finish well and carry on with your day.

The next time you see Bob, he’s energetic and is getting after it. You are impressed. After patiently waiting until Bob is done with his task,

You say, “Great job! That was really impressive!”

Bob, “Thanks! I watched you work the other day and that was inspiring. So I had to do the same.”

In this context, genuine compassion is active at both ends. A direct connection is made without having to explain theory. Its just facts. A true bond. This tells us that one of the best ways to help someone is for ourselves to show the way, not by leading, but by merely doing the deed. Show that we can flow with struggle and come out stronger in the end.

ABCs of a Black Belt

Just one more item to help close this thought up is the ABCs of a Black Belt.

  • A: Always be great because you never know who’s watching.
  • B: Be the leader that you’d want to follow.
  • C: Care more about we than me.

When we are practicing this tenant, those who are seeking the way will find us. We can then sharpen each other through our deeds and perpetuate what martial arts can do for a lifetime.


If you want a coach, find a martial arts teacher that has earned their salt. Train with them. Ask them questions. Find yourself. Believe in yourself. THEN, excel. Put the ego aside when its time to work and do your best.