The Benefits of Keeping a Journal

Often times keeping up with a diary or journal can be quite difficult.  It takes time to formulate your thoughts and write them down, especially if you have lots to document or your notes are very detailed.  The benefits of chronicling your progress, however, are well worth the time invested.

Benefits

Keeping a regular journal has many benefits for the martial artist.  The most obvious benefit is a record of your specific art.  Recording techniques, theories, philosophy, and history in the order that they were learned can provide a decent outline of how the system and its knowledge are constructed.  This knowledge can be perused to look for patterns and one can gain insight as to why certain techniques are taught at certain times, or which strengths need to be developed to master a given skill.

Motivation and perseverance are sometimes difficult to find when you actively pursue a martial art.  A practitioner may feel as if they are not progressing or their training has fallen in to a rut.  Keeping a journal can help with these obstacles.  With a journal a practitioner can look back through the journal finding inspiration and encouragement.  One may find that they really are progressing even though it feels like they are not.  Seeing that in the beginning other techniques were difficult at first but that it was eventually mastered and now seems trivial, and so to will the current techniques become easier with training and practice.  Practitioners can find past workout routines that they can use to alter the pace and content of their current workout routine, injecting forgotten favorite exercises.  Overcoming obstacles and discovering new insights are much easier when the practitioner keeps a journal that can be referenced.

The details within the journal are the most important.  The more detailed the entries and descriptions the better reference that the journal will provide.  This means that more time and diligence are needed to make sure your notes are as thorough as possible.  While it may seem tedious, the acute attention to detail will be greatly appreciated as you reference techniques when your recollection is hazy.  Utilizing the journal as a reference manual can help ensure that your execution of techniques is accurate and that you are correctly preserving your knowledge of the art.

Not Yours Alone

Initially every journal should be started and kept just for the practitioner’s sake.  Oftentimes this makes keeping the journal more difficult because you are only using it for your notes.  The practitioner will only record things that they feel they need to remember or interesting notes of things they do not want to forget.  For those that decide to take up the mantle of teaching, however, their journals provide valuable information for their own reference as well as for their students.  When a journal is kept not only for your own reference but for other student’s as well, it becomes easier to maintain frequent detailed entries.

The information contained in the journals may or may not be shared openly.  Most teachers recognize that open sharing of their journals can cause more harm than good.  Too much influx of information often overwhelms students leaving them more confused than before.  Students will often focus on the wrong things, paying attention only to information that interests them and not spending considerable time delving in to any one topic.  For these reasons instructors often use their journals as a sort of lesson plan.  This allows them to cover material in the same way that they were exposed to it which helps preserve the traditions of the system.  Also refreshing their own memory with the information contained within the journal ensures that they do not forget to impart an important piece of information to the student.  This helps to develop consistency in an instructors teaching methods.

Content

Everything can be recorded in your journal and may provide useful information, reference, or insight.

The history of the system can help a practitioner understand how the system developed, how the culture at the time of significant events in the system’s past affected the development of the system, and what the system’s ancestors had to do to achieve their results.

The techniques should be recorded with great attention to detail so that they can be understood clearly to provide reference on proper execution.

The philosophy of the system should be recorded and studied as well.  These philosophies often govern the appropriate development of the person as they learn the art.  Writing down your thoughts and interpretations of the system’s philosophy help the student grow and learn under what circumstances it is appropriate to use their knowledge of the martial arts.

Recording what is covered in one’s classes is important to gauge one’s progress in the art.  The practitioner should record what they excel at as well as what they need to work on.  This helps to ensure that their training is well rounded and that they learn to judge their progress and ability objectively.

For instructors it is important that they record the classes that they teach making notes about the progress of individual students.  This helps you to see what your teaching style is like and allows you to make adjustments and improve as you find patterns in the student’s development.  This can also provide insight on several methods to explain things to the students.  Each student relates differently to the material and understands differently.  By keeping a journal of the students progress you can find ways that you have explained the material to previous students to find something that a current student may understand and help them overcome obstacles.

Other things may be recorded as well such as training schedules, workout routines, and metrics for your progress with these items.  Recording such metrics allows a quick way for a student to see their progress.  For example a student can record the amount of time that they can hold the Horse Stance (Ma Bu 馬步).  As the recorded time increases they can see definite improvement in their ability which encourages them to continue.

Creating a Journal

A successful journal can be created and maintained in a number of ways.  Each student will have their own methods for recording the information in their journal.  Some students feel more comfortable writing things into books.  The books may be blank or ruled pages, bound or unbound.  Students that write will often have a notebook to jot quick notes that they later expound upon in their permanent journals.  Most systems contain a myriad of information and the volume of recorded information will quickly fill many books.

With computers more accessible and easy to use, some students will favor digital archiving of their journals.  This may be accomplished through several means.  Students may just type all of their notes in their favorite word processing software and categorize them in folders.  This does have the added benefit over books in that it is easier to revise, and organize the information.  Another digital method is the use of a wiki.  Their are several Wiki software packages available and they all provide enough basic functionality to create a useful journal.  Not only do you have easily maintained and organized documents, but you also gain the added benefit of having all of your entries cross-referenced for easier navigation and the ability to search through the journal.  A wiki also opens up the opportunity to share and allow others to contribute their information and insight so that every one may benefit from the aggregated knowledge.  The downside with using digital information is that unless you intend for the information to be shared, you must take measures to make the information contained in your journals private.

While any method of recording the information is valid, each method has advantages and disadvantages.  Ultimately it is not important which one you choose, it is more important that you keep detailed, consistent, and frequent journal entries so that you can get the most use out of the journal.  Also with any method be sure that you take measure to preserve the information.  A fire or computer crash could wipe out all of the recorded information that you have.  Knowledge is precious and such a disaster can be demoralizing and difficult to recover from.

Keeping a journal provides many benefits for yourself and potentially your prospective students.  As each generation of a martial art keeps these journals future generations have a mass of knowledge that they can use to help them achieve greater results and to gain insight from the perspective of many previous great masters.  This is an invaluable tool for all practitioners regardless of their chosen style.


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