Three Ways to Measure Your Personal Development

The correct practice of martial arts develops physical health, emotional maturity and intellectual acuity. In this sense, it is one of the world’s oldest personal development disciplines.

Whether you enjoy martial arts, or any other activity for personal growth, you need to measure your results at regular intervals; otherwise, as time passes, you are likely to drift away from your original goals. As Taijiquan master Wang Zongyue allegedly wrote, “If you are off by just one inch at the start, you will deviate by one thousand miles in the end.”

But how can you accurately gauge your progress in a complex and personal pursuit? Traditionally, martial artists would compare skills by crossing hands in a duel, or bei mo in Cantonese. While the outward results of a challenge match are indisputable—two men enter, one man falls—this tradition has some serious drawbacks.

Almost by definition, the defeated contender will not understand why they lost, making it difficult for them to address their underlying weaknesses in the future. Was it a simple height/weight disadvantage? Bad timing, or position? Lack of courage? Bei mo does not provide answers to these specific and important questions.

Gong Sao Mo Gong Ching Sao:
“Talking hands” do not speak politely.

Furthermore, victory in a challenge match often goes not to the most talented fighter, but the one who is most willing to bend the rules. In this circumstance, one contender decides they would rather injure, cripple or kill their opponent than endure the humiliation of defeat. Pathetic justifications for unsportsmanlike conduct typically follow, e.g. “There are no rules in the street.”

Despite these shortcomings, challenge matches have one distinct advantage over other heuristics commonly employed today. Bei mo does measure ability, albeit roughly. Modern practitioners, on the other hand, are more likely to crow about their efforts than their accomplishments, as if the efforts themselves were noteworthy.

  • I’ve been studying for twenty years.
  • I’ve learned from (a long list of famous masters).
  • I practice thirty hours per week.
  • I’ve sacrificed (family / friends / wealth / happiness) for my art.

If comparing yourself to others is not a good way to check your progress, and trying hard is no guarantee of improvement, than what is the alternative?


  1. On the contrary, I don’ think that comparing yourself to others is a bad way to measure your development or skills. What matters is the environment you place yourself in, and adjusting yourself to said environment. Obviously, if you’re on the street, there are no rules and you should be fighting to survive, whatever it takes. However, this isn’t the only place to measure yourself. Sparring with people you train with, people who are at or above your estimated skill level, or competing is sport competitions are all good ways to measure your development. This is preferable not only because of the safer environment, but that you’ll have rules that you can hold a standard to and people observing who can explain to you where you did go wrong (ie, your timing was off for a shoot, you didn’t gauge a good range, etc.) or if you did nothing wrong at all, and the opponent was simply far more able that you. Talk is cheap, action and ability are what matter.

  2. How can you measure your progress if you have only ever learnt from books?

  3. A fight is one way to measure your progress, though not a way I would advise. Competitions and sparring practice are another. Filming your performance in forms or any other type of training over a period of time and then comparing them is another. The ability to do things you couldn’t before is another. Feedback from an honest teacher is another.
    In answer to yogip; although learning only from books is a poor way, there is no reason why such a learner could not measure his progress, or lack of it, in the ways mentioned above.

  4. I try to befriend as many martial arts pratitioners as possable. I get them as outsiders to critic my forms and as sparing partners. Also the ever importiant disscution of views and approches. (but never spelling). This is one simple way.
    Just be prepaired to harsh reviews as well as good one’s. Grain of salt and stive harder. I’ve had people who hated my forms and I beat them sparing. I’ve had friends who smoked me in every way but loved what I do and gave me many props.

  5. I would never measure progress through a fight. Fights are too unpredictable and the results can depend on many factors.

  6. never check your progress in a fight. it is senseless and very stupid.As a first degree black belt, going for my second degree, the best way to measure your own development is just to do an excersize routine and write it in a journal then after a couple of weeks of advancement try doing the first excersize you started with.measuring yourself against another person is not a bad idea but it also has flaws.when you grow wouldn’t it be strange if the person next to you did not grow?I’m just saying if you measure you to another person you need to remember that person has also been training and has also been going through developments.

  7. In forms it’s easy to gauge your ability. You either move through it effortlessly or not. You know instantly if you are out of practice. Fighting/sparring is different–you never lose your technique or abilily. What you lose is timing when you’ve been out of practice for awhile. When you can no longer score at will against people who used to be easy opponents, you need to get back in the ring more often. I’ll admit this gets progressively more difficult as you get older–it is a fact of life and there’s no getting around it.

  8. I train to obtain the ability to injure or kill somebody and know it is only to be used if my own or someone else’s life is in danger and realise it would be truly stupid to practice or gauge my ability with complete reality against another person for obvious reasons.

    With strikes to the major self defence targets these engagements would last less then a minute, but training for this scenario is just about impossible as the protective gear and rules of engagement restrict realism of such an event.

    The most important aspects come from the mind. Most people do not know how they would react in a life threatening confrontation, just as many people react differently in an emergency situation involving a fire and there is no way this reaction can be practiced unless you have developed your mind in preparation for this.

    A well trained mature strong minded individual will at an advanced level of their training understand his or her own capabilities, play it out in their minds and physically practice dealing with the situations repetitiously without the need to fight another person.

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