Mastering Your Craft

Self Defence Blog

Many students begin their journey thinking that after some time and commitment to training, all of their doubts will be extinguished, that they would gain greater levels of confidence and they would feel totally indestructible.

The reality is that along their journey, students may become even more doubtful and less confident than when they began their journey. Although this state is temporary and transitional, the feelings of doubt often lead to the student becoming disillusioned and stopping their journey all together.

I would like to offer some knowledge as to why all students go through these emotions and it is indeed a normal part of the journey of being a student.
According to Neurolinguistics Programming, the following represents the four stages of learning.

  1. Unconscious Incompetence.
  2. Conscious Incompetence
  3. Conscious Competence
  4. Unconscious Competence

In stage one, Unconscious Incompetence, you don’t know what you don’t know. Some may say ignorance is bliss. In context of self-defence, many people at this stage will typically say things such as, “I can talk my way out of anything, I don’t need to learn how to fight.” Or “I will just hit them with the sharp heel of my shoe.” Or “fighting is only for thugs, it’s not for me.”
Even with this mind-set, something may motivate, inspire or trigger the person to begin his/her journey towards more empowerment.

As you begin your journey, you will transition from unconscious incompetence to Conscious Incompetence. You are now becoming aware of things you did not know before. You are no longer ignorant, you are more aware and in some cases even hyper sensitive to some stimuli. At this stage, you know that you don’t know. You have more questions than answers, you may have more doubts than ever before, and your confidence levels may even decline.

For example, until your instructor made you aware of it, you probably weren’t aware that someone could attack you with a jab-take down combination or that someone may stab you with a knife from behind with a reverse grip using a downward 45 degree angle.

At this stage, your awareness of what you don’t know may be increasing faster than you can accumulate answers. You may be watching ring fights on TV or attracting friends and other people around you who are asserting their (uninformed) opinions about fighting or even engaging in forums and reading blogs on this topic regularly.

It’s very easy at this stage for students to become disillusioned and quit their journey all together. They may search for another martial arts style in an attempt to get faster answers, only to find they are repeating the same cycle.

This is the same person who claims to have trained a dozen different styles of martial arts, but they are not competent in any of them and therefore not effective as a fighter by any stretch of the imagination.

If a student is resilient and determined enough to get through to the next level of competency, they would now be at the Conscious Competence level. At this stage, you are competent enough to perform the moves if you are really conscious of what you are doing. All of your moves are driven consciously, so you may not feel like anything is natural, you may not be able to perform any moves with grace and flow and every move involves effort and intense concentration.

Students may even feel like they are not having fun or progressing due to the intense level of conscious effort required. If they’re not aware that this stage is indeed just a part of the journey and is normal for everybody, feelings of frustration may set in and they could even quit the journey.

For the (rare) student who is resilient and diligent enough to continue training, he/she will move to the next level of competency; the Unconscious Competent level.

At this level, you are able to problem solve, perform the moves without conscious thought. Your reaction time to stimulus is instant, you do not have to drive your moves with conscious thought, you are able to slip between thoughts, you are in the moment, you are in the “no-mind” state, moments of Zen are achieved (as fleeting as these moments may be).

At this level, you must be aware that you may be unconsciously competent with some of the moves, but many of the other moves that have been taught to you may still be at lower levels of competency, therefore you may have moments of grace and flow as well as frustration and doubt.

As you learn more new moves, you will be consistently cycling through these four levels of learning, therefore you will always feel the vast arrays of emotions associated with being a student. So if you are chasing the feeling of “I have completely got this,” you will be disappointed, maybe even disillusioned.

Even a Master of his/her craft will tell you that they are constantly learning, growing and discovering new distinctions and never feel like that have completely ‘got it’. For a Master, this is the most amazing feeling; this is the feeling of being an eternal student, of being on an on-going journey without an end destination. When you surrender to this concept, all the frustration, doubts and feelings of disillusion melt away and you find moments of bliss.

Robert Kyaw

Arakan Martial Art® seminars, self-defence classes and personal training private lessons are available in a large number of areas around Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Northern Rivers NSW and Perth


Logan has been undertaking Arakan Martial Art training since early 2008. We began the training as a way of focussing his energy. He has loved every minute of it, and has gained in confidence, focus, self esteem, strength and general fitness. Logan has a private lesson and a group lesson every week. 

Kelly, Mother of Logan

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