An orange sticky note has been sitting on my desk for the past few weeks. It reads: “Agility is best learned through challenging experiences.”

This quote was said in passing by a vendor with whom my day job team has been working on a leadership program for up-and-coming executives.

I wrote it down to share with the people I was coaching, but I also wrote it down for myself.

Agility is hard. Change is hard. Bouncing back is hard, and yet, that’s what we’ve all been asked to do for the past two years. Personally, I’ve gotten through my manic panic of 2020, my languishing depression and apathy of 2021, and now I’m reaching a more balanced place of acceptance. I feel like I can meet and overcome challenges in a more positive and mindful way.

Life has changed for all of us collectively, and a million ways individually. We can never go back to the way things were pre-Covid.

This is not meant to be yet another pandemic commentary post, so I want to shift to what agility practice can mean for me and my fellow martial arts athletes. 

Agility in the literal sense can refer to the suppleness and quickness of our nerves and muscles. In a more philosophical sense, it refers to our ability to learn quickly from our experiences and apply that learning to new and/or challenging situations.

It’s a bit of a cycle–we use agility to navigate challenging experiences, and we have to go through challenging experiences to develop our agility capability.

Practicing a martial art is a continuous cycle of rapid-fire learning, both formally from an instructor and in our minds as we constantly critique, correct, troubleshoot, and improve our techniques. We pick up tips and tricks, and if we’re mindful about applying our learning, our technique becomes more efficient, productive, and…well…agile. Our response time, both physically and mentally, speeds up.

So how the heck do we develop mental agility?
We’re not always going to have the most demanding instructor or the most intimidating sparring partner. Those are great built-in learning experiences when they happen, but often we have to create our own learning experiences.
Here are a few tips:
Be curious
Gain a different perspective
Get analytical – be a good martial arts mechanic
And in other instances, find ways to simplify
Take a mindful approach to your technique
Mentally apply what you learn every time you seek to improve something
Think about the big picture and how it relates to your long term goals

Sounds like a lot of mental gymnastics, doesn’t it? Actually, this approach can quiet the noise of frustration, stress, or over-active adrenaline rushing around in our brains as we practice. We can meet the challenge of learning and mastering a martial art head on.

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