Last week, there was parking lot construction at the gym where I teach Karate classes. As such, I needed to walk a fairly circuitous path around the building to an alternate entrance, near the outdoor basketball courts. As I rounded the corner there were two young teenagers there, and I overheard one of them saying "I don't want to play with Jeremy, he sucks" (this was not his actual name, but I'll use "Jeremy" to keep things anonymous). The second teen replied to the first "well, why can't we all play?".
That was the extent of what I heard, as I was steadily walking to the room where my juniors would soon be arriving for class. But I couldn't help but think that this was a fairly clear example of the mindset different individuals will employ for whatever their chosen activity is. Without more information, it's entirely possible that Jeremy has little to no experience or understanding of the game, which will grind the play to a halt. In essence, this could change things from "fluid basketball game" (the intended experience) to a fair bit of standing around, or chasing the wildly thrown ball into the trees behind the court (not at all the intended experience). It's also possible that Jeremy does indeed understand the game, and has reasonable basketball skills (safe to say he's got more than myself), but isn't at the level of the other two young men - the reason that the first teenager dislikes playing with Jeremy is because he isn't presented a suitable challenge. This would also change the intended experience from "challenging game" to "no risk of losing, so no feeling of reward for winning".
These feelings are understandable, and it's hard to fault the kid that doesn't want to play with someone who's a drastically different skill level if he's searching for a bit of an adrenaline rush on the court. However, the other boy didn't have any issue including Jeremy into their matches, and there must be a reason for this as well. Perhaps he's more familiar with Jeremy, and as such is willing to cut him some slack. Perhaps his skill level is a little lower than the first boy, just enough to give him a run for his money, but just low enough that Jeremy can do the same to him. Or, maybe it's his mindset. Maybe he loves basketball in a different manner than his friend. Maybe he loves playing just for the sake of playing.
Martial artists fall into different groups. I don't just mean those that study Judo, and those that study Tae Kwon Do, etc. There are those that train in their chosen art for distinctly different reasons. I generally put people into four categories for training:
It seems as though the first boy was very much seeking a competitive sport scenario, at least on that afternoon, nothing wrong with that. The second boy though, what was his motivation? Well, it's unlikely he's playing basketball to learn to protect himself... let's scratch that notion. He appeared fairly physically fit, though appearance alone is never a great way to judge a person's motivation. His wanting to include another individual that we have reason to believe isn't as proficient seems to point away from competitive sport reasons. That leaves development, which may seem a touch out of place at first. How much focus does it take to win a game when it is known that the opponent can't keep up?
But thinking a little further about it, this sounds like a challenge of one's discipline. "Can I stay focused, stay engaged, and see this all the way through, even though this is going to be slow, possibly tedious, and the immediate rewards are going to be reaped by someone else?". Anyone that has ever taught any subject or skill for a long period of time will confirm that you develop an even greater understanding of it over time. There's no doubt that dedicating that level of attention to the development of another (or multiple others) will lead to growth on the part of the instructor or coach. But where does the motivation come from? I think, in this case at least, I'd have to say "that’s just the love of it". I'm fairly certain this young teen was not being paid by Jeremy to show him basketball, so his desire to include him in their games, even though it will likely diminish the challenge to him personally, seems to be that he just plain loves basketball, and sharing the experience.
It's a tremendous challenge to become proficient at a martial art. The vast majority of us wouldn't get there without someone, probably multiple someones, to guide us along the way. Some of those people will be the type that push themselves to the furthest degree they can. They'll push us well beyond our comfort zones, and that will force us to adapt. They'll seek the highest challenge in every moment of their training, and when they win, they win big. They also run the risk of burning themselves out (physically, mentally, or emotionally - motivation isn't just a physical thing after all), or finding that they've made it to the top of the mountain, when what they were seeking hasn't actually been up there. This can cause a person to completely disengage from training, as there are few things more disappointing than discovering that you've finally made it through the maze (hopefully with your whiskers in tact), but there's no cheese.
And then there are those that will go at a much slower pace, but typically a more steady one. Without the mindset that seeks glory, they're much less likely to experience the sometimes crushing lows that come along with seeking challenges that are the highest of the high. These people will typically have fewer gaps in their motivation, and as a result have fewer gaps in their training. When they do have training gaps, it's often a result of logistical matters like schedules or budget issues, and even in those times their mindset is less likely to wane due to the gap itself, so they're more likely to resume training when it's feasible. They want to train, for the love of training, and are more likely to make sure everyone in the dojo gets the most out of every interaction. And they don't mind playing with Jeremy, even though it's slowing things down a bit.
The next time you bow into the training hall, or onto the mat, or to your training partner, ask yourself where everyone falls on this motivational spectrum. "Seeking the glory", or "here for the love of it"? Where does your balance lie?