Chief Instructor: Sifu John C. Loupos - Since 1968

The Wrong Kind of Confidence

by Sifu John Loupos

It’s been more than three and a half decades since I first started teaching martial arts. Over that span I have had occasion to work with all kinds of students; young and old, male and female, and with students of all manner of mind sets, not to mention students whose potential as martial artists covered the full span of natural ability, or lack thereof. Mostly, I have been blessed with students of the kind I would have chosen to work with anyway had the choice been all mine as to just who would walk through my door.

Occasionally, I have had the experience of working with brash young men or women (more often the former) who saw no limits as to what they are capable of accomplishing. Usually students like these just needed some settling down and some clear and firm guidance in order to make the best use of the energy they had at their disposal. In the end most of them turned out just fine, and some have even gone on to become teachers in their own right.

More often than overconfidence, though, what I am accustomed to encountering in students is under-confidence. I see this often in both children and adult students in both Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Students who are under-confident have little awareness at the onset of their training as to what their true potential is for developing personal power. This is simply because these students have no preexisting model for knowing just what they are capable of accomplishing. Therefore, they are very easy to work with. Helping under-confident students to improve their self assuredness is as simple a matter as orchestrating, at first, small accomplishments and then helping them to recognize the accomplishments they’ve made. Once they are able to see their own achievements they have a model for further progress, and a reason to believe in their own potential.

There is also a third category of students with a different kind of under-confidence, and definitely more challenging to teach. Initially, these students seem also to be lacking confidence as their mantra is, “I can’t do this.” Sometimes they can even be heard voicing their belief out loud, though more typically they enact their belief behaviorally. What makes these students more challenging to work with effectively is that on the one hand they can work hard when they are in class, yet they can also present as less than enthusiastic, as if they are always on the verge of defeat...something of a mixed message. The real problem going on for these students is not a lack of confidence. They have plenty of confidence, but of the wrong kind.

These students, unlike those lacking confidence of any sort, do believe in themselves. But they believe in their own failure. It is truly ironic that students who so lack confidence in their ability to perform well at Kung Fu or Tai Chi can display no shortage of confidence that their own failure is imminent.

My best guess is that what sets these students apart from those lacking confidence outright is that they have a previously existing model, albeit a damaged one. Somewhere along the line they have had an experience(s), real or imagined, that planted for them a seed of failure. The natural tendency is for people to be ‘invested’ in whatever model they have. With this damaged and limiting model ingrained in their body/mind these students have little choice but to view life as an impending failure. In order for change to occur for these students the old damaged model must be replaced with one that is newer and geared toward success. My job is to provide them with this new model which, in turn, serves to bolster their sense of autonomy and a belief in their abilities.

As you might imagine, the tricky part is to get students such as these to divest from their old model of failure, a model which may lie at the very heart of their personal belief system. Every student is different, depending on their past history and their personality, and therefore needs to be dealt with on an individual basis. Martial arts provides an ideal venue for restructuring of one’s internal model because because it dually attends to the needs, limits, and abilities of the body and the mind. Once a new model for success has been achieved the possibilities for growth and improvement at Kung Fu, Tai Chi, or anything else are unlimited.

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