Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

On Being a Bad Student


I was a bad student in kung fu tonight, and writing (actually, posting) this entry is my punishment.

I am normally a good student. It’s one of the only things I’m really good at in martial arts. I’m on time, my uniform is always clean, and I never forget my sash. I pay attention, stay focused, and try my hardest. I’m respectful to my instructors, my fellow students, and the school in general.

But tonight, I got frazzled and frustrated, and I had a really bad class.

In general, I am plagued by injuries. My back is always an issue, but I also managed to bruise my hip two weeks ago. I can’t do anything without grimacing, sucking in my breath in pain, or whimpering. But I know it’s just a bruise, just pain, and it will go away. No big deal in the scheme of things. But then, when I somehow managed to bruise my arm (even though I was working by myself) to the point where I couldn’t open my fingers or pull my wrist back without gritting my teeth and trying not to scream, I started to get really frustrated.

Being critical of oneself is part of how you get better in martial arts. You have to check your foot position, adjust the angle of your body, tuck in that errant thumb, and remember to breathe. But there’s a difference in being critical and losing all confidence and basically being a dumbass.

I started beating myself up psychologically. And verbally. Sometimes even in front of instructors who were trying to help me.

Looking back, I am horrified. “Can’t” is a four-letter word. “I suck,” “I’m lame,” “I’m really bad at this,” “I’m sorry I’m not doing better”… these should all be outlawed too. There’s no place for those words, or those sentiments, in the middle of a martial arts class. It’s just unacceptable. So I hurt myself, so I was clumsy, so I was frustrated at being behind everyone because I missed so many Fridays last year. Was the answer to throw the class away — thereby disrespecting the school, the students, and my sifus — or to try harder? How on earth did I fail such a simple test?

I let frustration erode my focus and turn me from good student to a bad one. It’s a testament to the professionalism and kindness of my instructors that they simply kept trying to help me, though I’m sure my attitude disappointed them.

My attitude disappointed me, too. I hope I never do that again.

About the author

Jenn Reese


  • You won't. When you get down on yourself, the next hardest thing is to be kind to yourself. Love and forgive yourself. No one can be the perfect student all the time, honey. Not even you. Your Sifus know this, and they forgive it. The least you can do is honor them by forgiving yourself.


  • Learn from it, move on and don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ve accomplished amazing things thus far in life, Jenn, in various arts. Take a moment to gaze back and appreciate the heights you’ve scaled to date. You’ve earned the privilege.

  • Aren't you a black belt at this point? So couldn't you teach others. I get down on myself about my work performance, but then I get interns, and I realize how much I actually understand about what I'm doing. You've been doing the martial arts for like 8 years now. Mentoring someone else could put it in perspective.

Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

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