Shonen protagonists are well known for being absurdly powerful. Their unimaginable might has become a trope and almost joke of the genre. Our heroes tend to become the most powerful people in their worlds, and there’s something important to note: none of them have attained that power alone.
Even the most powerful heroes have required training from a teacher, a sensei, a coach of whatever craft they seek to master. Whether it’s Naruto’s ninja training or Deku building his body under the guidance of All-Might, all of Shonen’s greatest heroes have required mentorship in order to reach their goals.
This doesn’t mean our heroes never learned anything on their own. Another genre trope is that these characters are often born with a clear innate ability that makes them outliers from the general population. They’re often naturally strong, athletic, or intelligent. However, it’s not until they go under the tutelage of a mentor that they take their innate abilities to the next level.
This has been one of the most straight-forward lessons I’ve learned from shonen anime: if you have a big goal to reach, mentorship is the way to achieve it.
We all have goals, whether it’s bulking up, slimming down, or learning a new skill, and all of us can benefit from the guidance of the expert. Mentorship is the greatest way to take a deep dive into a subject of your choosing. Why spin your wheels, guess, and pretend like you know how to get there when you could simply do the sensible thing and seek out the guidance of someone who has already achieved what you want to do?
Let’s look to Goku, the most famous and among the most powerful shonen protagonists, as an example of the benefits of mentorship.
The Goku Example
Goku is easily my favorite example of the importance of a student-mentor relationship. Through 30 years of Dragon Ball, Goku has transcended his medium and gained recognition as one of the most powerful characters in fiction. We know, of course, that his Saiyan heritage pre-destined him for immense power, but without the training he received from his various masters, Goku would have never scratched the surface of his innate abilities. He would have lived a peaceful life in the woods rather than achieve the literal god status he has at this point in the Dragon Ball lore.
Let’s take a look at Goku’s mentors and what skill each of them taught him:
- Grandpa Gohan: taught Goku the basics of martial arts and survival skills, which gave him a baseline of physical competence.
- Master Roshi: Used physical labor to develop Goku’s General Physical Preparedness, Karate Kid style.
- Korin: Challenged Goku’s speed, agility, and persistence through the Sacred God Water exercises.
- Kami/Popo: Honed and refined Goku’s martial arts skills, and provided much needed mental training.
- Kaio: Helped Goku dial in his Ki Control to conserve and amplify his energy output.
- Whis: Further advanced and tamed Goku’s ki to the heights of a literal god.
Goku learned something new from each mentor and layered his newfound knowledge on top of his fundamental skills to eventually become one of the most powerful beings in his universe. He didn’t wake up one day knowing the Kamehameha – though let’s be honest, he did pick it up pretty quickly. It was only through mentorship that Goku became one of the most powerful characters of all time!
Why Mentorship Beats Self-Learning
You might be asking, “why do I need someone else to show me how it’s done? I learn better when I try and fail at things for myself!” Maybe you’re a self-starter or naturally gifted. That’s great! But even if you’re naturally gifted at something, even if you think you really know how it’s done, someone else knows it far better.
World-renowned sports coach Dan John once said, “he who has himself as a coach has an idiot for a coach.” You might think you’re able to coach and train yourself, but your biases prevent you from being fully objective, and prevent you from seeing the tiny errors you’re probably making. You’re also prone to either over or under work. Self-guidance is more of a guessing game than a science.
Take it from me: over the years, I’ve undertaken tons of physical endeavors that I thought I could figure out myself. I’ve developed my own running workouts, lifting programs, and schedules for skill acquisition, all of which ultimately amounted to lukewarm results. Through all of those projects, I was missing the crucial element of the mentor-student relationship: unbiased feedback.
Mentors and coaches provide the feedback we might not even know we need. They can provide small corrections to mistakes that we might not have even noticed, and those small corrections equate to huge leaps in practice. After all, practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect. An experienced mentor can provide guidance when progress starts to stall by analyzing exactly what’s going wrong and providing focal points to fix.
This way, we expend less brain power and willpower and can spend more time doing the right work!
Maybe you’ve already put up some big numbers in the gym or fast times on the track. Maybe you think you’re more of a Vegeta than a Goku – internally motivated and self-driven. But the truth is, you’ve had a mentor whether you know it or not. It could have been in-person, through a book, or simply through a program online, but the fact is, you didn’t get to where you are completely on your own!
Mentorship is for Everyone and Any Goal
All of the above is applicable to any goal, not just training! There’s a mentor out there who can help you with any goal you have.
Maybe you don’t give a damn about getting strong – maybe you just want to lose some weight. You can either spend countless hours trying to figure out the complex world of nutrition for yourself…or you can seek out a mentor who can teach you the ins and outs of nutrition and give you a template for eating better.
A mentor’s job is essentially to do the mental heavy lifting (not literally) for you no matter what the goal – all you have to do is follow their lead. No matter what your goal is, there is someone out there who can eliminate the ambiguity, cut through the BS, and tell you exactly what to do and how to do it.
Finding the Right Mentor
Are you ready to adopt the mindset of a student and reach your goals faster than you could have imagined? Then it’s time to find a mentor! Here’s how to do it.
Decide what you want.
The first step is to decide which measure of performance you’d like to improve. Do you want to get stronger? Faster? More powerful? Increase stamina and speed? Is there a specific sport you want to learn? A martial art? Deciding this will inform the mentorship you seek out.
Do your research.
Now it’s time to put in the groundwork and find your mentor. Just like Goku, seek out someone who has accomplished your goal. An easy starting point is to seek out a program rather than a person. When seeking a program, make sure that two key factors are in place:
- The program has the results to back it up. Look to testimonials from users of the program. Have they seen results akin to what you want to see? A good program should always come with evidence of its efficacy.
- The program must provide an accountability model. That could be an in-person coach to give you live feedback, an online forum where you can post form checks, or an app where you can log your progress to get digital feedback from your coach.
Programs Pave the Path
There are tons of sources for finding good programs.
- Books are a good starting point. The bigger and more detailed, the better. Any book-based program worth its salt will provide a why in addition to a how. The program should be completely foolproof: it should detail proper form, training frequency, and tips for busting through plateaus.
Books are great because they tend to be the least expensive option, but the caveat is that they also provide the least amount of feedback. They also tend to provide the least amount of individualization in programming, but I honestly don’t think “cookie cutter” programming is as much of an issue as people like to make it out to be (that’s a topic for another day).
Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe is a great example – the first section of the book serves as a textbook for the core lifts, with detailed breakdowns of form, before even getting into the training program itself.
- Digital coaching is one step up from a book. A digital coach can tailor a more individualized program for your specific needs and can provide more feedback than a book ever could, the caveat being that it will be slightly delayed.
The drawback to digital coaching is that there are a lot of faux-experts out there. Damn near everyone fancies themselves a coach these days, which can make it a pain to sort through the BS. All you can do here is be critical – make sure your coach has the client results to back them up – that’s the easiest way to tell if their methods are working.
I really like the digital coaching provided by Gymnastic Bodies. They have a large active forum exclusively for discussion of their training programs where members can submit form check videos and get feedback and encouragement from GB’s team of forum coaches.
- Of course, live coaching is the best way to go for 98% of your needs. A coach who is actually physically present can provide immediate fixes and feedback to take your training to the next level. In fact, there are times when an in-person coach is a 100% necessity, like when you’re learning a martial art.
The drawback is that there are only so many coaches out there, and they can only take so many one on one clients. For this reason, live coaching will tend to be the most expensive option, but you’re sure to get the most out of it.
Follow the program religiously.
Now that you have your master, it’s time to train! Execute the program your coach lays out exactly as written. Give it an earnest try for 6 to 12 weeks without changing a damn thing. Even if you think you have an idea that would make it better, there’s about a 99% chance that you’re wrong.
Remember, your mentor knows better than you! Check in with them as often as possible, constantly evaluate, re-read your literature, and re-research everything. Never assume you’re doing anything 100% correctly. Train consistently, record yourself, and constantly ask, what can I be doing better?
My progress towards my goals has been hugely impacted by mentorship. Like I mentioned above, I’ve developed plenty of my own programs over the years, all of which have yielded lukewarm results. I thought I was smart enough to figure out everything on my own, but the fact of the matter is that I’m not. I didn’t start getting true results until I began taking on mentors who could provide templates, analyze my performance, and correct my mistakes. I could have kept wasting my time trying to figure things out for myself, but I am so glad that I didn’t!
I’ve taken on mentorship in every different field I can – I’ve utilized digital coaching for strength training, online programs for optimizing nutrition, and in-person coaching to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve followed the advice of my coaches to a T and have seen amazing progress for it. In fact, since adopting the student mindset, the only times that my progress has lagged has been when I’ve deviated from the programs provided for me!
Now, I want to know – what skill do you want to learn? Where and how are you going to find your mentor? What is your next step towards becoming the protagonist of your life? I hope this article has inspired you to take on the mindset of a student and take your training to the next level!