Quitting: Should I walk away?

First Place (1 of 1)

Have you ever felt like quitting? Whether it’s a martial art, a marriage, a job, we’ve all felt like giving up the fight at some point in our lives. So what do we do when we face the temptation to walk away?

Let’s look at why people quit. Some do it because of the stress involved in the activity. Others may stop because of a particular person or an undesirable task. In my martial arts experience, many quit because of family and work obligations. Of course, there are those that drop out due to the training being harder than they expected, but I don’t find that to be the norm for the average participant.

One thing we have to realize about not quitting a hobby or even a passion is that in continuing to engage in the habit, I am giving up the opportunity to do something else. In economic theory, this is called an opportunity cost: forgoing one thing in order to do another.

For some of us, that sacrifice is financial. Giving up a few hours at work to be able to train can me less money in the paycheck. For others, it could be spending a little less time with family and friends. Giving up that drink at the bar on Friday night can be a good thing. Pawning off your children to an in-law every week to train may have drawbacks long-term.

In contrast, what are the benefits of staying the course and continuing to train or strive at your task? First, no expert ever became such by quitting. We will likely never get good at something if we discontinue doing it. And if we develop a certain proficiency, we generally don’t maintain those skills by neglecting practice.

While walking away from something I have spent nearly a decade pursuing would certainly be tough, years invested is not what keeps me coming back in spite of numerous surgeries, broken bones, dislocations, and constant aches. What kind of sadist would I be if I said I enjoyed those woes?

No, the thing that keeps me tethered to my arts at this point is much the same as what keeps me in my marriage. It’s the relationship. The people I have met and have made an impact in my life are what fasten me to the masthead of this ship, even when the sirens are calling to drag me down. This list of inspiring individuals includes my instructors, my training partners, and now my students. Without them, I am not who I am. Each one has left a mark on my life that I cannot deny. Quitting now would be a slap in the face to all of them.

When I think about staying the course, even when it seems impossible, I remember what Paul wrote to Timothy in the Bible, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I want to be able to say that when I am ready to leave this world. Death may win the fight, but I want him to know he’s been in one. The only way to do that is to keep going, stay the course, and don’t quit.

 

Even Elvis Had a Black Belt

Being the good parent that I am, I recently made my children watch all of the Karate Kid movies (except the one I dub as Kung Fu kid for reasons I might reveal in the future). I hadn’t seen some of them in their entirety in many years. As we watched, it occurred to me that there are numerous incredible sayings in the films. Mr. Miyagi embodies the perfect teacher of both a martial art and how it applies to life.

I never thought much of the fourth film, The Next Karate Kid, with Hilary Swank playing Julie-san alongside Pat Morita as Mr. Myagi. That was until now. My 8-year-old daughter trains with me and I hope I am teaching her in a similar fashion to Mr. Miyagi. Hopefully, she will not be as impetuous as Julie-san.

During one of the exchanges between the two, Julie-san overcomes an obstacle in her training. Here is the dialogue from the scene:

Mr. Miyagi: Congratulations, Julie-san.

Julie: Congratulations? That’s all you’re gonna say is congratulations? Don’t I get a belt or something?

Mr. Miyagi: Buy belt more.

Julie: No, I mean a karate belt. Brown belt, black belt.

Mr. Miyagi: Why need belt?

Julie: So everyone knows I’m good!

Mr. Miyagi: You know you good. That important thing.

Julie: Oh come on, even Elvis Presley got a black belt.

Mr. Miyagi: Borrow from Elvis next time see him.

I’ve witnessed many instances where a student gets a black belt and quits an art entirely, particularly if the rank is awarded to a youth or adolescent. I think that is because the reason the person trained was to get an award, a trophy, or a belt rank, or it could be that her parents made her do it. To generalize this issue to our broader world, where participation trophies are the norm and everyone wants a reward for doing even the slightest of tasks, how can we overcome the idea that we must have justification for our effort?

To answer my question, let’s look at what attaining the coveted black belt means in a couple of styles. In Judo, the first level of black belt is called shodan. It means, “beginning step.” As a practitioner, you have learned enough to display decent technique and you can demonstrate some of it to another practitioner. Nic Gregoriades, a great thinker and applier of martial arts to life, wrote that being a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gives a person a “fresh set of eyes” to see that although he knows many techniques, there is always room for improvement. He also wrote that the path to black belt should have made you a better person.

If these definitions hold true, then it seems that striving for a piece of colored cloth is a poor goal indeed. Why train so hard and for so long at something if it will not change your life and your mentality? Often in class, I remind everyone to ever be the student. Attaining black belt should be just that, a reminder to ever be the student. It should open our eyes to how little we know and how much more there is to learn. Lastly, we should be at a point in our martial art journey where the principles we learn in practicing our arts permeate our daily lives. Mr. Miyagi was a prime example of this philosophy.

As a caveat, having a black belt does not automatically imply that you are good at your art, as Julie-san thought it would do. If you have not dedicated time and effort to improving your technique, it will not serve you well when that belt is put to the test. Please do not think that having a black belt in any art is instant protection from a willing attacker or opponent. We train to fight so that we can be ready, not so we can be rewarded. Royce Gracie said it best, “A black belt only covers two inches of you’re a** – you have to cover the rest.”

Photo credit: http://www.elvispresleyindex.com.br/2014/05/elvis-e-o-karate.html

Your Best Competition––You

Who needs truth when you have an incredible tale to tell? Alexander the Great, one of the most successful conquerors of all time, was purported to have wept when he surveyed the size of his kingdom and realized there were no more lands to subdue. This makes for a great analogy even if I believe it is not entirely historically accurate.

I have realized as a martial artist and competitor that when I had to wrestle younger, more athletic opponents, I was not always on top or the best. In spite of this, the real victory for me is knowing that I am overcoming my own hurdles, my own adversities. Being better today than I was yesterday is what I have to look back at as well as look forward to.

I have many medals, but one lone trophy sits on a shelf at my gym. It’s a first place (my only first place actually). It’s plastic. It is no indication of where I am heading, but merely where I have been.

Some individuals have more trophies than others, certainly more than me. A trophy can be any number of things from a piece of plastic to your dream job or a time when you were in your physical prime. We look back to those items or times and remember how we felt in those moments, perhaps what it was like to be on top. This sense of pride overwhelms us and we smile.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but generally, these things also indicate that we beat someone in a game or a match of some sort. Or perhaps we got a job over someone else, or through a genetic lottery, we naturally looked better than other individuals around us. They all mean that we were in some way at odds with or in competition against other people.

There have been great athletes who certainly know the feeling of besting an opponent. Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend known as “the greatest,” even wrote a rhyme about how great he was: “I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

The question in the minds of any champion, even the greatest, is when will my reign end? What happens when the game is over? What happens when there is no one else to conquer or award to win?

Truly there is only one person that you can consistently try to overcome. That person is you. By making your fight against who you were yesterday, you will never lack for an opponent and you will also not have to worry about younger, stronger competition.

The opportunity to vie against others will come and go, but according to Confucius, “he who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.” The person you will always have to compete against will be facing you in the mirror each morning. While there is no trophy or monetary gain from a victory over personal adversity, it certainly has a sense of satisfaction. Make it a point to be a better you every morning.

 

 

 

High Expectations and T-Rex Arms

I had a wise friend once tell me, “Aim low and achieve your goals. Don’t be disappointed. Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” While I found his wisdom hilarious, I also thought about the weasel getting a shotgun shoved up his nose by the farmer when he caught it in the hen house.

All joking aside, the reality of disappointment can shake us and throw us off course, sometimes derailing us indefinitely. I believe much of this distress comes because we have overreached in our hopes, or overextended our expectations.

Disappointment is something we all have felt and will continue to feel. The Bible guarantees it when Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). In Buddhism, suffering because of desire or craving is one of the four Noble Truths. If it is universal, how can we combat the frustration of disappointment? I am not asking how to deal with it after the fact, but how to avoid it altogether.

When I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, my coach, Mr. Ken Hudson, would often tell us, “T-Rex arms.” This was his way of teaching us not to extend our arms carelessly. The result of doing so was almost always an armbar of some sort. For those who might be new to BJJ and Judo, or hope to try it someday, when you are in a bad position, keep your arms bent, elbows at your side. This is the definition of “T-Rex” arms. It will prevent having a sore elbow the next day.

In grappling arts, we often get overzealous escaping mount or doing a guard pass. We forget the “T-Rex” mantra and extend those arms just a little too much. Our opponent capitalizes on it and we are forced to submit. Sounds like life when we get our hopes up. Having high expectations can set us up for failure and instead of an aching arm, we are left with broken hearts and injured minds.

Just like “T-Rex arms” can keep me safe in a grappling situation, not overreaching in what I expect of other people, life events, or any even myself can save me from an immense amount grief. Setting smaller goals also enables me to more efficiently measure my outcomes against my original expectations because the change is minor in the short run. But through the consistent conquering of small obstacles, I build a habit and over the long term, the effects are enormous.

I am not suggesting that we neglect positive thinking entirely, but that we keep it in check with reality. Set attainable goals. Strive for achievable dreams. If you go further than expected, your joy will be that much greater.

Shakespeare wrote, “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises.” If he could have written a modern day interpretation, he might have said, “Don’t expect too much and keepeth thine arms bent and at thy side.”

 

Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.

On vacation at the beach with my family, we decided to take a stroll through an antique store. We do this ritual every year around the fourth of July, so I have seen most of the items in this shop over the last several years. Nothing new to me, but I indulge my curiosity just the same.

Browsing the same cubbies I always do hoping to score a relic of the past that I can’t live without, I stumbled upon a bronze plaque. It looked like it came off of a memorial or a grave of some sort. It had Chinese characters and the words, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think” etched onto it.

The words of this Chinese proverb turned international hit song struck me. I am in my mid-thirties now, young by some standards, but nearing elderly if you ask an adolescent. Surely though, I have many more years ahead than behind, so why should I be concerned? Ah, but it is later than I think.

In the last month, I lost a friend who was 31 to cancer. Another young friend, 18 and getting ready to do a triathlon, was hit while cycling with her mother. The sad reality is that we only get this one shot at life and it is a short one.

Seneca, one of the big three Stoics, wrote on the brevity of life. He said, “You must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.” A stream that will not always flow. That is a certainty we often fear facing.

The question is what are we to do with our time while it is yet in our hands? A longtime training partner and friend of mine was diagnosed with ALS last year. At one point in our lives, we talked about how to fight human opponents. Now, he is teaching me how to fight the frailty of a fleeting life. In a recent post, he offered a reflection on things we can do to make the best of our time:

  1. Take that walk on the beach. Wheelchairs don’t roll well in the sand!
  2. Hug your family. When your arms don’t work anymore, take advantage of lifting your hands and worship! I really miss this.
  3. Eat that extra piece of cheesecake. Nobody really cared what you looked like anyway… lol
  4. Keep your words sweet. And forgive often.
  5. Call in sick to work every once in a while. When you’re laying on your deathbed, nobody ever says they wish they’d spent more time at work!
  6. Go outside and pet your dog. I think you appreciate that.
  7. Visit someone in the hospital or the nursing home. Even the shut-ins. This is a big one for me
  8. Don’t make a big deal about small things.
  9. Don’t waste time! It’s something you cannot buy back.
  10. Do good things people will remember you for. Not problems you caused.

I often get asked why I continue to put my body through hell in the martial arts arena. It’s because I enjoy it and I may not make it to retirement age. I don’t want to get old and have nothing to look back on with a sense of accomplishment. There is no sense in having wrinkles without a few scars to prove you lived. I will leave you with another of Seneca’s thoughts on the matter: “Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.” Remember to enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.