Training through the years.

The Philosophical Fighter with Gustavo Machado, circa 2009.

Joshua Clements with Gustavo Machado in 2009.

This was me as a fresh white belt at my first seminar with Gustavo Machado, my head instructor. As I near ten years on the mat in Jiu Jitsu, plus the many more in Wrestling and Judo, I can’t help but think about this year and what it will be like. I have never tired of learning something new, and it seems the more I learn, the more the small details make the biggest changes in my game. It is not about adding to, but taking away, in the long run.

I started as a writer and progressed to being an editor. They are two different processes. In the former, I have a blank page and have to fill it up much as an artist does with a blank canvas. This is much the same as being a white belt. You grab techniques and put them in your arsenal. Before long, you have so much that the bag becomes too heavy to bear and you must dispense with something to keep going.

Being an editor is more like being a sculptor. You chip away at the inessential to get to the masterpiece underneath. This is where I like to think of my game. I want to unburden myself from the flashy and fancy techniques. Get back to the basics that make all grappling styles efficient. Just something I am dwelling on lately.

7 New Year’s Resolutions for Martial Artists

  1. Commit to being more disciplined

This year, be more disciplined in your training. Jocko Willink said, “How do you become better? There is only one way – The way of discipline.” This might mean doing more reps during class. You might get there early and do solo drills. Make every move count. With every new year, we should realize we are losing time, so make the most of it.

Be more disciplined in your nutrition. This means eating less crap. Less sugar and sodas. Less processed foods and box dinners. Less fast food (even Chic Fil A. It hurts, I know). Drink more water. I am trying to drink a gallon a day. Yes, I have to urinate often, but I feel more energetic. And let’s face it, as we get older, what we digest can be more effective than what we bench press.

Be more disciplined with your fitness. This doesn’t have to be signing up for a gym membership. It could be as easy as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. On your lunch break, go for a walk. Maybe play soccer with your kids for 20-30 minutes a day. Attempt to move more during the day. And don’t forget to stretch.

  1. Commit to being a better training partner

If you want to be a better training partner, one of the best ways is to focus on using proper technical application. Attempt to always us your technique instead of strength, particularly when you are drilling. It is okay to drill with speed when you are doing tournament preparation, but you should never muscle a move to make it work in training.

When you do get to roll or spar in the gym, don’t be a spaz. We know that white belts can be jerky in their movements. What’s worse is when someone with a colored belt spazzes like a new white belt. There is a reason the phrase “dirty white belt” is a thing. After a few times of that, no one will want to roll with you anymore. Most of us have to go to work the next day and don’t want to be injured by some maniac who can’t watch his speed or strength.

Make it a point to support and get to know your training partners as much as you can. This might mean going to watch or coach them at tournaments. It might mean getting together one weekend to watch fights. Getting to know your team will help you understand what each person needs in the room and how he might help you too.

  1. Grow your community

Speaking of training partners, try to spread the love. Don’t train with the same person all of the time. Various partners will offer you a new perspective and challenge you in different ways. Make it a point to reach out to someone new.

Going along with reaching out to new people, try this: Bring a friend. Our martial arts class is not Fight Club, where the number one rule is to never talk about it. Tell everyone you know (that you trust to choke you) and bring him or her to class.

  1. Reflect on your past and contemplate your future

Look back at what you have learned in the last year. What techniques or discoveries, what accomplishments or goals did you realize? Take a moment to be thankful for those moments and the people that helped make them possible. This also might bring to mind a few areas for you to improve in the coming year.

After you have reflected on the past, take a look at what you want to learn this year. It may mean training outside of your comfort zone. If you are a dirty guard puller, try learning one takedown. If you are an evil leglocker, give wristlocks a try (that’s the ultimate evil). Maybe you want to learn to breathe better during a roll. Add a yoga class to your weekly routine. Does your half-guard game need improvement? Start your rolls in that position. Whatever the facet is that you want to learn, plan for ways to make it happen.

While you are dwelling on what you want to accomplish, ask yourself, “Why is this important?” What will it do to improve your life? If you know the answer to these questions, it will help you stay committed to your goals.

  1. Focus on being happy

Be happy to be able to train. I lost several young people in my life last year, including a long-time training partner who was 44. I spoke about and quoted him in an earlier post. He was happy to be able to do anything as his diagnosis progressed. Every day, he was robbed of something else. Epictetus said, “If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone. Cherish your abilities and opportunities now. Be happy you have them and don’t squander them.

One great way to be happy is to stay away from negative Nancies. If there are people who are draining you of your joy by being negative, kick them to the curb. They are like sirens lulling you to the depths to be drowned. Find people who are interested in getting things done and align yourself to them. A rising tide raises all boats. We want to stay on the surface of the water and rise with it.

  1. Focus on learning, not winning or losing

This is especially true if you compete. The phrase “you win some or you learn some” fits this scenario. The training room should be a sacred place where losing is not seen as a bad event, but treated as a learning opportunity. That’s why we train: to improve our skill set. Epictetus once said, “A man cannot begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.” If you are dead-set on winning all the time, not only will you be disappointed when you don’t get the victory, but you will also cease to progress as a student and practitioner.

This might mean you need to change the goal of your roll from tapping your training partner to hitting a sweep consistently. Or it might be that you focus on not getting swept against a person who has a great guard game. Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are forced to change ourselves.” If the goal is unattainable, change it. That brings me to my last point.

  1. Focus less on what others are doing and more on what you’re doing.

I used to watch my teammates and opponents to see what they were doing. And now and then, I wondered what the newest technique on the block might be. The problem with this is that when I focused on other people, I lost sight of my goals, my strengths, my weaknesses. This year, make it a point not to care about anyone else’s new promotion, gold medal, or flashy technique. This is your journey, so you do you.

Happy 2019, everyone.

 

Quitting: Should I walk away?

Quitting

Should I quit? A question we often ask ourselves.

Have you ever felt like quitting? Whether it’s a martial art, a marriage, or 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 mean 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.

 

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.