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.

 

 

 

Be Prepared for Bad Days That Kick You in the Face

wrestling-1645823_1920

One night after class, I had a conversation with a student who rarely misses. I mentioned to him about having to cut back on his training in the future if he gets married and has kids. His reply was, “I won’t get married if she won’t let me train three or four times a week.”

While this sentiment displays his determination and passion for our arts, it does not deal with the reality that bad things, and even good things, can take us away from what we love to do. Too often, when these setbacks occur, we are heartbroken and cannot overcome it. Are you equipped to cope with life when it kicks you in the face?

There is a way to prepare for such events. In Stoicism, there is a practice known as premeditatio malorum, or the premeditation of evils. This exercise involves negative visualization. You think about the worst possible outcomes for your day, your week, or any time in the future. By dwelling even in the least bit on the bad things that could happen, you inoculate yourself from the sting should those things occur.

As the story goes, a Buddhist teacher was once known for saying, “This cup is already broken.” He loved the cup, but knew that one day it would shatter, whether by his hand dropping it or it tumbling from the table to the floor. By accepting its fate, he was free to drink without the anxiety of losing the cup.

In my training, I often think of what I will do when I need surgery again (two knee operations and shoulder reconstruction since I began training). I even think about the day I can no longer grip efficiently due to arthritic fingers. What if an illness robs me of my abilities for good? These are just a few scenarios in my life.

Some may think it morbid or depressing to dwell on these things. I find it liberating. It also encourages me to train while I can, to live my life with reckless abandon, because tomorrow is not promised and if it is, it will not be like today.

 

Letting go improves your grappling… and your life.

A couple of months ago, I broke the ring finger on my left hand. Unable to use that hand effectively, I gripped harder with my right. This ended up with me breaking my pointer finger on my right hand. With two bum hands, I had to figure out a way to train safely to let my hands heal.

To keep from gripping and reinjuring my hands, I started grappling with a soft neoprene ball in each hand. This led to a revelation in my training. By not gripping, what I call detaching from my opponent, I was freer to move and more able to defend while in inferior positions.

During the past month of adopting the practice of grappling without grips, I have only been submitted once. I have also noticed my submissions without using the gi have increased. This means more kimuras, more straight ankle locks, and more guillotines. All of these were performed sans grips.

In the grappling world, you cannot do your Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Wrestling or whatever your art is without having a grip at some point, but it should be done on your terms and not in desperation. We often hold onto a grip foolishly because we don’t think we have another option. This ties us to our opponent, for better or worse.

The ancient Greco-Roman philosophy known as Stoicism has the concept of detachment within its practices. This is not to say it takes an absolute approach. It does allow for attachment, but it should be in moderation.

Epictetus, one of Stoicism’s prominent three philosophers, wrote in his Discourses, “It doesn’t matter what the external thing is, the value we place on it subjugates us to another… where our heart is set, there our impediment lies.” He was referring to money and fame, leisure and learning, all things that are good in moderation, but can lead to a wasted life if unchecked or overindulged.

In grappling, that external thing Epictetus speaks of can be keeping a grip we don’t need, or worse, one that can be used against us by a knowledgeable opponent. There are many fundamental movements such as shrimping, tactical standups, and bridging that work better and with less risk if you do not use a grip.

At a seminar with half-guard legend, Roberto “Gordo” Correa, he demonstrated a technique and emphasized using “no grips and no strength.” This concept has become my motto lately and has allowed my training to flourish. I find I don’t muscle my opponents and I don’t get stuck in positions near as bad as I did before practicing detachment.

Give it a try in your art and see how it works. You might also try applying it to your life. If something is weighing you down, or even a person dragging you under with his or her negativity, try detaching from it or them. In the words of Elsa on Frozen, “Let it gooooo.”

To drill, or not to drill?

aikido-362954_1920Early in my martial arts career, we would drill the same techniques repeatedly throughout the class. This might mean doing armbars for thirty minutes or having to rep fifty on each side before we could do anything else. At the time, I disliked this style of training because I became distracted or bored. Looking back, I should have relished the time and applied myself better.

William Durant, in summation of Aristotle’s Ethics, once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” For us as martial artists, we must drill a technique numerous times to make it second nature.

When you watch the most exceptional athletes in your art, whether it’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Karate, Boxing, etc., their technique can often seem perfectly timed and precisely placed. That intuition most likely comes from repetition and countless hours of drilling.

It is not enough for us to just know all of the required techniques in our art. Knowledge of a thing does not always equate to proper application. When I tested for Ikkyu (brown belt) in Judo, I knew all of the necessary techniques. But when it came time to display them against an opponent in competition, I was behind the curve.

We train so that we are prepared for when the need to use our techniques arise, whether in competition or self-defense. This makes repetition critical.

Always one to speak his mind, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter and teacher, Carlson Gracie, reportedly once said, “You know a thousand techniques and you suck at every one of them.” I never met him, but I have felt like he had me in mind when he said this a few times in my career.

In your training, make it a point not just to have a breadth of knowledge, but to have a depth of the techniques you study. It is better to be a master of a few things than to attempt to be decent at everything. As you train, the number of techniques you can perform well will grow naturally due to repetition.

Stay on the grind. Don’t get discouraged or frustrated. Drill, drill, drill. It will pay off for you in the long run.