If you know me reasonably well, you know I like quotes. I love how a single sentence or paragraph can wrap up an entire philosophy neatly and succinctly so that it can be recalled at ease and create a state of mind or thought that helps me remember what is important to me. I’m a collector of quotes. If I hear something that strikes a chord I will stop what I am doing and rush to write it down before I forget it. The sources of these tidbits of wisdom are sometimes surprising but I listen to the message the words convey to me and I don’t trouble myself with who is saying them. So, when I found myself listening to Jim Carrey give a commencement speech loaded with wisdom and amazing quotes, I didn’t hesitate to write down the jewels he was giving out. Many of the quotes I listed were similar in nature but the overall message was well summed up in the following.
“You can fail doing what you don’t want so you may as well take a chance at doing what you love.”
Simple in nature, this quote struck a chord in me. When I was sixteen years old my girlfriend at the time gave birth to my son, Brandon. I was immediately swept into a world of responsibility at an age when I hardly knew who I was and what I wanted my life to look like. All I knew was that I now had responsibilities that needed to be attended to and I would have to delay personal gratification so that my son could have a childhood unlike my own. My childhood was steeped in a state of relative poverty when compared to many of the kids I went to school with. There were poor influences in those around me and a lack of direction that would haunt me for many years into my adult life. I didn’t want that for my son. I wanted him to have financial stability. I wanted him to be able to play team sports. I wanted him to have a father in his life that provided him with direction, protected him and most of all, showed him how much he loved him by being there when needed. Thus began a process of wrestling with the idea of what I should do vs doing what I loved to do.
Almost sixteen years later, Brandon is the age I was when his mother was pregnant. He had a much more stable upbringing than I did in some ways. In others, it was chaotic and full of strife. His mom and I split up when he was three years old and things were tense between us. Others would see us and say that they were “so impressed” with how well we worked together but behind the scenes, there were awful arguments and hurt feelings. One of the main points of contention was the disconnect we had regarding Brandon’s needs. I grew up without my father in my life and thus my experience told me that it wasn’t money that he needed. He needed an example. I spent years trying to figure out how to live my dream of teaching martial arts for a living but I was slowly slipping more and more into debt and life was teaching me that starting my own business and becoming successful was not as easy as simply doing it. I needed business pedigree, basic accounting and bookkeeping skills and a mentor willing to help me learn how to navigate the basic tenets of small business such as how to set up a legal business in the government’s eyes, filling out tax forms and the many other little bits of minutiae that can make starting your own business feel a lot like drowning. Most of all, I learned that without starting capital, opening a business was close to impossible. I eventually gave up on my dream and got a job in sales so that I could make a better income and be a better husband and father.
I started making better money immediately and it felt pretty good. I tried to justify the loss of martial arts in my life by telling myself that I would have to find passion in what I did instead of doing what I was passionate about. I tried to train on the side but the pressure of meeting sales quotas was heavy and I needed to prove to myself and others that I had made a good choice so my training suffered. I had won three consecutive fights before quitting my job teaching martial arts full time. I took a match that took place about five months after starting in sales and I lost for the first time in a while. I absolutely killed the guy in the first round proving that I had the skills to win but I gassed out in rounds two and three and lost the decision. I stopped looking for fights and really bore down on honing my sales skills for a while. My passion for martial arts crept back into me and about a year later I was asked to take a fight on one week notice. I told myself that I didn’t care if I lost. I just wanted to taste the ring again. It was suggested that this guy was more of a boxer than a kickboxer and that if I used my leg kicks, I would be able to shut him down. I got knocked on my ass while throwing a leg kick. I got up and finished the round but got knocked down again in round two. The ref, who had refereed my fights a few times before, didn’t like how I looked and stopped the match. I didn’t fight again for over three and a half years…
I set to improving my skills in sales and made some pretty decent money. The entire time, something didn’t feel right. No matter how much money I made, it was never enough. I was still behind and I wasn’t matching up to sales that the best salesman in my company was making. I had believed that if I just worked hard and did the things that he did that I would eventually start making what he made. I was missing a crucial ingredient for success… passion. This guy was passionate about sales. He loved the game. Sales provided him with something that he was hard wired to enjoy. I was there for money. He was there for money as well but he loved his job and that love gave him the energy to wake up every morning and go to work with enthusiasm. I was good at my job but something inside of me was dying and I slowly become more discontented with the direction of my life. In time, my sales started to go backwards and I wasn’t so good at my job. I would drive home feeling angry, sad and unworthy. I was spending the majority of my life working towards other people’s dreams and while my body was going strong, my “spirit” was slowly dying.
This entire time, I was always toying with the idea of somehow getting back into teaching martial arts. Life had taught me how difficult it would be to start a business but it was also teaching me how difficult it was to live without passion for what you do. I look around me now and I see that the majority of people take this as a matter of course. They see work as something you have to do instead of something you get to do. In me was a stubborn idealist that simply refused to bend to this idea. I don’t know where this stubborn little fellow was born but he was a real bastard and he hung on for dear life as I tried to kill him with every quote I made on the company laptop at 8:30pm when everyone else was enjoying time with their family. I eventually wrote up a business plan for starting my little business on a part time basis with $500 start-up capital. The details of how I got from there to here are many but suffice it to say that it was zig zagging path through trial and error and I still have much to learn!
So here I sit writing this… whatever this is… hoping that perhaps somebody may read it one day and decide to do what they love. Let me be embarrassingly self-revealing for a moment. At the time of this writing, I’m still in debt, I struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over my head and I still suffer from bouts of self-reviling thoughts that for all my skills in martial arts, for all the reading and self-study on personal development, financial literacy, business matters and a multitude of other areas, I have yet to turn it all into an income that allows me to sock something away for my future while living at a level that doesn’t make going out for dinner with my wife a thing that causes stress. Maybe the person I’m writing this for is me. Maybe I’m simply creating a reminder for myself that I failed at doing what didn’t want so I may as well take a chance doing what I love. What I do know is that for all my worry about the future, this moment is all I really have and at this moment, I love what I do and the positive effect I am able to have on others’ lives gives me the energy to get up in the morning and dance to work.
It isn’t easy but at the end of the day, I have never liked easy. I like the challenge and this particular challenge ignites passion in me. Easy is boring. I like dreams that scare me. Anything short of that wouldn’t excite me enough to work hard. In the commencement speech Jim Carrey gave that I borrowed that quote from are a slew of amazing quotes that encompass philosophies on Life that I can really buy into. The following reminds me of what is really important when I look at my bank account wishing there was more in there.
“The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”
It’s important to remember the things you really value because regardless of how difficult things are or how out of control you feel about your life, you always have control about how you feel about it. There are the things and situations that make up our lives and then there are the stories we tell ourselves about those things. When things are hard and your will is slipping, it’s important to remember that reality is not the story we tell ourselves about our experiences. Reality simply is what it is. The stories are how we interpret them. Jim spoke to this idea as well...
“Our eyes are not viewers, they are projectors that are running a second story over the picture that we see in front of us all the time. Fear is writing that script and the working title is “I’ll never be enough.”
Make sure you don’t let fear write your script. You could be delaying gratification for some distant future that you may not ever see. You may be telling yourself that you need to set your children up for the future when, in fact, you could die tomorrow in some strange twist of fate! I’m not trying to be morbid. I’m only suggesting that you take this moment and live it to the fullest in a way that makes you happy. You can’t take your money with you. You can’t go back in time and witness your offspring’s childhood. If there is a voice in the back of your head despairing because you are spending eight hours a day, five days a week in a vocation that is stealing your vitality, I’m saying it may be worth considering what that will mean to your future.
From the same speech I’ve been quoting throughout this message comes a final one for you to ponder.
“Fear is going to be a player in your life but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future but all there will ever be is what is happening here and the decisions we make in this moment which are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect so we never dare to ask the Universe for it.”
Maybe your goals are impossible to reach. Maybe you could waste years chasing an ideal that never comes to fruition. Whether that is true or not, I suspect the journey will be a lot more fun than labouring towards a goal that doesn’t fit the values that ignite passion in you. As the old saying goes, it is the journey that counts, not the destination. Go ask the Universe for what you really want and then enjoy the journey. Forget the idea of biting off more than you can chew. Choke on greatness rather than nibbling on mediocrity and go to your grave saying “I wasn’t afraid to try!”
Pre-fight nerves are an unsettling sensation if you do not know what it is that you are feeling. Many people feel the nervous energy in the pit of their stomach and cannot reconcile what is really happening physiologically and it creates an energy sucking vortex that drains your physical and mental potency and hampers you giving your best performance. If you can understand the causes of the nervousness and reframe the stories you create to justify these feelings to yourself, you can correct your habitual thought patterns from those of fear to those of preparedness.
The first thing is to form an understanding of what is going on to cause the weird little idiosyncrasies of pre-fight jitters. The seemingly strange bodily reactions to pre-competition are not really strange at all once you realize that they have a purpose. For example, one thing the body does is shut down all non-essential functions so energy can be preserved for the things that will keep it alive. Bladder control is one of those non-essential functions... So when you are going to empty your bladder for the tenth time of the night, do not interpret it as anything negative. It’s a sign that your body is optimizing itself for self-protection and peak performance. Saliva secretion is another non-essential function so if your mouth is dry, sip water occasionally and do not waste energy worrying about why it is happening.
While the body shuts down the non-essential functions, it simultaneously enhances other functions that will aid in either fight or flight. Perspiration is one of the functions that will heighten in the face of danger. This is to keep the body cool while blood flow picks up and warms the body up for physical exertion. Blood flow increases to the muscles and away from other areas of the body. Dizziness and ragged breathing are a reaction to this increased blood flow. The dizziness is from blow flow being directed from the brain to our muscles and the ragged breathing is to oxygenate our blood for better muscular output. Butterflies in our stomach are from decreased blood flow to the digestive tract. Tunnel vision is caused by our pupils dilating to provide laser focus on the threat at hand. Racing thoughts are from adrenaline coursing through your body and the heavy muscles are an attribute to them being full of blood.
If you have ever been in the ring (or engaged in something else that causes nervousness like public speaking, any type of competition, asking someone out on a date, etc…) you have likely experienced some of the physiological reactions mentioned in the last paragraph. The issue is not that they are occurring but that your interpretation of them may not be accurate. If you feel these things and associate them with fear, you can accidentally be putting yourself in a state that is less than ideal for competition. If you subconsciously come to the conclusion that you are in over your head, the fight or flight response can turn to a “freeze” response that sends blood from the muscles for use in fight or flight and into the internal organs to protect them while you instinctively cover yourself to avoid bodily harm. In this state, you would find yourself completely unable to make your body perform the task you need it to.
Now that you have an understanding of what is physically occurring to cause you to feel nerves, you can reframe the whole thing in a positive light. Don’t tell yourself that you are scared. Tell yourself instead that your body is preparing for the task at hand. You are not scared, you are excited. When you hit the pads and you feel like you cannot get any power going, trust that everything will come together during the fight. Your butterflies are a sign of readiness, not that you are a chicken. The desire to leave the building when nobody is looking is your body’s way of trying to protect itself. Do not let that feeling convince you that you are too scared and should not be doing this crazy thing. Understand that the human instinct to protect itself developed over hundreds of thousands of years and you are not a wimp for subconsciously considering avoiding this perceived threat. Simply talk yourself through it and breathe through the nervousness.
The other thing to realize is that your opponent is going through all the same sensations you are. Every time you feel weak, remind yourself that your opponent is feeling the same thing. Your opponent is likely sitting in his/her locker room with a dry mouth, butterflies in their tummy, taking multiple pees, feeling slightly nauseated, sweating for no apparent reason feeling like a kitten hitting the pads and having a hard time following the conversations going on around them. It is normal and the person you are stepping into the arena with is not going in there feeling like a cold blooded killer like they portrayed when you faced off during the weigh in.
Another great technique is to run the worst case list. Remind yourself of the risks then remind yourself that you accepted them. If you have not assessed the risks before accepting the fight you are in over your head so run the list to remind yourself that you know what you are getting into. “Will I die?” I suppose it could happen but it is so extremely unlikely that it is not even a real consideration. Move on to the first real risk. “Am I okay with getting injured?” If your answer is yes you can let it go. You are prepared to accept the consequence. You can then run that same filter over any other concerns you may have. “Am I okay with losing?” “Am I okay getting knocked out?” “Am I okay will (fill in the blank).“ If any of the risks are unacceptable then you should really reconsider whether you are in the right sport. If you can accept the possibilities, the exercise of asking the questions will have a calming effect on you. This same technique can be used to alleviate worry in any scenario that is causing you stress.
It is important to as well to note the difference between perceived or future risk from imminent risk. Our amazing human brain is capable of making predictions based on the current state of affairs and we can even feel emotions about these predictions though they are yet to actually occur! That means that we can think about a fight we have signed up for while sitting in our living room and begin to feel the sensations of nerves. There is no imminent danger because the fight is still a ways off but the physiological effects of our predictions are real and affect us immediately. As we get closer and closer to the event, we have to control the flow of adrenaline and keep it to a trickle lest we enter the ring already exhausted from hours of feeling nervous before the competition starts. In the weeks preceding the fight, use those little shots of adrenaline to make you work harder during your workouts. Visualize the fight over and over and create the nervousness so you aren’t shocked by the sensation when the real deal comes along. When fight day comes along, remind yourself that you have undergone all kinds of crazy training. Remind yourself that you have many rounds of sparring in and that the fight is just a glorified few rounds of hard sparring. Try to convince yourself that it’s just another day in the gym and that you have done it a thousand times already. If you didn’t put your work in, however… this technique obviously will not work.
Finally is a very simple and very effective technique for alleviating nerves. Focus on taking deep deliberate breaths. It never fails to bring a little calm to a stressful situation. It is so easy that it is also easy to forget to do. Breathing happens in the moment so focusing on your breathing brings your attention to this moment and away from the predictions you are making about the future possibilities and outcomes of your upcoming fight. The closer you get to the fight, the more important this technique becomes because too much engagement in your predictions can cause an adrenaline dump that can leave you drained and tired before you even enter the match. You can bolster the positive effects of focused breathing with performing some activity that brings you to calmness like listening to music, doing a visualization exercise or laughing with the other people in the locker room. Keep the flow of adrenaline to a trickle and stay as relaxed as you can until it is time to begin your warm-up. During your warm-up, do not get carried away and tire yourself out smashing pads at full tilt for 10 minutes straight. Get yourself breathing heavy from warming up then relax and do focused breathing. Go back and warm up a bit and then take another moment to relax and breathe. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are warming up for a fight and not already in it!
Having an understanding and a plan for pre-fight nerves can be the difference between winning and losing. There are many athletes out there who are stifled by nerves to the degree that they are unable to bring their best performance to the ring. The first fight you have to win is the one against your own self-doubts. Use the techniques mentioned and see if you can come up with some of your own to settle the nervousness leading up to a fight. You want to embrace the tension as readiness while not letting it get the best of you. If you have worked hard in training, you should be able to confidently enter the ring and make yourself proud regardless of whether you win or lose.
We covered a lot of information in this post so here is a list of the main points to help you tie it all together:
1. Nerves can help or hinder performance depending on how well you deal with them.
2. Understanding the causes of the variety of sensations that nerves cause you to feel can help you to stay calm while they are occurring.
3. Reframe the sensations as readiness or excitement instead of accepting them as fear.
4. Know that your opponent is going through their own version of feeling nerves just the same as you.
5. Run the worst case scenarios and bring to your conscious mind the fact that you understand the risks and have already accepted them.
6. When in the gym, pretend it is fight night. On fight night, pretend it is another day at the gym.
7. Use focused deep breathing to stay relaxed and centered in the present moment.
I believe self-defence can be looked upon as a set of odds. Nobody knows if they will end up in danger of being attacked because it is such an unpredictable thing. The fact remains that it does happen so the question should be considered of what to do or whether to do anything at all in preparation for a possible violent encounter. The following link to a government website shows some statistics on violent crimes in Canada.
Statistics like these are only to illustrate that violent crimes are not fantastical stories but realities that occur in the world. Are the odds such that you feel it necessary to engage in defensive tactics and learn defensive skills or are you comfortable without that? If you do wish to engage and study, how deep do you need to go to feel comfortable against the odds that you may end up involved in a violent altercation?
Self-defence comes in many forms. You may choose to live in a neighborhood with less annual cases of violent crimes. You may keep to well-lit streets at night instead of taking shortcuts through alleys or parks. You may also choose to maintain a level of alertness as to who is around you and attempt to perceive whether they may be a threat or not, based on their appearance and actions. Perhaps not traditionally thought of as self-defence tactics, the preceding are all examples of taking steps to ensure your personal safety and thus could be considered self-defence driven behaviours. More traditionally, people may think of self-defence in terms of taking martial arts or carrying weapons such as mace, knives or guns in anticipation of and preparation for potentially being attacked.
Regardless of what self-defence behaviours a person may or may not choose to engage in, they surely choose that path based on their perception of the chances of being attacked and their comfort with whatever level of training they choose to engage or not engage in. Some people seem not to worry about it much at all while others seem overly fearful in the average person’s opinion. Some people carry a whistle or mace while others may choose a TASER, knife or a gun. Some people take weekend long self-defence courses while others study self-defence or martial arts over a period of many years.
My intention is to provoke some self-reflection so that those of you reading this take some time to consciously assess where you stand on this spectrum. I’m sure most everybody has at the least thought about the concept of personal safety but I’m suggesting actually taking some time to really figure out what level of preparedness will leave you feeling comfortable and then set about achieving that. Should you do a course on self-defence? Perhaps you would prefer to enroll in a self-defence based martial art like krav maga for some period of time? Perhaps you would be comfortable if you had some level of proficiency in a combat-sport based martial art like boxing, kickboxing or judo. Whatever you decide, I believe it is worth taking a moment to really figure out for yourself where you stand so you don’t find yourself in a violent scenario regretting the fact that you didn’t give the possibility a second thought until it was too late.
Consider it an investment plan in personal safety. The first thing any decent financial advisor would ask you if helping you devise an investment plan would be your risk tolerance and what level of financial security you will need to feel comfortable. Only after that would they make suggestions about which investment vehicles may suit your needs and what percentage of your income you should invest. As a martial arts expert, I’m asking you your risk tolerance and suggesting you devise a personal safety portfolio that leaves you feeling prepared for the future. If violence finds you, what do you want in the “bank” as far as skills and ability are concerned to get you through the encounter?
So... I was in the shower last night and as often happens in the shower, my brain began sorting through my life and pushing ideas at me. Suddenly, I found myself downstairs on my computer furiously writing ideas that seemed to have taken over my mind and body. I couldn't stop until it was done. This happens to me on occasion and I find that when I later read what I have written, I am in disbelief that I actually wrote the words on the page. This was my experience this morning when I reread my strange little essay that kept me up until 3:00am!
It seems to come as a surprise when people learn about me that I like to write. The surprise is probably because I generally do not show people my ramblings! I write for me. I find the experience cathartic and I generally feel quite shy to share my inner self with others. That said, I want to set an example for others on living my truth with no apologies. Against the gnawing fear in my gut, I have decided to share my late night rantings on this blog. The following is an essay that some inner thought demon who possessed me wrote last night. If even one person finds that it strikes a cord with them I will happily own the embarrassment of being so self disclosing as I am being in posting this...
Essay on Self-Expression Without Apology
I’ll admit that my ideas are not new ones. They are already written somewhere in a myriad of other places in other people’s words. With that said, the nature of being an individual is that our experiences are necessarily unique as is the audience that witnesses those experiences through our portrayal of them. To express our experiences to whoever may be listening is to always be saying something fresh and new so I have decided to stop worrying about sounding like the people who have written or otherwise portrayed the things that move me and to feel free to portray those things in turn as a form of my own expression.
To that end I have three ideas I wish to express in an effort to stir some desire for more happiness in the people that read this. I hope it leads to taking the actions that will bring that happiness to fruition. These ideas are about how we might direct the activities of our lives from a place of personal reflection rather than on the expectations of others. Only we can know our own natures and what makes us happy. To live our truth fully and without apology is to live contrary to some other person’s truth. My hope is that the pressure to conform does not hinder you from enjoying your one opportunity to live and experience “is-ness”.
The first idea is that there are ways for every person to feel as though they are expressing their truth that, in so doing, will bring them contentment, fulfillment and joy. Those ways may differ from other people’s ways and your experience of those ways will be unique and personal to you. While your experience of whatever expression brings you joy will be personal, you have the ability to share that joy with others who find happiness in similar forms of expression. Finding these expressions and then finding the people who share them is a key component to making the following idea possible.
The second idea is that with effort and time, one can find a way to secure their livelihood doing the things that bring them joy. It may be arduous and take a long time to finally figure out how to do this but it is worth the effort. To toil in some activity that does not bring you joy day after day simply to subsist is to waste the gift of life. Even if one were to accumulate massive wealth, it would mean nothing if they were to take all their dreams and true ambitions to the grave with them. Of all the successful people I have studied, they all seem to agree on one thing. If one wishes to live a life of abundance, they are most likely to achieve that by working in whatever activities fulfill their need for personal expression. It is commonly noted that material wealth follows hard work in the arena that brings a person joy. The joy they feel in that expression fills them with the energy to plow through the adversity it requires to find success. Those who toil in joyless activities grow tired and find ways to anesthetize their broken spirits with distractions so they don’t feel the pain they are causing themselves.
The third idea is that the things that bring us joy can shift or change and we should remain adaptable and always seek to express our truth rather than become stuck in a routine that no longer fulfills us. We all long for some level of progress. People often necessitate material gain as progress but that isn’t always the case. Progress is the evolution of our expression of the things that bring us happiness and contentment. When we were early toddlers we felt great contentment at being able to simply take a few steps without falling over. As we grew, our needs to physically express ourselves grew to include running, climbing and increasingly more complex activities. Mastering these activities ignited us to see how much further we could take ourselves.
Regardless of whether we find our greatest contentment expressing ourselves physically, intellectually, artistically, or some combination of a variety of different means of expression, the fact remains that we generally long to see growth or progress in it over time. Achievement unlocks something within us that requires some other achievement. It is important to not become fixated on some ideal that in expressing we no longer feel a personal connection to. Changing our minds and shifting the set of our sail is not a thing to be embarrassed about. To do so is to show humility and courage. Anyone who would judge you for not remaining the same are almost certainly only jealous of your bravery in doing so in spite of the pressure to conform.
These three ideas are not something I witness many people embracing. They work where they do to live up to the expectations of other people or because they simply do not believe it is possible to change and find something that really ignites passion in them. The transition from a known means of survival to the unknown is simply too frightening for them and the thought alone is enough to overwhelm them into remaining complacent with what they know or to what others have told them is good for them. The only person who can feel your happiness is you. Others can witness it and perhaps feel their own happiness as a result of seeing you find joy in some expression but they cannot feel your happiness for you. It is worth it to look in the mirror for your truth rather than out the window. Whatever needs you have can only be located within. Seek the expression that gives you joy, find your livelihood there and apologize to nobody for the choice to experience life in a way that suits your own personal needs.
I am a self-proclaimed research nerd as I like to point out as often as I can. Recently, I have been trying to wrap my mind around how to train in the most efficient manner possible to support my development as an athlete in my sport. After much internet searching and trying to discern the bozos who want to sound smart from the real professionals, I have found some great stuff. I have also learned that there is a lot to structuring a training regimen at the highest level possible. My goal in this post is to pass on some of what I have learned in a manner that the layman can understand and apply to their training at least at a basic level starting tomorrow if they choose.
The first concept that all true professionals in the field of strength and conditioning seem to agree on is the importance of what is known as “fatigue management”. Anybody who has undergone intense physical training over a period of time knows that there comes a point where the body starts to break down. They feel so sore they can’t quite perform at their best. They find that they just cannot find the motivation to really work hard. This is the point where many people start to get down on themselves and label themselves as lazy or unmotivated. Imagine their surprise when somebody with knowledge comes along and says, “You’re not lazy… You’re just tired!”
I find it funny that people seem to understand the importance of having the weekend and occasional vacations to emotionally, intellectually and physically recover from their jobs but when it comes to exercise and athletic preparation they feel like taking a break is somehow just laziness setting in. Have you ever noticed that when you train constantly and you start to feel tired that it isn’t long before you get sick or injured? Your body knows when it needs a break and if you won’t take one, it finds a way to force your hand. This is a result of something called “accumulated fatigue”. There are a lot of ways that accumulated fatigue affects us and it will not go away if you just “keep pushing”. The data on the negative effects of overtraining is plentiful and you can find article after article on it if you try. Integrating planned rest periods into your training will help you to manage fatigue and improve your athletic performance.
Exercise can be broken into three phases. The first is “stimulus” which refers to the act of actually training. An example would be lifting weights. The second phase is “recovery” which, simply explained, means recovering what was lost during the stimulus. The third phase, which is tied to recovery, is “adaptation”. It is during and after recovery that adaptations are going to happen. Adaptation can be explained as adjustment to a specific stimulus. Take the example of lifting weights. You stimulate the muscle being worked when you lift the weight. This stimulation causes micro-tears to the muscle tissue. During recovery, your body repairs the micro-tears and the muscle adapts so that it can more easily deal with a similar stimulus in the future. This muscle adaptation is known as hypertrophy. If you never take the time for recovery, your body cannot adapt and thus you will not see the benefits you were hoping for in terms of strength gains or speed increases or whatever it was you were hoping for.
This brings us to the term “periodization”. I am not an expert in the science of periodization so please understand that I am only trying to introduce the concept at a very basic level… Periodization has been defined a number of ways but the best one I have heard sounds something like this. Periodization is programming your training into blocks that include planned intervals of both stimulus and recovery to help avoid the negative effects of overtraining, to help get the most benefit from your training and to ensure a peak condition at precisely the time needed for competition. Based on the things I already wrote about earlier, the first two points should be easy to understand. The third one may need a little unpacking.
The idea of maintaining a peak condition over the long term really does not work! To maximize performance, we need to take those recovery periods to regain what was lost and to allow for adaptation as mentioned earlier. My research suggests that the longest a person can maintain a peak condition is three weeks. After that, the effects of overtraining start to creep in and performance will begin to decline. Periodizing your training so that you time being in peak condition for a specific time is thus crucial to performing at your best! You simply cannot push yourself to work with a high training volume and at maximum intensity over a long period of time and expect to keep it up.
Take the example of a kickboxing match. A hypothetical fighter has 12 weeks to prepare for the match. Right out of the gate they start running 5 km a day, going to the gym and doing an actual kickboxing class. He or she follows this routine 6 days a week and on Sunday they make sure to go for a run just to make sure they are working really hard. After the first week, they may notice that their timing is off during sparring and their muscles are so sore that they really don’t feel like training. Somebody spouts the old refrain “No pain, no gain!” and they get inspired and push through feeling like a bag of crap. By the end of the next week their performance is getting even worse and they are feeling depressed for some reason. They have now caught a cold and are being a miserable bastard with the people around them. If anyone reading this has ever done this or witnessed somebody else doing this they know exactly what happens next. This extremely hard working and disciplined individual inevitably gets injured or sick and has to take a week or possibly much more off from their training. This entire scenario reeks of poor fatigue management!
At the very least, our hypothetical warrior should consider taking at least one day completely off of training per week. They could also spread out the emphasis of training throughout the week to work on different areas of focus on different days. Always do at least a little cardio each day but vary the intensity throughout the week. If you are going to hit the weights hard on a given day, don’t also do sprints and hit pads until you are gasping for air. There are incredible complex concepts like “phase potentiation” (look that on up if you have a couple of weeks or so to study…See research by Mike Stone) that a person can adopt to accommodate this idea but at a basic level, everyone likely understands what I am saying here. Build planned periods of rest into your training schedule and listen to your body if it persistently refuses to cooperate.
On a slightly longer time horizon, our hypothetical fighter should consider taking a “recovery week” to slow down and allow for some healing and thus allow adaptations to occur. Rest or time-off seem like dirty words to many people. Some people genuinely have no idea what to do during a recovery period. One important thing to know is that recovery does not mean that you have to sit on your couch doing nothing. There is a concept called “active recovery” that will help busybodies stay active while still allowing them to deplete their accumulated fatigue. Active recovery can entail lessening the volume and intensity of your training for some time while your body reclaims some of its vitality. Don’t lift heavy weights. Don’t sprint. Only jog at slow pace and do lots of stretching and myofascial work. Go see a massage therapist and/or hit up a hot tub or sauna. A very simple method could be to do three weeks hard and one week light. Let both your mind and your body take a little break so that you are ready to go hard again the following week. After the actual fight you should take a genuine week or more off of training to fully recover. The emotional stress that a big competition causes requires recovery as much as the physical stress does.
I’ve heard people talk about their fears that they will “lose” some of their gains during a recovery period. This concern is unfounded as the residual effects of training do not simply disappear after a short break. Your fatigue will dissipate much faster than your fitness will and once fatigue decreases, adaptations can finally occur as described by another concept known as the Fitness/Fatigue Paradigm. Have you ever gotten a semi minor injury that kept you from intense training for a while? Maybe you took a nasty leg kick or rolled your ankle and it leaves you limping slightly for a couple days. After a short period of a week or so to allow for healing you return to full paced training to find you are stronger than before? This is explained by the fact that fatigue decreases faster than fitness. As I already mentioned, when fatigue decreases, adaptations can occur. This is the explanation for why you returned to the gym feeling like a million bucks!
There are so many people out there who pump out garbage about pushing yourself to the limits and ignoring your pain. Pushing yourself to the limit is a wonderfully motivating concept but we also need to know when it’s time to scale back. Your body and mind have built in warning systems (pain, mental exhaustion, a-motivation, the beginnings of coming down with a cold, extreme muscle soreness, etc…) to tell you when you are over-reaching. Listen to your body and use your mind to overcome those limits by intelligently structuring your training to include time to recover and again, listening to your body when the warning systems are firing. You can rest easy (pun intended) knowing that taking time to rest and recover will not cost you all that hard work you put in and that you will in fact benefit from taking it easy once in a while.
Now get to rest you hyper-focused bums!
I often speak to my students about the importance of a healthy mindset for competition. One of the most important aspects of this is the definition we create for competition and our relationship with that concept. While we all have our own reasons for wanting to compete, there are definitely certain attitudes that could be considered either healthy or unhealthy. Take the boy who works himself to the bone every day because of the expectations of his parents. They push him and tell him he is amazing and special to the point that he is terrified to lose in front of them. Compare this to the girl who falls in love with a sport and can’t wait to wake up in the morning to go practice. Her parents are supportive but not overbearing and they commend her hard work rather than the results of her performances. If you are like most people, you are easily able to identify which of these situations seems healthy compared with the other.
It is my opinion that the healthiest view of competition is to attempt to compete against your own potential; to see how close to it that you can get. Instead of letting external factors push me, I want be driven internally by standards that are only bound by what is humanly possible for me. If I let external factors push me there will always be a limit and I open myself up to feeling like a failure if I do not achieve my goal. I prefer to seek external goals with an internal drive. I may seek to win a fight, tournament or title (an external goal) but I am driven by a desire to reach my own personal potential (an internal drive). I see the goals as the vehicle by which I am able to test myself.
I often see people waste a lot of energy putting all kinds of importance on the results they are able to outwardly achieve in a tournament or match. It is stunning how much energy it sucks out of them. That energy could have been used for preparing for the test at hand! This worry that they feel about the results haunts them before, during and after their matches. If they have a day where they are a little off during training (a totally normal thing to happen on occasion) they read too much into it and it affects their confidence. It hangs over them during the time they have to prepare and sucks the intensity from their training. The lack of intensity negatively affects their confidence even more which perpetuates the cycle. During the match they let every point against them break them down mentally and they lose focus of what they need to do in the moment because they are too focused on the results that are coming in the future. After the match, they are unable to see what they did well. They see the failure of their abilities in that moment as evidence that they themselves are failures and they miss the opportunity to judge their performances objectively to seek ways to improve.
By adopting the attitude that you can only compete against your own potential you will free up an enormous supply of energy. Before the match, your level of anxiety will be lower because you will not be concerned what others think of you. It is still a very intense thing to put yourself out there and compete but a loss will not make you a failure. You will know that a loss will only be an opportunity to grow and learn. During the match you will be able to focus on the moment instead of dreading the results in the future. This will free up focus so that you can seek ways to win or turn-around a rough going match. There is a doubly positive effect after the match for the internally motivated person. Should they lose, they will not succumb to feeling down on themselves. They will be clear that they were only in competition with their own capabilities and thus the fact that another person’s capabilities on a given day were superior will not matter. Should they win the match, they will not view their win as proof of their superiority as a person. They will know that the only thing proved is that their skills were better at the time of the match and there are still things they can find work on. They will be able to go over their performance objectively looking for ways to improve instead of simply reliving the glory of their dominance over another.
I suspect that I sound a bit like a broken record to the students who have to listen to me ramble about this topic both in the gym and in previous blogs where I have said much the same thing. I really don’t care :) I believe very strongly that a proper mindset is the foundation you are building your skills on top of. If you mentally crack, the rest of the pyramid will come crashing down no matter how well it is built. It is only a matter of time. Set your sights on being the best you can be and come to terms with the fact that you will never get there. There will always be areas to improve and competing is the way you will shine a light on what areas need work. An impossible goal as personal perfection is achieved the moment you decide to chase it. As long as you continue to seek improvement regardless of your external results you will always be operating at the top of your game.
The practice of martial arts has a way reaching into you and bringing more out of yourself than you could have had you not done the training. It strips us down, leaving us completely naked to our own shortcomings both perceived and real. Training usually comes with a natural progression of goals that can and usually do continue over many years if you continue your training. Those goals are expected to be reached for. All of your instructors, coaches, teammates and of course yourself know that the goals are there and if you are not trying to attain them then it needs to be asked what you are training for. When there is an expectation, there is, inherently, a risk of failure and the average pleasure seeking and pain avoiding human being does not like to risk failure. This causes a sense of discomfort in us as we are faced with what appears to be the boundaries of what we are capable of. This discomfort stretches us to believe in ourselves just a little bit more and over a period of time, what we thought were the boundaries of our ability become stepping stones to even greater accomplishments.
The beauty in the challenge presented by martial arts is the fact that you can start as small as you wish. It starts with just getting through the early stage so you don’t feel like a complete dork during classes. You learn the fundamentals over your first week or two and you can get through most classes and not feel ashamed to try again. You notice one day that you’re suddenly not the newest person in class. There’s a new guy and he really needs to work on keeping his hands up. You look at his feet and notice that he needs to pivot on his punches. You feel impressed that you know this and that you are performing something at least a little bit better than somebody else. That is small win number one.
Now, your training gets a little more focused. You keep being told that you are dropping your rear hand when you jab. You start to get it but whenever you get tired or the combo is a little too long it happens again. This goes on for a while but in about a week you have mostly killed the habit. Small win number two.
These small wins keep compiling and your confidence in your ability to meet the challenges put in front of you is growing along beside your martial arts ability. The goals start to take a little longer term perspective as you settle into the martial arts lifestyle. Now you may want to look at getting your first level of ranking be it belt, sash, grade, patch or whatever the method of distinguishing levels. There is a test to prepare for which includes a particular level of fitness and a set of specific skills you will be judged on. The goal of attaining that next level is broken down into the mini goals of making sure you understand and can perform the necessary criteria for that level.
Should you pass that test you would necessarily have demonstrated your ability to set a long term goal, exercise the discipline to see it through and put yourself in the path of potential failure in the effort to achieve it. The power of that process offers a unique opportunity for personal growth. Many people do not seem to set goals perhaps because they have never had a venue that offers the opportunity, inspiration and the tools to do so. Martial arts can provide all of those things and the positive feelings associated with goal attainment become addicting.
There is, however, another side to training that looks at first to be a little darker. It lay in the fact that we do seem to have our limits and if we continue to pick more and more difficult challenges, we increase our chances of failure. It is an inevitability that one day, training will act as a big mirror and you will be looking at the side of yourself you wish did not exist. The loser will come out no matter how hard you try to keep it locked away.
At some point, if you continue to raise the stakes, you are heading for an inevitable failure and the crash can really sting. Perhaps you train for months to take the test and you are super excited to finally get the promotion. You go into the test and find unexpectedly that it is harder than you thought and you fail to pass… Another great example is going into competition and losing. First the expectation and then the letdown are just soul crushing. Part of you feels like you should never had tried to do this thing in the first place.
It is in these moments where the biggest opportunities for growth lay. If you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and dig in for another run at the goal you will have done yourself a great reward. This is not to say you rush back in with no regard to what happened. You need to sit back for a moment and take a look at the reasons you may have missed the mark. Next, you make some adjustments to the game plan and then you get to work going for another attempt. Success will build confidence and there is plenty to be said for that. The ability to work through failures, though, will build grit; and grit is the key ingredient to achieving the big goals of life.
Whether you joined martial arts simply to get fit or to become competitive in one of the many avenues it provides for that route, remember to use the training to practice goal setting and achievement. To do anything less would be an opportunity lost. Have a goal to do more push-ups/pull-ups/squats/etc… in a set amount of time. Track your progress and when you get there, reach higher. For me personally, operating this business well and passing on what I have learned to as many people as possible is a major goal of mine as is stepping back into fighting after so much time off. Both scare the hell out of me but I’m getting stretched and pulled into a more confident and simultaneously more humble person. Without all that I have already achieved in my martial arts journey, I would never have had the courage or skills to chase these bigger dreams. Embrace the possibility that you are not perfect and get to work failing your way to success. It is not the skills or things you achieve that you should covet but instead the person you will become on the way to achieving them.
Does the title of blog make sense yet?
Let me start this blog by reminding you of the mission of Martial Arts Unlimited Victoria:
“The mission of Martial Arts Unlimited Victoria is to support people in exploring their human potential. We offer an environment of support from our staff and members who share the desire to create opportunities for personal growth. We recognize the benefits of martial arts for practitioners and aim to provide those benefits for our customers and staff. Our culture will centre on respect for others and a never ending reach for a better self. Mastery over martial arts is a mirror for mastery of our selves. We envision our community working together to achieve excellence in martial arts and in our lives.”
This may sound like an idealistic and overly philosophical mission for a martial arts facility but let me unequivocally tell you that it is exactly what we are trying to achieve. That means that every member has a responsibility to protect the well-being of others both in and out of the dojo. A person’s well-being has physical, mental and emotional components and finding the right balance of how to treat each individual regarding each of those components in an effort to maximize their development is no easy task. That said, if you are a member of our dojo, it is a balance you are required to work on and constantly improve for the good of yourself and every other member you train with.
Why am I writing about this at all?
I believe we have done a great job of creating a great vibe at our school. We have a growing stable of members who show up ready to work hard and leave feeling as though they accomplished something good in the time they spent in class. Everybody does their best to make sure that the people they train with are made to feel good during class. Everybody seems to understand that nobody should leave the dojo feeling frustrated with their progress. Unfortunately, sometimes our best effort to support others isn’t enough. Sometimes I’ve seen members fail in their job and I’ve watched people leave the dojo feeling down on themselves. That’s when it’s time to write a blog letting everybody know ways in which they can improve. If the behaviour continues after the blog has been put out there, personal conversations will be had. If it still continues after that, a tougher conversation will be had.
I’m sure by now that I have made clear how important it is to me to protect the positive energy in our school. I’ve been clear that there have been some scenarios that didn’t play out the way I would have liked to see them play out. I’m going to give some examples of what I mean and it is important now that you look in the mirror during the rest of this blog and ask yourself “Have I ever done this?” I have often gone home after training with regrets about the way I have made somebody feel. Countless times I have had to face the brutal fact that I am not perfect. I hate it when that happens! My delusions are wonderful but they don’t help in achieving the mission I set out for my school so I have to make adjustments. Please do the same after reading this.
Let’s start with an obvious scenario. Two people partner up for a drill and one of them is bigger and/or more experienced than the other. The smaller/less experienced person is holding pads when suddenly, BOOM, the bigger one hits the pad with all out thunderous power. Not cool, man! We all started out new and did not know how to hold pads properly and it is simply unacceptable to hurt people because, “you want to train hard.” At the end of the day, you all get an equal amount of training with experienced vs inexperienced partners. Help your inexperienced partners by taking them to the threshold of their comfort zone but be careful not to cross it. This is a hard one to follow perfectly and it will inevitably happen sometimes that you will hit too hard and realize after that your partner didn’t enjoy the experience. I can forgive that. At that point, it is time to apologize and start working with the person to make them comfortable again. Take the lesson home and make your best effort to not do it again.
The next scenario is not physical but is just as dangerous to a person’s growth in martial arts. It is insidious and creates a negative energy that can suck the life out of a person’s training experience. It happens when one person is frustrated with either themself or with their partner. There are situations where a person you are partnered with may justifiably be getting on your nerves. Examples of this are if they are not listening to instructions and then slowing down the drill as a result or if they are hitting too hard and hurting you like in the last paragraph. What I am referring to is if a partner is trying their hardest and they are having a hard time to hold pads or get the timing of the drill or something along those lines. You simply must be patient with a person that is giving their best effort… even if it doesn’t hold up to your standards of what a partner should be able to do. You also need to watch your frustration level with yourself so you do not affect the training experience of the people around you.
Let’s first address the issue of being frustrated with a partner who is doing their best. It is unlikely that you will be stuck with a person way below your level in class for the entirety of the class unless you have specifically indicated that you are happy to spend an entire class helping them out. That said, it is your duty as a senior student to help them along and make sure they do not feel guilty about their lack of skill. You may correct their mistakes but you need to be careful to do it with an encouraging smile. There are people that are full of confidence and if you correct the way they hold a pad, they hear that you want them to correct the way they hold a pad. There are others who when you correct the way they hold a pad hear that you are annoyed with their lack of skill, you wish you were partnered with somebody better and maybe they should just give up and go back to being a couch potato. These people have such an opportunity for growth and they need an environment where they feel safe to make mistakes. Every small win is a huge deal for them that can raise their self-concept. Be a part of that instead of stifling their growth with a misplaced scowl or even simply a lack of encouragement.
Now let’s address the issue of poor body language when you feel frustrated with yourself. To be blunt, get over yourself. Nobody is perfect and nobody told you that martial arts was going to be easy. Training can be intense and drills can be confusing. Guess what? You aren’t going to nail every drill on your first try and expecting to points to an ego issue that you may be wearing like a straightjacket. I have seen students repeatedly become frustrated when they struggle with concepts and I always chuckle and wonder if they thought they were going to come in and do everything perfect on their first attempt. It is very helpful to your progress when you just let go of your expectations of how you should be performing and stick to simply trying to improve little by little over the long haul. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” Wipe that scowl off your face and learn to laugh at yourself. If you can’t do that, you are actually being quite greedy. You are making your partners uncomfortable and may even be causing them to wonder what they are doing wrong.
Finally is the issue of brining your personal life to the dojo. We are all friends and we all understand that on occasion people have off days or situations in their lives that negatively affect their moods. The issue is when people decide to wallow in self-pity and mope around the gym in low energy. You don’t have to fake a positive demeanor and it’s a great idea to work out when feeling down but watch how deeply you are engaging in that energy so that you do not affect the energy of others. If you are feeling so down that you may weep at any moment or you are liable to snap at somebody before you can catch yourself, you need to consider whether training is a good idea that day. Perhaps you should go for a run or do another activity that you can do alone. It is acceptable to be a little quieter than usual but if everybody who sees you is asking if you are okay the second they see you then you shouldn’t be at the gym. Either that or you need to suck it up! The mats have healing powers to those to want to soak them up. If you aren’t into letting go of your problems for the period that you will be in class, please stay home.
Attitude management will literally decide your success in not only martial arts but also in Life in general. It pays to be kind to others and it especially pays when you need to stretch yourself a little to do it. Remember what the dojo stands for. Read the mission and get to work helping to create “an environment of support from our staff and members who share the desire to create opportunities for personal growth”. Pay attention to the faces of others and do your best to monitor whether you can help them leave with a smile on their face instead of feeling like they somehow failed you as a training partner. Pay attention to your body language and exude positivity when possible. Not only will the people you work with feel better as a result, you will as well.
“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.” ~George Washington Carver
Why we spar:
Before you begin sparring, you need to know what it should and should not be used for. It should be used as a tool to help a martial artist better his/her skills and build confidence in the techniques they have learned. It should not be used as a means to prove how tough you are. If you enter sparring with the wrong mindset, it will result in either you or your partners eventually getting injured and you definitely will not learn how to better your skills.
What to expect:
Understandably, novices who are sparring will feel a heightened level of anxiety at the thought of being hit and or looking awkward. Getting hit is an adjustment that most people need time to get used to. You can expect the members here to start you off with light contact and build you up to harder contact. If you find that you are getting hit harder that you would like, take a serious look at how hard you are hitting because your more experienced partners are probably mirroring your level of contact! The experienced members all love to help new practitioners but are not expected to be punching bags that don’t hit back.
Novices are encouraged to avoid sparring with other new people for the first time or two so they can get the anxiety they have under control. It takes time to build trust with somebody and know what level of contact they are okay with. Generally, it is a good idea to ask the instructors who it is okay to spar with until you know everybody.
Nobody can read your mind so make sure to tell them how you are feeling. There is no shame in asking for lighter contact. When people get quiet during sparring it often shows that they feel either afraid or they are becoming angry. If somebody lands a good shot that you don’t mind, it’s always a good idea to tell them, “Nice one!” or “Good shot.” You are letting them know that you are okay with the level of contact by giving them those constant little verbal cues. Anytime you begin to feel emotional during sparring you should stop before it gets out of control. Simply tell your partner that you think you need a break and they will understand.
Overall, sparring is geared to be fun and safe for all members who wish to give it a try regardless of their skill level. There are people who wish to test their skills and we encourage them to, however, that level of intensity should be reserved for competition. Sparring is the tool to prepare you for that test, not the vehicle for it. While certain members enjoy some stiff contact, you absolutely must observe who those people are and respect the other’s limits. Most of us have jobs to return to after training and do not need black eyes and cracked ribs to return with.
At first blush, this seems like an obvious thing to say. Unfortunately, I have seen others and even gone through periods personally where the joy and wonder of martial arts training seemed to have disappeared. Remember when you first joined and you were amazed every time you saw your instructor teach a new technique? Remember the excitement you felt when you first started to get a technique down? You would never have believed at that time that you could ever find training anything but fun and exciting but after years of dedicating hours and hours and hours of your life to mastering this stuff you may be surprised to find that you begin to take yourself too seriously regarding it.
You see it in the guy getting annoyed at the new student who can’t yet hold pads well. You see it in the girl who is so focused on achieving the next rank that she learns the necessary techniques without enjoying the process of adding to her repertoire. You see it in the practitioner who becomes frustrated with themselves for not learning a technique as quickly as they think they should. You see it in the person who is doing the same drills they have been doing for years and are now forgetting that they are honing the blade of their skills and not just “training”. This discontent comes out in strange ways and it almost always has something to do with some goal or end result that has replaced the concept of enjoying the journey.
I believe goals are not just important but are vital to achieving a high level of success in anything. Goals are how we measure our development and how we know in what direction to “set our sail”. You must be careful though that the vision of an achieved goal doesn’t overshadow the process of getting there. Achieving a goal is like the picture you take at the top of the mountain you just climbed. The picture is really cool but the real accomplishment is in each individual little step you took to get there. The picture simply commemorates the struggle you went through to reach the summit. The struggle is the very thing that makes the picture such a treasure to stare at later in remembrance.
Try to remember that you started training because it is fun and engaging. Never go through the motions. Always be focused on the present moment during training and know that you will reach whatever goal you are after when you are ready. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing something as well as you thought you should have. Learn to laugh at yourself, make the necessary corrections and move on. There is simply no reason to be frustrated for not being perfect because perfection is a goal you will never achieve.
I read something once that stated that “mastery is an asymptote”. Forgive the use of such an arcane word but the concept as it applies to mastery of any given endeavor struck me and I want to share it. An asymptote is a straight line approached by a given curve that gets infinitely closer and closer to touching but is never touched by the curve. Metaphorically, mastery is that line and your skills are the curve. No matter how long and hard you train, you can never quite touch mastery. You can get closer and closer but never can you say, “There! I’m officially perfect at this.”
With this metaphor in mind, you can look at things in one of two ways. One is that since you can never reach mastery there is really no point in trying at all. The other is that since you can never reach mastery you will always have something to strive for. The first idea leaves you feeling empty while the second fires you up with the endless possibilities.
If somebody asks you why train in martial arts, what do you tell them? I would guess that at the core, any person who trains over a long period of time does so because it is fun. Staying in shape, collecting medals from competition and achieving higher ranks are all nothing more than benefits and results of training. Remember to enjoy yourself and always be amazed at the fact that you still have, and always will have, much more to learn.
The purpose of this blog
This blog is intended as a place to discuss ideas relevant to both both martial arts and life in general. Our school doesn't exist with the sole purpose of making great fighters but also of helping its members develop themselves into great people. The entries are about sharing ideas. I will not spend much time editing grammatical errors so please try not to let it drive you crazy when you come across them!