I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining
“I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining. Yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been had I not attempted it…”
I can count on my left hand the people who started training when I started who are still training to this day. Even fewer of my original classmates have gone on to really master themselves and the martial arts. I have spent just on 31 years training almost every day and still consider myself a beginner in many facets of martial arts study. But the one thing I have come to realise with my obsessive workload has been that all the benefits of the martial arts come from long-term practice. When you have spent thousands of hours on the mat it really changes how you think about yourself and the world – if you learn to process your martial experiences the right way. The martial arts world is a bigger battle internally than it is externally. You can transform your body into a fighting machine with 3-5 years of intensive training. But how many of us transform our minds with the same level of success? I was awakened to the internal martial arts (how we think and process our experiences) when I started to compete in full contact fighting. The ring is a very scary place for the unprepared. And I was as unprepared as its possible to be when I first stepped through the ropes. I was physically quite capable but mentally I was not as strong. It took me several fights and, to be honest, several losses before I really started to “get it”. I had to learn the hard way the importance of getting your thoughts congruent with the results you’re after. So what did I learn from the full contact classroom?
Always Over Estimate Your Opponent and Underestimate Your Ability
I remember I had one fight with a guy who was physically very gifted but I thought I had his number. Everyone around me was telling me that I would beat him easily. My coaches, my training partners and even guys who he had fought him before were saying that this was going to be an easy win for me. I went into that fight with not an ounce of anxiety or fear. In my mind I was already celebrating the victory that I was about to realise. But here’s what happened - I got whooped. I took a beating and learnt a very powerful lesson. There is no place for arrogance inside the ring (or anywhere for that matter). An arrogant person who thinks they have everyone’s number will one day be dealt a vicious lesson that can crush their confidence, as it almost did to me. It took me years to get over that loss but now I look at it as one of my great lessons. If I had won I could have turned into a real shmo (arrogant ***hole). When you underestimate your own ability and overestimate your opponent, you always work harder and consequently become better at what you do.
Be Confident Not Arrogant
This sounds a little contradictory to the previous paragraph but I will explain what I mean. If you train hard and consistent, you should be able to hold your head high in the knowledge that you can handle yourself if the situation presents itself. But be humble enough to acknowledge that you are beatable, you can lose, and you can get tapped out, you can have a bad day at the office and that the most unskilled adversary has a chance against you if you make a mistake. It’s not beating yourself up about how crap you are, Nor is it carrying yourself in such a way that you are at the top of the food chain. It’s right in between these extremes. It’s having a balanced attitude that you carry into every training session, every sparring session and every grapple on the ground.
Not Everyone Is Going To Be A World Champion
After a handful of fights against people who were much better than me, I came to realise that not everyone has the ability or means to be a world champion at what they do. For most of us, the martial arts are a hobby or passion. But not all of us have the ability to drop everything in the pursuit of being the best in the world. I thought for a brief time that I was going to set the world on fire in the ring. But after meeting world champions in the back rooms before fights - and training with some over the past 24 years - it became very apparent to me that I was a long way from ever getting to that level. Most, if not all, world champion fighters spend 3-5 hour days training, sparring and keeping fit. To be a great fighter is a sacrifice of 10 years of doing nothing but training and competing. It takes its toll on your body like you wouldn’t believe and most fighters earn very little money. Most world champions spend their whole youth (under 40 ha ha) training and fighting for that one big chance to hit the big time and make it all worthwhile. Does this mean that we shouldn’t train hard? No. Does this mean that we shouldn’t try our best? No. But what it does mean for us is that we have to succumb to the fact that unless we have the means, time and will to put everything on the line all we can hope for is a result congruent to effort. If you only spend two hours a week training that’s cool, as long as you realise that that effort wont turn you into a Sam Soliman, Bruce Lee or Matt Hughes. You should be proud that you’re training. You should be happy with your progress. You should always look forward and you should always train as hard and as often as you can. BUT always be humble. Know that you are on the road to martial arts success but appreciate that some people are light years ahead.
It took me 15 years of training with people who are far better than me to realise the above truths. And I have spent the last 16 years taming my ego to make sure I don’t forget my place in the food chain. And I have to tell you that it makes all the difference in the world to you when you let go of having to be better than everyone else and simply focus on being better than you used to be.