The Phoenix 50 was the most difficult experience I've ever signed up for. To say that it was physically demanding would be the understatement of the century. I mean, heck, I ended up in the hospital that night.
Emotionally it was tough as well. Having my wife and all of my sons in the audience cheering me on inspired me to keep pushing, but it also brought on a level of stress I hadn't anticipated.
One of the harder aspects of the fighting...and this is going to sound ridiculous...was the break in between each fight. Each fight was 90 seconds of full contact sparring followed by a one minute break. If one of the fights ended early (with a knockout or proper takedown) then I got the minute break PLUS whatever was left on the round time. Simply put, it paid to end fights early.
That being said, I hadn't anticipated how difficult it would be in the late rounds to get up for each fight. Physically, my body had taken a beating; my legs, in the end, could just support my weight. Mentally, there was a war going on. Emotionally, I was starting to become affected by the experience. So, towards the end, my mind, body, and even my spirit we being broken. You might never complete a 50-man kumite like I did, but I guarantee you've been (or one day will be) in that position where you're broken like I was.
It's during those times you need to listen to the people around you. I don't remember much about the last 10 fights in the Phoenix 50. If I hadn't seen so many photos, I wouldn't really remember any of it. What I do remember is Sensei Jason Franklin (my friend, training partner, and my cornerman for the event) giving a very simple instruction: "Get up!" And I did.
So there's two sides of the coin that we can all apply here.
Heads: YOU are the one broken. Listen to others around you. Listen for the practical steps that you can take. Chances are, the things that are hardest to hear and the ones you need to hear most.
Tails: Someone around you is broken. Give them very simple, clear input. No philosophical ranting or soapbox preaching.
We're all in this together. We all need breaks, but we also need that encouragement to get up and get back in the fight.
The Hammer and the Heat are both very active in speaking into your life; telling you what you need to hear and also drawing you out with those hard questions. The Water...gives you hope that change is possible. That person in your life, the Water, is the example that you look to when the going gets hard. They are the living proof that all of the work, the sacrifice...it's all possible and it's worthwhile. Without your Water, you're grinding away and will eventually land yourself in a pretty discouraging place.
Sensei Jason Franklin has been my friend and training partner for over a decade now. He is my Water in all things pertaining to fitness, training, and nutrition.
What's your goal? Who do you know that's already accomplished something similar? What can you learn from them?
If the Hammer is the person in our lives we can trust to tell us the truth, in the way that we need to hear it, the the Heat is that individual we can count on to ask us the tough questions.
Are you on a diet? The Heat might be that person who asks what you had for lunch today. Trying to become more physically fit? The Heat might ask you how much time you spent in front of the TV today. Planning on testing for shodan this summer? How much do you really train your kata? Regardless of your goal, the Heat is going to ask you that terribly uncomfortable set of questions that you NEED is order to grow. Who do you trust to bring the Heat?
My dad is a hammer...he's always been like that. As a kid, he was sometimes a claw hammer and sometimes a sledgehammer, but a hammer nonetheless. Dad is an example of working hard; of never quitting. More importantly than work ethic, dad instilled a love (bordering on idolatry) of the truth. Love truth...despise lies. That's what makes him one of the hammers in my life. Doing something stupid? Don't worry, he'll let you know. Being lazy? He'll let you know when to get off you butt. Hammers are those wise people in your life that will not only speak the truth to you, but will also tell it to you in the way you need to hear.
In high school I had a lot of awesome teachers...Lord...that was 20 years ago now. I remember every single one of them, but Mr. Gene Smith likely left the strongest impact from the very first time he said, "Bobby...you're being a moron." I still remember one time that I got in trouble. Mr. Smith put me in my place with firm truth. He told me what I needed to hear at a time when I didn't want to hear it, but in a way that I listened.
The year prior to my blackbelt test was memorable for a lot of reasons, but the one interaction that sticks out the most was when I was worked through some kata with my teacher, Shihan Cathy Melanson. After working hard through a few kata, Shihan walked up, said "That was really disappointing" and then we went on and continued training with the rest of the class. I was crushed. I even cried on the drive home. That word..."disappointing" was so heavy. Shihan dropped that word like a hammer driving a loose nail into the floor.
We need hammers in our lives. Hammers serve two main purposes: they either drive nails or pull them out. We need those people (actually just one close person) who know us well; who know our potential and will challenge our shortcomings (nails) with honesty. The problem is...we get comfortable and don't like to be challenged or pushed. That's why it's all the more important to find one person, just one, who can serve as that hammer. Invite the criticism. Invite the honesty. Welcome the wisdom.
Who's your hammer?
You are the average of your five closest friends. Seriously, think about that. Think back on the worst times in your life...the ones where you were either bad, or just mischievous. The group of people you hung out with was likely different than the group you associate with now...assuming you've made a turn for the better.
IF you want to improve yourself, you need to find a solid, core group of people to help.
Starting tomorrow, I'll tell you about the three kind of people that you NEED in your life IF you're looking for change. I refer to them as The Hammer, The Heat, and The Water.
Nobody talks to you as much as you do. I mean, have you ever stopped to consider how much you talk to yourself each day? Don't believe me? What do you say to yourself when the alarm goes off in the morning? Or, if you're like me, what do you cry to yourself when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night? You talk to yourself all the time! It's one of the ways in which we process the world...and it's not necessarily a bad thing.
Where we slip is in mistaking "talking" to ourselves for "listening". You are your own worst critic right? Well, if your one of the more normal people out there, you probably spend a lot of time criticizing yourself; a lot of pointing out what's wrong, or what should be better. Unless you speak back to those thoughts, you're just listening...and that my friend, is a dangerous habit to get stuck with.
With the tech boom recently, we're getting a ton of immediate feedback. Immediate, shallow feedback. How much of it do you listen to? Do you buy the lie that the number of likes on a picture you've shared in some way equates to your value as a person? If not, then you're blessed...but I guarantee you are close with someone whose entire day can hang by the thread of acceptance. We can (and should) fight that--we're all fighters mind you. The battle starts with two simple questions:
1. Do I really believe _________________________?
Here's how I went through those two questions at 2am this morning when the baby woke up for a bottle:
Sleepy Bob- Oh my God I cannot do this. I'm going to die.
Sensei Bob- Really?
Sleepy Bob- Yeah, I'm so tired.
Sensei Bob- So you're tired or you're going to die?
Sleepy Bob- Ok, I'm just tired.
Sensei Bob- So you can do this...you just don't want to.
Sleepy Bob- gets out of bed; and enjoyed a little cuddle time with the baby
You see, if Sleepy Bob got his way, I would have emotionally spiraled downward into a comical pit of despair. Sometimes all it takes is for us to wake up and question the liar inside. ALL lies break down when exposed to truth. Engage your mind. Fight the lies.
To paraphrase author Eric Metaxas, we live in a culture that is constantly looking for the worm in every apple. Everyone and everything is suspect. We assume that everyone is hiding something. We are very quick to notice what's wrong with a person or with a situation...and you know what, that's natural. Our brains a programmed to notice things that are out of place. In a very real way, we are hardwired to notice hypocrisy. However, like I say in the dojo, just because it's natural doesn't mean it's good.
We've taken this natural bend from a casual survey to a full blown witch hunt. We intentionally go out of our way to dig up dirt on someone or will find the most microscopic detail with which to ruin an entire routine.
But there's hope. There's always hope...and at risk of sounding cliche, it usually starts with you. In karate, we are very focused on details. We are constantly striving to practice a kata perfectly. To date, I've never performed a perfect kata...there's always something to improve on! However, there are days when I'm perfectly content with performing a solid kata. Sure, there may be a mistake here or there, but I'm proud for having done it.
I think that's how we begin to fix our worm-in-the-apple hunting mentality. Just for a day, let's do our best and be alright with imperfection. More importantly, let's trust that everyone around us is doing their best. We've all got dirt. We've all got faults. Be honest with that truth and move on.
Karateka- My challenge for you today is very specific. I want you to practice 20-30 kata in a way that you are proud of in the end.
Traditions are worthless. Doing something just because that's the way it's always been done it is at best silly, and bordering on asinine. Furthermore, doing what's always been done, without really considering why YOU are doing it that way can be quite dangerous.
Or tradition can be an empowering experience. In my dojo (and in every dojo within the Phoenix Karate-do Association, Kyokushinkai International) we use the traditional Japanese terminology for techniques and principles. For years, I've embraced this tradition whole-heartedly because I understood the reasoning. Traditions have a way of connecting us with those who came before. By using the same Japanese terminology and training/teaching in a traditional Japanese manner, I am linked to all of the Kyokushin greats who came before me. However, more importantly, traditions connect us with others here and now! The purpose of training in a traditional Japanese, Kyokushin way opens a connection for our upcoming training adventure to Kyiv, Ukraine. You see...I'm trying to learn Ukrainian, but it's extremely difficult and slow. Thankfully, because the Phoenix dojos in Ukraine follow the same training traditions, we will be able to build a strong connection quickly.
Without understanding the "why" behind traditions, we're doomed to mindlessly go through the paces. Why do you do what you do? Really? Think about it...is there a good reason? Could it be done better? Make sure your traditions are empowering for yourself and others!
We all fight. Every single person on this planet is a fighter. Whether you're battling an opponent in the ring or on the mat; or battling that urge to hit the snooze button one more time...you're a fighter...you just might not see yourself that way.
Think about it: what do you have...what have you accomplished without sacrifice? I try to remind myself and anyone within earshot that "nothing worth having comes easy and anything that comes easy ain't worth having".
So, what do you want? Do you want it bad enough to sacrifice for it? Are you willing to give up sleep, food, the praise of others in order to get what you want? See, it's all a game. Life is one big fight game and the sooner you realize that you've got to sacrifice, the sooner you'll start notching W's in your win column.
Get after it.
Seriously...put your phone away for an hour and focus on something. Focus on your spouse or your kids. Focus on the way your dinner actually tastes. Spend some time in focused conversation. Find a chore around the house, and focus on knocking it out.
Truth: and I'm guilty of this too...having a conversation with someone while you've got your phone in your hand is rude. You're saying with your actions that the person in front of you isn't important enough for your undivided attention. Focus on the people who are there...with you...in flesh and blood.
Nothing lasts forever...we know that. When do we most often think of that truth though? More often than not, we hear it as an attempt to comfort us during tough times. "Tough times don't last, but tough people do"...you know, something along those lines.
Lately I've been considering another spin, and response. One day, Lord willing MANY days from now, I will say a final goodbye to every relationship I've built and every possession that I own. On that day, will I be able to look back and honestly say that I valued those relationships? Did I invest myself into the lives of those around me? Will I be able to say, with integrity, that I was a faithful steward of the possessions that I owned.
Nothing lasts forever, so take care of everything and everyone while you've got time. I say regularly that there is no heavier weight to bear than regret.
No regrets! Osu!
Karate, especially budo karate like Kyokushin, is not a team sport. One student doesn't need another student in the way that the pitcher on a baseball team needs a catcher. There are no quarterback/wide receiver relationships like we see in the Super Bowl.
While different than the relationships we see on a sports team, we desperately need each other in the dojo! Sure, we need good partners to work with and good instructors to learn from. We need that one person in class who pushed us to strive for greatness...and that's where my encouragement is for today. Be iron. Be that person that others look to. We should all strive to enter the dojo physically strong and mentally clear; ready to learn and expand our limits.
Every now and then I've said in training that "when you cheat, you only cheat yourself." After a lot of thought and reading, I've convinced myself otherwise. When you cheat, when you cut corners or slack off when the instructor isn't looking, others around you will see. Those that see, will either copy you or correct you...and woe to you should someone copy your bad example! So, by cutting corners, you are negatively impacting those around you...who will negatively impact those around them, and so on. Not only do we need each other; we need the best version! Come into the dojo like iron.
Be iron. Be ready to work hard.
Be iron, Come in having worked hard outside of the dojo.
Be iron. Look for ways to encourage others.
Be iron. Take the fire of hard training without complaint.
Be iron. Give it everything you've got.
You are unique. No, I'm not trying to pat you on the back or give you those warm fuzzies deep down inside. This isn't a ploy to get more people to read what I've got to say. When I say that you're unique...in all of the universe...I'm just sharing a simple(ish) scientific and mathematical fact.
See, while it's not infinite, the number of possible base sequences in our DNA is a pretty huge number. There hasn't been a you before. There will never be another you again. You're it! Let that sink in for a moment. In all of history, in all of time and space, you are unique.
What bugs me is watching so many people waste so much of their time on things that don't matter. Do you think we get another go at this? We don't. This is our one chance. This is it. You owe it to yourself to work your butt off and create the greatest possible version of you. In fact, you owe it to all of us! There's only ever going to be one of you. Why leave a half-assed version of you as a legacy? Forge something greater. Think it's hard? Nope. Start small, start simple. Try:
- a little less television and a little more reading
- a little less sitting and a little more walking
- a little less sleeping and a little more work
- a little less consuming and a little more producing
No, go out and do something!