“Didn’t you used to be involved in martial arts or teaching self defense?” My coworker’s words caught me off guard and tired, hauling workout gear bags up two flights of stairs.
“Yeah.” (I’m not a great conversationalist before second breakfast.)
“Didn’t you have a black belt or something?” He just wouldn’t quit.
“They pretty much just hand those out to little kids, even, these days. Saw a commercial on that the other day- some place with little kids jumping around and they all had black belts. Everybody’s a winner, now, I guess.”
* * *
I shrugged, continued up the stairs. Rope climbs, tire flips, 400 meter runs, linear progression on the bench press… the missing skin on my fingers tells a different kind of story about winning, this morning. It tells the story of starting over, repeatedly. Of falling down and getting back up. Of finding myself so over-extended that I couldn’t find my comfort zone with a GPS and a headlamp.
I didn’t learn self defense in a dojang, but I did rehearse patience. I apprenticed to practice, I earned my results. I carried that forward into training in Krav Maga and then instructing.
I had the privilege of training with Bill “Superfoot” Wallace several times, when I was a 1st degree black belt candidate. I would arrive an hour early, just to sit in silence on the mats of the dojang and observe as he went through his own warm-up routine. The same consistency in training and absolute tenacity that allowed him to retire as an undefeated kickboxing champion was clearly evident in the simplicity and consistency of his everyday routine. There aren’t any shortcuts to greatness. There aren’t any easy roads to winning. There is pain, there are life-altering injuries, there is the everyday grind and there is greatness found in apprenticing to the process.
These days, I’m working my process from the ground, up. Coaching myself. Not loving it very much. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes in to planning and executing solid training. I know, I coached and trained clients for years (while letting my own training fall to the sidelines). There’s great advantages and disadvantages to building your own training plan: you know all your own weaknesses. Nobody can hurt me like I can hurt me, no one can heal me like I can heal me. Somewhere, in the mix of those two things, there is progress. There is a winged creature emerging from a cocoon, slowly and painfully.
In all of this, why do we endeavor? Why is it necessary to exert ourselves? I’d contend that it’s for the same reason that a butterfly has to exert itself in order to crawl from the bug-soup environment of the cocoon into the sunlight. The wings and legs of the soggy creature can’t and won’t function on their own if the cocoon is split open prematurely or if “help” is given. The butterfly is compelled to endeavor, to struggle, to work its own way out. Only then will the legs and wings be strong enough to stand, to fly.
The mental discipline that is forged through hours and days and weeks and months and years of practice and training becomes a solid platform, bulletproofing the mind. Consistency yields results that live deep under the skin. Practice becomes routine, then creates an environment for the extraordinary.
* * *
I climbed the last flight of stairs, tuning out the stream of commentary from my coworker. Remembering the thousands of turning kicks, side kicks… the sound of multiple boards breaking when I’d make contact with fists or feet. The way it felt to connect a solid back fist with a target. But none of that was winning.
I remember how it felt at the end of my black belt test, standing there soaked in sweat, glycogen depleted, broken bones in my feet grating against each other. There’s no forgetting pain like that. It didn’t feel like winning, it felt like a beginning.
Like this morning. And yesterday. And tomorrow. And all the tomorrows.
Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have. Be who you are.
Begin, again. And again.
* * *