I am now 36 years into my martial journey. If we include the study and use of firearms in all its aspects as part of that, I am actually 46 years into it.
I just celebrated the 36th anniversary of starting down this path when I walked into the dojo of American Karate Studios the day after my 16th birthday. Since that day, there has not been a day that went by that I was not actively training under the eye of an instructor/teacher/coach/mentor, and working either the actual physical actions of it, or the continuing mental obsession about it was not running on loops through my brain.
I think that after that length of time, there are certain conclusions that I can draw about success in training, or the lack there of. Let me give you what I believe – no, scratch that – what I KNOW to be the single greatest key to achieving success, especially for the average, everyday person. This is something that if I were a smart business man, I would not give out freely here. Instead, I would put up one of those hard sell websites with tons of testimonials and hints about this “secret”, and then charge some odd amount like $97 to sell you an e-book that took me 5 minutes to put together. Instead, since I am not a particularly smart man, I will just give it out for free to anyone who bothers to read my ramblings.
So here is the main tool to help you become a fighting master in whatever method or delivery system you choose:
Do what you can, with what you have, in whatever time you can carve out, and DON’T QUIT.
That is it. The one single thing that helped this non-athlete with very little unoccupied free time to achieve a decent level of performance and a level of understanding to the point that I am an okay coach and can get material across to all sorts of people. So let’s break this down and look at what I am trying to say.
One of the underlying trains of thought I hear over and over again whenever I or anyone else brings up the need to work on empty hand skills is an “all or nothing” refrain. That is, if someone can’t get to a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu gym three times a week, then there it is not worth it. Or, if someone has physical handicaps of some sort (injury, age, etc), then again, there is no reason to do any of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because we will never be as good as Jon Jones, or George St. Pierre, or Roger Gracie is irrelevant. We are not trying to be them, nor are we in competition with them. We are not really even in competition with the bad guy who may be out there waiting to attack us. While certainly we may need to fight them, we cannot do anything about their ability. We have no control over that. The only thing we can control is our own ability and/or capability, so THAT is who we are in competition with – the us (in an individual sense) of yesterday. All we need to worry about is if we better than we were yesterday. Even if that better is only measured in fractions, then it is still in a positive and forward motion. Are we more capable and dangerous than we were the day before in any measure? If the answer is yes, then be happy. If the answer is no, then fix it!
There are far too many people who have serious disabilities who do train for that to be an acceptable out. People with cerebral palsy, paraplegics, blind people, folks in the 70s and 80s, etc. all train and even compete. If they can do it, so can you! There are no excuses. Take a look at this:
Seriously, if you think because you have a bad back, or have had hip replacement, or only have the use of one arm, then there is no point to trying to improve your ability to defend yourself, you are selling yourself short. Do you think the bad guy cares that you have a bad knee? As a matter of fact, he might target you because of that. There is no special get out of jail free cards. You better be prepared for that assault to the best of your ability, and that preparation starts as soon as possible. Do what you can. If all you can truly do is train at a BJJ or MMA or Boxing gym once a month, then do it. It is better than sitting on your ass in front of the keyboard talking about how your mindset and cool gear will see you through. Don’t settle for being too scared or lazy, and just strive to be a tiny bit more dangerous each day.
Another refrain I often hear to try to excuse someone doing the work is that they don’t have a gym or instructor close by. Well, then look at travelling to seminars and learning and getting better. Or buying DVDs and books. OR looking online to the tons of free videos that are out there. Learn as best you can in a distance format, and practice on your own. There are a lot of things you can do solo. For example, just practicing fundamental BJJ ground fighting movements like hip lifts and hip escapes will help more than you realize. If all you have, is trying to follow along to a DVD, then follow along to that DVD and practice the moves as much as you can. Do what you can, with what you have.
The final excuse that people generally make is “I don’t have time”. That statement is then too often followed by the person saying something like “I spent last weekend binge watching the last season of Game of Thrones”. And they do not see the dichotomy there. Look, there is almost no one on this planet that cannot carve out two minutes to practice something. The busiest person I have ever seen still had a couple minutes of down time. You can use that down time to play Candy Crush mindlessly, or you can use it to make yourself one tiny fractional bit more capable. It is up to you.
I know some of you are saying right now “This is all easy for you to say Cecil since you do this full time and have plenty of time and energy available, and you are a professional martial artist and athlete”. And nothing could be farther from the truth. I don’t do this as a vocation. I do it as an avocation. It is what I love. I put food on the table and a roof over my head by having a real day job that I am at Monday – Friday 8AM – 5PM, and have been that way for the past 30 years since graduating college. There have been times in my life that I was working as many as 80+ hours a week, as well as traveling out of town on weekends. I also have been married and have children so for the past 27 years I have had full family obligations to occupy non-work time. On top of that, I have no athletic ability whatsoever. I was the kid always picked last for dodgeball (we called it warball) in PE. I also have had pretty severe asthma all my life, with numerous hospitalizations for life threatening attacks (the first was when I was one year old, and the most recent was about 1 ½ years ago). Let me tell you, trying to train hard with that going on presents a lot of challenges. To add to my woes, form everything doctors and lab work have been able to figure out, my thyroid – that wonderful little gland that contributes mightily to things like energy, muscle making, and converting food to useful stuff instead of wasted fat – has never worked . Ever. Makes it more a matter of willpower to train because my body does not have excess energy demanding to be burned off. And as the topper, I am not particularly good at mentally grasping new stuff. It takes me some time to “get it”. In sum, I have exactly ZERO things that people typically look for as a reason that you can get good at fighting. It is not easy for me to dedicate time to do this. It requires me to think and plan ahead, and to exercise a lot of willpower and discipline to execute. I am almost the poster child for having reason to NOT doing this. But I did it, and continue to do so, and the one thing that I had going for me was that I am obstinate as hell. I am plain stubborn. When I set my mind, I will just keep plugging away. It may take a long time (and generally does for me. After all it took me 16 years to get my black belt, when the standard time is 8-10), but I will get there. Which is the final point. This whole study is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Just keep heading that way and stay on the path. DON’T QUIT. It may take awhile, but as long as we are a bit better than the day before, we are headed the right way.